BALTIMORE — A move to expand a liturgical memorial for Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, a German-born Redemptorist priest who ministered throughout antebellum-era America for more than 20 years, was approved nearly unanimously Nov. 13 by the U.S. bishops during their annual fall general assembly in Baltimore.
The vote was 213-1 with one abstention. Approval requires a two-thirds vote of the Latin-rite bishops with subsequent confirmation by the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.
The action item on the optional memorial was handled by the bishops' Committee on Divine Worship, chaired by Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans.
Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile, Ala., for more than 20 years noted that Blessed Seelos came to the United States because of the pastoral needs of the growing country. "That can be a source of encouragement to our seminarians who come to us from other countries."
Blessed Seelos also was "remarkable in his pastoral zeal," Archbishop Rodi said. "That can be a source of encouragement to our priests as well," he added.
Further, Blessed Seelos ministered at a time when "immigrants were not welcomed well in many circumstances," Archbishop Rodi said. "That has a contemporary significance as well."
Beatified in 2000, the feast day for Blessed Seelos (pronounced SEE-loss) is Oct. 5. At the time of his beatification, the memorial for Blessed Seelos was just for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. It was expanded in 2009 to the New Orleans province, which takes in all Louisiana dioceses, and raised to the status of an obligatory memorial.
Born Jan. 11, 1819, in Fussen, Germany, Blessed Seelos first entered a diocesan seminary in 1842, but soon after meeting the Redemptorists, he joined the order with the intent of ministering to German-speaking immigrants in the United States.
In 1843, Blessed Seelos sailed to New York. He was ordained a priest in 1844, then worked for nine years at St. Philomena Parish in Pittsburgh, first as assistant pastor with St. John Neumann, the superior of the community, and later as superior himself and for the last three years as pastor, doubling as novice master.
Blessed Seelos dedicated himself to preaching missions. He became well known as an expert confessor and spiritual director, so much so that people came to him even from neighboring towns. He practiced a simple lifestyle and a simple manner of expressing himself.
He became a U.S. citizen in 1852. In 1854, he was transferred from Pittsburgh to Baltimore, then Cumberland, Md., in 1857, and to Annapolis, Md., in 1862, and was involved in parish ministry and priestly formation. From 1863 to 1866 Blessed Seelos dedicated himself to the life of an itinerant missionary, preaching in English and German in Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.
After a brief period of parish ministry in Detroit, he was assigned in 1866 to the Redemptorist community in New Orleans, as pastor of the Church of St. Mary of the Assumption. In September 1867, exhausted from visiting and caring for yellow fever victims, he contracted yellow fever himself and died Oct. 4, 1867, at age 48.
Memorials to Blessed Seelos exist in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana. The National Seelos Shrine and Seelos Center is in New Orleans.
Spanish-language texts for the Blessed Seelos memorial will be prepared at a later date. The English-language texts will be posted online to enhance their availability.