Saturday, May 3, 2014

April 10 1836 - Antthony Kohlmann SJ dies, giant of restored society


Today we remember the death of one of the outstanding figures of that first generation of the restored Society.  Anthony Kohlmann, born in France - fled to Switzerland due to the French Revolution where he was ordained a priest.  He entered the Jesuit novitiate in Russia in 1803 after the publication ofCatholicae Fidei by Pius VII allowed it. Very competent and versatile he was soon sent to Georgetown in Washington DC, after an appeal for Jesuits.  Straight away he became the assistant Novice Master.

The former Jesuit and now leader of the US Church, John Carroll, was keen for good men to help him re-establish order in the church.  The crucial city of New York, the first port of call for so many immigrants, many of them Catholics, was experiencing a financial depression and the church there was in chaos.  Carroll appointed Kohlmann to take charge as an apostolic administrator - he was to lay the foundations of the first version of the famous St Patricks Cathedral, establish a school for girls run by Irish Ursuline Nuns, and also found a successful classical school - the New York Literary Institution.  His most important legacy was to safeguard the seal of the confessional in law.  He had persuaded a penitent to return stolen goods, but refused to identify the perpetrator to the owner, even in court.  The case drew nationwide attention and led to the judge ruling in his favour.

Returning to Georgetown when a bishop for New York was found, he was to found the Washington Seminary and take charge of Georgetown College from 1817-1820.   Soon his talents were requested by Rome - where Pius VIII had restored the Gregorian University to the care of the Society.  He became Chair of Theology, teaching amongst others the future Pope Leo XIII.  Two successive Popes Leo XII and Gregory XVI  relied on his advice, making him a consultant to the College of Cardinals and appointing him to several important Congregations.  He was  sought out as a confessor at the Gesu,  and contracted pneumonia during a heavy Lenten season - perhaps a martyr to the Confessional, appropriate for the man who safeguarded the Seal throughout America. 
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