The brief but blessed life of Francis Xavier Seelos in New Orleans
The Bavarian-born priest Francis Xavier Seelos, a member of the Redemptorist religious community, was assigned in 1866 to serve as pastor of the Church of St. Mary’s Assumption in New Orleans’ Irish Channel. Seelos quickly became known for his accessibility, his cheer and his care for the poor and society’s outcasts. But while caring for people with yellow fever — a recurring warm-weather scourge then — Seelos contracted the disease and died on Oct. 4, 1867. He was 48.
Seelos, whom Pope John Paul II beatified in 2000, is one church-certified miracle away from the two required for sainthood. Seelos’ remains are housed in a shrine at St. Mary’s Church in the Irish Channel that also is the volunteer-run center for information about developments in the campaign for his canonization.
- The first miraculous cure attributed to Seelos’ intervention was that of Angela Boudreaux of Gretna, a liver cancer patient who was given three weeks to live in 1966. Her recovery was total, and she lived until 2001.
- Born in Füssen, Germany, Seelos had wanted to be a priest since childhood. After completing his studies and joining the Redemptorists, he decided to minister to German-speaking immigrants in the United States. He arrived in New York on April 20, 1843.
- Before coming to New Orleans, Seelos worked in the eastern and Midwestern United States. Among the cities he served were Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Annapolis.
- Seelos was celebrated for his keen insights, such as this one: “If the Americans were as expert in spiritual matters as they are in business affairs, all of them would be saints.”
- During Seelos’ three-week struggle with yellow fever, newspapers published updates on his condition, and his death was front-page news. Crowds representing all levels of society crowded St. Mary’s Church for his funeral, according to archive.org, and waited for hours to pray before his casket.
- After arriving in New Orleans, Seelos wrote, presciently: “I have come here to pass the rest of my days and find a lasting resting place at Saint Mary’s. I feel I have traveled enough. I shall never leave New Orleans.”
- Francis Xavier Seelos isn’t to be confused with St. Francis Xavier, the Jesuit missionary and saint after whom Xavier University in New Orleans was named.
Seelos’ appeal has endured, nearly 140 years after his death, because his story tugs at the heart. He was an utterly good man who dedicated his life to serving others and was cut down while ministering to his flock. Adding to those elements is the prospect that someone who served in New Orleans — and is entombed in New Orleans — might achieve Catholicism’s highest honor: sainthood.