Controversialist; b. Germany, Aug. 8, 1843; d. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Aug. 24, 1917. He attended schools at Gaesdonk and Münster in Germany, and St. Francis Seminary, Milwaukee, where he was ordained Jan. 29, 1868. After teaching for a semester, he joined the La Crosse diocese, where he spent eight years in pastorates at Chippewa Falls, La Crosse, and Prairie du Chien. In 1876 he became spiritual director of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, Milwaukee, whose subsequent progress was credited to his zeal. He wrote a life of Mother Caroline Friess, first superior of the Milwaukee mother-house. He was one of the theologians selected to do preliminary work for the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore. He was named vicar-general of the Milwaukee archdiocese in 1906, and a domestic prelate in 1907.
Acting for Abp. Michael heiss and others, he became absorbed in the controversy between German-and English-speaking Catholics. The conflict involved questions concerning the selection of a coadjutor for Archbishop henni, the juridical status of nationalistic parishes, the Bennett Law requiring the use of English in schools, Cahenslyism, and Americanism. Among the items contained in his petition to Rome in 1886 were the recognition of parochial status for national churches and legislation assigning immigrants to national churches and their children to the schools thereof. The Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith delayed a decision; when rendered through Bps. John Ireland and John Keane, it was generally regarded as unfavorable to Abbelen. He constantly maintained that he had always been guided by moral objectives, and remarked that he thought Peter Cahensly's program would serve the good of immigrants. The controversy was not fully resolved until the promulgation of the new Code of Canon Law and the end of World War I.
Bibliography: p. m. abbelen, "Memorial on the German Question…," in c. j. barry, The Catholic Church and German Americans (Milwaukee 1953) 289–296, with answers to the same, 296–312.
[p. l. johnson]