July 19, 2019
175 years later, we trace the journey of a province pioneer
BY TONI CASHNELLI
The arrival of Tyrolese friar Wilhelm (William) Unterthiner had a seismic impact on the Catholic Church in Cincinnati and on the course of Franciscan life in the United States. Next Tuesday marks the 175th anniversary of that event, a date that friars of St. John the Baptist Province point to with pride.
“Among the founders of our province, the name of Father William Unterthiner shines like a beacon light in the church history of early Cincinnati,” according to the Provincial Chronicle.
Aldric Heidlage, OFMMuch of what we know about the man is culled from a six-volume set of letters translated from the German by Aldric Heidlage and Pat McCloskey and housed in the Franciscan Archives. The earliest of those letters, written as Unterthiner prepared to leave Europe for America and soon after he arrived in Cincinnati, tell the story of a journey of more than ten weeks and 4,500 miles. Up to that point, this 34-year-old friar had spent most of his life no more than 100 miles from where he was born.
His letters reveal Unterthiner was a keen observer with a talent for travelogue. “Before I leave behind our part of the world, I want to give a short account of my experiences,” he wrote home on May 23, 1844, before setting off on a The Rhine Valley en route to Mainz43-day crossing of the Atlantic. These are the words of a man who suspects that one chapter of his life is ending, and another has begun. “Now I will retrace my steps from the beginning in Munich.”
Here (in quotes) are excerpts from three of Unterthiner’s letters to his superiors.
We’ve added our own comments to help put his remarkable journey in the context of its time.
May 13, 1844: “We travelled by rail to Augsburg. As a city, Augsburg is very respected and dignified, like an old, experienced lady. Munich resembles a young, pleasing maiden who has fallen in love with her own passing beauty.”
Pat McCloskey, OFMAccording to Pat McCloskey, Unterthiner was joined by two brothers from the Bavarian province (Arsacius Wieser and Leander Streber); Fr. Johann Raffeiner, vicar general for Germans in the Diocese of New York; and Capuchin Frs. Ambrose Buchmayer and Florian of Fiecht.
May 17: “We went down the beautiful Neckar Valley on the steamship Leopold to Mainz. On the 18th we went to Cologne on the steamship. …We said Mass in the Cologne Cathedral on the 19th. It is certainly a magnificent building both inside and outside. …Although they are working feverishly, it will take at least 40 years to finish it. In places where construction has stopped temporarily, the cathedral looks like a well-preserved ruin. Weeds grow from the half-finished towers, which leaves a very strange impression.”
Cologne Cathedral, the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe, was completed in 1880, close to Unterthiner’s prediction. Construction, which began in 1248 and was often interrupted, had resumed in 1842.
Cincinnati riverside, from the Friars of AustriaMay 19: “We went to Nijmegen [Netherlands]…the home of St. Peter Canisius. From there we traveled by steamship past Gorcum and Dortrecht to Rotterdam….From there we went by steamship Hamburg to Le Havre in 36 hours….we left the River Maas [Meuse] and entered the North Sea. The swaying of the ship caused sixteen of our group, including Fr. Florian from Fiecht, terrible vomiting. I ate as before, but I always looked at the sea which came up pretty high.”
During the North Sea passage and the Atlantic crossing, seasickness was a constant and distressing fact of life for Unterthiner’s fellow passengers. He, however, seemed immune to it, writing, “The sea got the better of me neither there nor on the 43-day sea voyage.”
May 26: “On Pentecost Sunday we will depart [from Le Havre] on a North American sailing ship, a three-masted ship called Tuskina. The passage without food in the captain’s cabin costs us 200 francs [$40] apiece.”
The SS Baltic, a mid-century steamship.The Tuskina, an American flagship of 421 register tons, normally sailed the New York to New Orleans trade. Unterthiner did not travel in steerage, unlike those in the lower second-class section of the ship, which he said is “certainly like purgatory.” He described his accommodations as “very beautiful and comfortable – considering we are on the sea.”
Early June: “The sea voyage coming from Europe is always longer since the winds are usually from the west; thus one naturally cannot steer in a straight line but rather must sail back and forth like the shape of a triangle….It is 3,300 sea miles from Le Havre to New York. Five miles takes two hours. It is very difficult to describe a sea voyage. It is so magnificent, at one time beautiful and then terrifying. A small piece of wood on so much water. The ships themselves are amazingly beautiful structures.”
A steamship cabin Tuskina
June: “The storm is grand, dreadful. It goes one way and then another so that someone can stand only with difficulty; indeed often in the cabin everything that is not tied down falls over. Lying down is very uncomfortable because of the continuous tossing back and forth. Still it is somewhat curious that one often is no longer sure whether the wall is the floor or the floor is the wall.”
Storms came up so quickly and violently there was little time to take in the sails. “I have not been greatly afraid,” Unterthiner wrote. The Tuskina emerged from the voyage with only one torn sail.
Early July, 1844: “In the fifth week we saw entire schools of small fish and a young whale. That was big. At the end of the sixth week, we had a good wind. Then we encountered seaweed in great quantity and currents in the sea….above the equator. There the fog also ceased. On Friday at 10 o’clock, we saw land, indeed the Jersey shore.”
July 6 they set down the anchor and a doctor came on board to check the health of passengers. A day after the ship was cleaned, the healthy passengers went on a small boat to New York City, where Unterthiner and his two confreres were welcomed by Redemptorists. That Sunday, he preached for the first time on American soil at the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer.
Early July: “On Tuesday evening we went by steamship up the Hudson [River] to Albany. From there we went by rail to Buffalo. We made the entire trip in 50 hours. From there we travelled by steamship on Lake Erie to Cleveland in less than 22 hours. The lake is very stormy and dangerous….it is huge; sea ships travel on it.”
In 1840s America, travel by “railway”, as it was called, was a noisy, dirty affair – still something of a novelty. But at 15 to 20 miles per hour, trains were a boon to travelers, twice as fast as a horse-drawn coach, according to Old Sturbridge Inc.
Mid-July, 1844: “We needed eight days to get to Portsmouth. …Although the trip went day and night, the [Ohio Canal] boats go very slowly since they are pulled by horses alone. It is 309 miles from Cleveland to Portsmouth.”
Most canal or “packet” boats, which moved at the speed of a fast walk, were about 70 feet long and 14 feet wide. They carried mail, cargo and up to 60 passengers, according to website histories of American canals. Bridges on the canal were so low that passengers had to lie on their backs when the man at the helm cautioned them to duck, as in the “Low Bridge, Everybody Down” lyrics in the Erie Canal song.
July 23: “On the feast of Mary Magdalene, we took a steamship for the 100 miles to Cincinnati. We arrived at four o’clock in the morning. In Europe it would have been one hour after noon….Now in the name of God I will begin here whatever happens to me. I hope that God will give me the grace to seek the prayers of my confreres and other good people. I beg you especially not to forget me.”
According to Pat McCloskey, “Wilhelm Unterthiner was a remarkably zealous and talented friar. Already before he left Europe, he was instructing his provincial about the best way for future Tyrolese friars to travel to Le Havre, France, from which he left for America. In New York and in Cincinnati (immediately on his arrival), he added further instructions. If we both make it to heaven, I look forward to meeting him.”
BY PAT McCLOSKEY, OFM
Top, citizenship papers; above, scenic Feldthurns(Pat McCloskey, author of the province history God Gives His Grace, compiled this list of milestones in the life of Wilhelm “William” Unterthiner.)
1809 | Nicholas Joseph is born in Fraktion Schrambach and baptized in Feldthurns (not far from Bozen, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire).
1827 | Invested as a friar, he is given the name Wilhelm.
1832 | Ordained simplex (no faculties to preach or hear confessions).
1835 | After more theology studies in Trent, he is given the cura animarum (can preach and hear confessions) and is appointed lector of New Testament exegesis at the friars’ gymnasium (high school) in Hall.
1837 | Named parish preacher in Hall.
1844 | Although he had volunteered to go to Jerusalem as a confessor, he leaves on April 15 for Cincinnati at the request of Bishop John Baptist Purcell. In late May begins a 43-day voyage from Le Havre, France, arriving in New York City on July 6 with two Capuchins, two Bavarian brothers, and the vicar general for Germans in New York.
Bishop John Baptist Purcell sought German-speaking priests.On July 23, arrives in Cincinnati by boat. He and two Bavarian brothers are assigned to Holy Trinity Church (downtown) under Francis Louis Huber. He soon begins writing for Der Wahrheitfreund (Friend of Truth, a German Catholic newspaper). Is willing to travel to German Catholic settlements near Cincinnati; rejects the suggestion that their house is under the jurisdiction of the Bavarian provincial. By December, his relationship with the imperious Huber has broken dwn.
1845 | Requests another friar priest from Tyrol; suggests names. Is put under the bishop’s full authority. Says the Tyrolese province could accept novices if it had a canonically established house in Cincinnati. Purcell takes Unterthiner’s side against Huber. Unterthiner is invited to a German Catholic settlement in Teutopolis, Ill. Cornerstone laid for St. John the Baptist Church at Green and Republic in Cincinnati. Fr. Alexander Martin, OSF, arrives from Tyrol but stays less than a month.
The Tuskina manifest with Unterthiner’s name fifth.1846 | Arsacius WieserLeander StreberFr. Edmund Etschmann
1847 | Nicholas Wachter arrives from Tyrol. Friars are visiting Hamilton, Stonelick, Straitcreek, and Fayetteville. St. John the Baptist has 505 baptisms, 230 marriages and 266 funerals.
1848 | Otto Jair arrives from Tyrol. Bishop Purcell suspends Francis Louis Huber.
1849 | Four Tyrolese friars arrive; friars begin at St. Boniface Parish in Louisville; friars are invited to join a German Catholic colony in Wartburg, Tenn. Unterthiner attends seventh provincial council in Baltimore as Purcell’s theologian.
Otto Jair1850 | Friars choose St. Clement Parish (St. Bernard) over Wartburg; build their own friary. German Catholics have six large churches in the city of Cincinnati. Unterthiner is appointed superior of the Tyrolese foundation in the U.S.
1851 | Friars begin wearing the habit at home and in church.
1852 | Attends first plenary council of Baltimore as superior of the friars’ foundation; 34 bishops are there; requests canonical establishment of St. Clement Friary (granted by Propaganda Fide on June 8); resigns as superior and is followed by David Widmann.
1854 | Writes final letter on April 10; St. John School has 900 pupils; makes no mention of applying for U.S. citizenship, which became official on March 20, 1855.
1857 | Dies of “pulmonary consumption” (tuberculosis) on Jan.17.
(William Unterthiner is buried at St. John Cemetery in St. Bernard, Ohio.)
He steered against the wind
BY MARK SOEHNER, OFM
Cincinnati in 1844, from the Franciscan Friars of AustriaWhen I was a novice in 1980, we studied the history of St. John the Baptist Province. It is difficult to start almost anywhere else than the arrival of William Unterthiner in Cincinnati in 1844.
His courage and trust in God “giving His grace” continue to inspire me. The dynamic that I see in him is one of “reading the Signs of the Times” and adjusting the Franciscan life in practical ways that ignited the Gospel for others. Like the boat from Europe that brought the friars here, they needed to learn to “tack”, that is, to steer against the western wind in a zig zag manner. The new group of friars in Cincinnati were frequently criticized in not observing the Rule. This misunderstanding of the Tyrolese friars who had never experienced the American reality had to weigh heavy on him. The 1854 Chapter in Tyrol, Austria (our Mother Province), tried to recall the friars, since it did not seem likely to them that the Franciscan life could be lived in the United States.
Yet, Unterthiner stayed. Not only stayed, but thrived. He became an American citizen. He, Archbishop John Baptist Purcell and the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith in Rome objected to the Chapter decision. When the Minister General overruled the Chapter decision, the friars were able to legitimately remain. Once again they needed to “tack” when the Tyrolese Province in 1857 tried to recall the friars, but again the Minister General overruled them. While still a small group, the Cincinnati friars proposed a Custody, and then became a Province in 1885.
This dynamic of Unterthiner to read the signs of the times and to tack in order to make headway against a strong gale force wind succeeded in allowing the Order to flourish in the many places God sent us over the years. God still gives His grace to those who ask. As we move into the headwinds of a new time, we trust that grace, that strength. We place our lives into God’s Hands as we help others to notice God’s Beauty: Ever Ancient, Ever New.
— Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM
A Journey to our Roots (First of a series)
BY LOREN CONNELL, OFM
Tuesday, July 2
Aliquippa and Pittsburgh, Pa.
PHOTO BY LOREN CONNELL, OFMThe Church of St. Joseph in Chatham, Ontario, was once staffed by SJB friars. Mount Olivet CemeteryBob Mancini
From Mount Olivet in Aliquippa, Waze directed me to Christ Our Redeemer Cemetery, otherwise known as Northside Catholic Cemetery, in Pittsburgh. It is right next to another cemetery, and I entered that one first but soon recognized that I was in the wrong place. Nineteen years ago, at the time of the union of the Vice Province of the Holy Savior with the Province of St. John the Baptist, I was part of a bus tour which included the friars’ plot at Christ Our Redeemer. This afternoon I found it pretty much as I remembered it. The friars’ names were familiar from the Necrology; and nearly half of them, from Roland Maruscak to David Moczulski, were friars whom I had personally known, however briefly.
Venance Hornak’s and Armand Kopac’s stones were reversed from the order in which the Necrology says they died, as are Aloysius Stribula’s and Daniel Drab’s. More surprising was the absence of George Jakub. Our Necrology had him listed in Christ Our Redeemer Cemetery, but he was not among the other friars. I checked with the cemetery office and learned that he was buried elsewhere in the cemetery. He has a simple bronze marker flat with the ground. Apparently, like several other friars of the vice province, when he died in 1989, George was buried, not with the other friars in Valparaiso, but somewhere else, in this case, Pittsburgh. When the remains of the friars were moved from Valparaiso to Pittsburgh, George’s body was not moved with them to the new plot. Is there a tale waiting to be told?
Monday, July 8
Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
I arrived at St. Peter Cemetery in Saratoga Springs a little after noon to pay homage to Louis Mihok. I would call St. Peter a medium-sized cemetery. It has no gate marking an entrance and no significant fence. In comparison with the cemeteries in A headstone at Christ Our Redeemer Cemetery in Pittsburgh marks the friars’ plot.Aliquippa and Pittsburgh, I did not find it particularly attractive. I had written some notes to help me find his grave, but this morning I neglected to check my e-mail response from the cemetery. I found well over a hundred Redemptorists in three different sections, but our brother Louis I did not find. After a half-hour of searching, I said a prayer for him and thanked God for the gift of my Franciscan vocation.
Tuesday, July 9
I did not envision my pilgrimage extending to anything other than the graves of our deceased friars; but as I drove through southern Ontario on my way from Saratoga Springs to Southfield, I stopped in Chatham to check out our former parish there. How long were we in Chatham? Thirty to 40 years? The information is probably in the archives. Peregrin Matschy, buried in Mt. Elliott in Detroit, was stationed there in the 1880s. The parish predates the friars, but we were there when the present church was built.
BY JIM MCINTOSH, OFM
Top, The backdrop for the profession was Old Mission Santa Barbara; above, left to right: Tim Lamb, Mark Soehner, Matt Ryan, Raphael Ozoude and Carl Langenderfer.
The vows ceremony was attended by a number of friars, including Capuchin and Conventual Franciscan friars and novices who journeyed from their nearby novitiates to witness the ceremony, along with members of the parish church at the Mission.
Friars from four U.S. provinces professed their vows to live St. Francis of Assisi’s Rule of the Order of Friars Minor. Those friars were:
Province of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Provincial Minister Fr. James Gannon, OFM, received the vows of Br. Andrew Aldrich, OFM, 28, from Mishawaka, Ind. Friars Kevin Schroeder, OFM, and Gregory Plata, OFM, witnessed his vows. Assumption Province is based in Franklin, Wis.
For Holy Name Province, based in New York City, Provincial Vicar Fr. Larry Hayes, OFM, accepted the vows of:
PHOTOS BY FRANK JASPER, OFMAccepting the vows were Larry Hayes, Mark Soehner, David Gaa and James Gannon.Friars Walter Liss, OFMHugh Macsherry, OFM
Provincial Minister Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM, of St. John the Baptist Province, of Cincinnati, Ohio, heard the vows of:
Above, newly professed Matt Ryan (top) and Raphael Ozoude
The 10 men then signed the official register of their respective province. Also, signing were the provincial minister and the witnesses from the province.
After all 10 had made their profession of vows, the new brothers received the congratulations of the provincial ministers, the novitiate formation team, and then from all the assembled friars, including the Conventual and Capuchin novices who had shared many novitiate experiences with the newly-professed.
Following the vows ceremony, a lively reception was held in the novitiate dining room for everyone attending.
The newly-professed friars will now journey to spend time in their home provinces before starting studies in the fall either at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago or at the Franciscan School of Theology at the University of San Diego.
(This story first appeared on https://usfranciscans.org/. Jim McIntosh, a friar of Holy Name Province, is the webmaster.)
Travelers can minimize risks
A medical emergency on vacation or health crisis in a foreign country is the worst-case scenario for even the most intrepid traveler. Though many travelers take important steps against infectious disease, including vaccinations, malaria pills and diarrhea remedies, experts say they often overlook other physical dangers: sudden catastrophic illness, accident, assault or natural disasters. Terrorist attacks and civil unrest in major foreign capitals add another level of uncertainty to vacation planning.
Everyone thinks the most likely reason they are going to die is “infectious disease,” says a physician and partner in Travel Medicine Northwest in Washington, and clinical assistant professor at the University of Washington. But in fact, he notes, more likely causes of death include being the victim of a violent crime, being struck by a motor vehicle, or having a heart attack or a stroke.
While it isn’t always possible to anticipate every risk, travelers can take a number of steps to prepare for unexpected illness or injury, and new apps can quickly provide information about danger spots or link travelers to help.
For starters, it is advisable to have a pre-travel physical, especially for patients who are overweight or out of shape, noting that risks can be exacerbated by dehydration or overexertion on summer trips. Certain destinations should be avoided for those at higher risk, such as a 70-year-old with a pacemaker. So, instead of trekking around Madagascar, you might consider a cruise.
Overseas hospitals or clinics may not always be prepared for the highest level of care, and patients can get caught up in red tape or language barriers. It’s advisable to check if your health plan covers overseas medical treatment, and purchase additional coverage if not. Some companies provide on-the-spot medical care and transport from the point of illness or injury, back to the U.S. if necessary.
The State Department offers Smart Traveler, an app with frequently updated country information, travel alerts, warnings, maps and U.S. embassy locations.
–Michelle Viacava, RN
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A steamship cabin The Tuskina was about 150 feet long and 50 feet at its widest point. In a confined space on a voyage that must have seemed interminable, Unterthiner busied himself by learning English. He was a quick study. “Already I have learned so much that I could take care of myself on the trip from New York to Cincinnati,” he wrote.
The Tuskina manifest with Unterthiner’s name fifth.1846 | Appointed pastor at St. John the Baptist in February; requests Tyrolese friars to work under the bishop’s direction; Arsacius Wieser and Leander Streber (Bavarian brothers) move to St. John’s. Fr. Edmund Etschmann arrives from Tyrol.
PHOTO BY LOREN CONNELL, OFMThe Church of St. Joseph in Chatham, Ontario, was once staffed by SJB friars. This morning I left Transfiguration Friary with the blessing of Jeff, my guardian. Waze (GPS) guided me to Mount Olivet Cemetery in Aliquippa, the first of 33 cemeteries that I hope to visit by the end of December as part of my sabbatical. I was told that Bob Mancini was buried near the fence beside the road. The fence is long, and it took me a while to find Bob’s grave. He is buried in the family plot. On one side of the stone are his name and those of his parents (who were in their 40s when Bob was born). On the other side are the names of three other Mancinis, two women and a man, older than Bob but younger than his parents, whom I assume to be his siblings. I never met Bob and knew little more about him than what is contained in the Necrology, yet when I stood before his gravestone, I felt a sense of kinship with him. He was my brother.
Top, The backdrop for the profession was Old Mission Santa Barbara; above, left to right: Tim Lamb, Mark Soehner, Matt Ryan, Raphael Ozoude and Carl Langenderfer.SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Ten men professed their first vows as Franciscan Friars at Old Mission Santa Barbara on July 2.
PHOTOS BY FRANK JASPER, OFMAccepting the vows were Larry Hayes, Mark Soehner, David Gaa and James Gannon.Friars Walter Liss, OFM, the national OFM postulant director, and Hugh Macsherry, OFM, witnessed their vows.