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Feast of the Holy Family – Memory of the Family of St. Joseph Freinademetz

Author: Michael Ertl, SVD
Subject: Life of the saints
Language: English, Spanish
Publisher: VivatDeus.org
Year: 2023

The Feast of the Holy Family draws our attention to Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph, and to His childhood, which He spent with them in Nazareth. Even if we cannot say very much about this from a historical perspective, we can assume that it was important for his later life. This applies to all our lives and therefore also to the life of St Joseph Freinademetz. In the first biography, which Bishop Augustin Henninghaus published in China in 1920 at the request of the Generalate of the Congregation, the introduction reads:

“As the ripe grapes show the quality of the soil and of the vine from which the grapes come, so one’s home area and family usually leave their very particular traits in the character of a person. In them he is rooted, out of them unfolds his life. Their knowledge often is the key to the understanding of their personality.”

The knowledge that Bishop Henninghaus had about the family and childhood of the later saint was limited to occasional remarks from personal conversations between him and Josef Freinademetz. They spent over twenty years together in China. Later biographies, above all the comprehensive biography by Fritz Bornemann from 1976, already had much more information to fall back on. This was mainly thanks to a niece of the saint, Anna Maria Campidell, who painstakingly compiled the memories of those who had known Josef Freinademetz personally for the ongoing beatification process.

From the statements of his youngest sister Josefa, one sentence stands out that succinctly expresses what characterized Josef Freinademetz for the rest of his life: “Our parents brought us up with strictness and kindness from childhood onwards.”. While his strictness was first and foremost directed at himself, everyone he met was able to experience his kindness. Both at home as chaplain in St Martin’s and later in China.

From the saint’s many letters to his family, we know of his close ties to his homeland. Even though he mainly wrote about his own life in them, he wanted to be part of everything that was happening at home. If he didn’t receive any mail from one of his siblings for a long time, he would ask whether they had already forgotten their brother in faraway China. If he was told about a sad event in the family, he would find words of comfort. He repeatedly asked for prayers and assured them that he would pray for all his loved ones back home. He wrote to his brother Antonio in September 1896:

“There is not enough time for a long letter, but I must briefly let you know that I received your letter with great joy, as it was the first in your life. Write to me only occasionally, for I am very happy about it; although separated by seas of thousands of hours, we remain brothers and as true brothers we hope to be able to love each other when we return to the father’s house of paradise, where father and mother, brothers and sisters are already waiting for us. Tears come to my eyes when I think of this beautiful day.”

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