March 15 – Martyr Alexander of Side; Clemens Maria Hofbauer

Hieromartyr Alexander of Side in Pamphylia (d. ca. 270), during the reign of Aurelian, was brought before the local governor and asked who he was. “Pastor of the flock of Christ,” he said. “Where is this flock?” asked the governor. “Over all the world. People who believe in him are his sheep. People like you, who worship idols, are goats. Judgment will fall upon you guys, wait and see.” For some reason the governor took ill at this, and ordered Alexander to be whipped and tossed into a furnace. (A burning furnace, our source makes clear—not just a cold one waiting for the next wood delivery.) But the fire couldn’t harm him, so they whipped him again and tossed him to the wild beasts. But the beasts wouldn’t touch him (perhaps because he smelled like smoke), so the governor ordered him beheaded. Immediately he (the governor) became rabid. His attendants dragged him kicking and foaming to the temple, presumably hoping the gods would heal him, but on the way “the evil spirit” (which one? doesn’t say) popped out his wicked soul and made off with it. I’m guessing it wasn’t for a pleasant stroll.

Clemens Maria Hofbauer (1751–1820) (né John) wanted to be a priest, but his impoverished mother couldn’t send him to seminary, and the Latin lessons with the local priest fell through, so he became a baker’s apprentice. Later he lived as a hermit and baked for a priory in Brück. When Emperor Joseph II (“the Enlightened Ruler”) outlawed hermits, he moved to Italy, took the name Clemens Maria, and as a hermit prayed for people who forget to pray (really). But that wasn’t making him a priest, so he beat it back to Brück to bake[1]. Two local women (unnamed, of course) paid his tuition to the U. of Vienna (the Enlightened Ruler had closed the seminaries), but after graduation he was still unable to become a priest—Enlightened Joe had forbidden religious communities to accept new candidates.

On another trip to Italy, he and a pal became Redemptorists, were ordained priests, and were sent back to Vienna to found a Redemptorist church. As if!—Enlightenmentiac wouldn’t allow it, so they went to Warsaw and started a tiny church and a refuge for homeless boys. Early on, Clemens went to a bakery to beg for bread, but the baker couldn’t oblige because he had no assistant. Clemens rolled up his sleeves, helped bake the day’s bread, and took home enough to feed the lads. Another time he went into a drinking establishment to beg for donations. One of the patrons spat beer in his face, whereupon he said, “That’s fine for me, but what have you got for my boys?” The patrons liked his spirit, and he walked away with 100 silver coins. The church throve (love that word), and the orphanage grew into an academy and a home for girls. Nevertheless in the wake of the Warsaw Uprising of 1794 it was closed down by the Russians, and 40 Redemptorists were carted off to prison.

Clemens returned to Vienna, where he worked as a hospital chaplain, a parish priest, and then chaplain to the Ursulines. He got into hot water for corresponding with the Redemptorists back in Rome (apparently not an Enlightened thing to do), but after Emperor Franz had an audience with the pope, instead of banishing Clemens, he agreed to (finally) allow him to open a Redemptorist church in Vienna. Sadly it was too late for Clemens, who died before the church was opened. He was named the patron saint of Vienna in 1914 by Pope Pius X.

[1]Today’s hagiography is brought to you by the letter B.