St. Clement Mary is often called the second founder of the Redemptorists, and rightly. The diocese of Rochester, which owes much to the German Redemptorists, is deeply indebted to the memory.
Clement was a native of Moravia, Czechoslovakia. In fact, he was in blood a Moravian Slav, but his father, a butcher named Dvorak, for practical reasons had changed his surname to its German equivalent. Dvorak and Hofbauer both mean “farmer.” The ninth of 12 children, our saint was baptized John, but later changed his forename to Clement Mary.
From early childhood, Clement longed to be a priest. However, because his family could not afford to send him to the seminary, he was apprenticed at 15 to a baker. Engaged eventually as a baker by the abbot of the Norbertine monastery at Bruck, he was permitted to attend classes in the monastery’s Latin school.
When the abbot died, young Clement decided to become a hermit. But when the officious Austrian Emperor Joseph II later forbade the hermit life, Clement returned to his bakery trade, now in Vienna. From Vienna he and a like-minded friend, Pater Kunzmann, made two pilgrimages to Rome. With permission of the local bishop, they settled in the diocese of Tivoli as hermits. Before long, however, Clement concluded that his calling was rather to be a missionary.
One rainy day after he had returned to Vienna, he offered to fetch a carriage for two ladies who had been at Mass with him in St. Stephen’s Cathedral. It was a lucky courtesy. The two women were well-to-do, and when they learned of his dream to go to the seminary, they offered to supply him and his friend, Thaddaeus Huebl, with all needed funds.
The two young men went to Rome, joined the Redemptorists, completed their studies, and were ordained in 1785. St. Alphonsus, founder of the Redemptorists, was happy at the thought that his order would now be represented north of the Alps. On returning to Austria, Father Hofbauer quickly welcomed into the Redemptorists, as a lay brother, his old friend Kunzmann: the first vocation to the order in German territory.
Father Clement and his companions were now sent to Warsaw. From 1789 to 1808, they brought about a great revival in Warsaw and Poland by their constant parish missions. They were responsible for the conversion there of many Protestants and a number of Jews. St. Clement opened an orphanage and begged the funds to support it. (Once when he entered a tavern and asked a card-player for a donation, the man spat in his face. Clement calmly replied, “That was a gift to me personally; now please let me have something for my poor children.”) He also founded a school for boys, and a number of religious confraternities. Out of Warsaw he sent missionaries to establish their congregation in Courland, Germany, and Switzerland.
Unfortunately, Napoleon decreed the suppression of religious orders. St. Clement was jailed on two occasions. Exiled, he decided to return to Vienna. There, despite continuing political obstacles, he carried on effectively his preaching, his educational work, and his charities. He won a large following. Through his contacts with political figures, he was able to prevent the international Congress of Vienna from setting up a national German Catholic church independent of the popes.
All Vienna crowded the streets to witness Hofbauer’s funeral in 1820. He was canonized in 1909.
After St. Clement’s death, the Redemptorists spread into many lands. The German Redemptorists arrived in America in 1832. Four years later, their pioneer missionary, Father Joseph Prost, established St. Joseph’s parish in Rochester. The Rochester Redemptorists not only staffed the first German-language parish in Rochester and promoted the establishment of several daughter parishes, but also took care of Germans in other parts of western New York. Their contribution to the religious and cultural life of these uprooted immigrants is beyond all praise. Saint Clement Maria would have been proud of the work of his missionaries in western New York.
–Father Robert F. McNamara