Katzer, Frederick Francis Xavier
KATZER, FREDERICK FRANCIS XAVIER
Third archbishop of the Milwaukee, WI, Archdiocese; b. Ebensee, Austria, Feb. 7, 1844; d. Fond du Lac, WI, July 20, 1903. He spent his boyhood in Gmunden and studied at the seminary in Freinberg, near Linz, Austria. As a student he joined a group of volunteers for the Minnesota missions in the United States, but when all could not be accepted there, Katzer entered St. Francis Seminary for the Milwaukee Diocese. Bp. John M. Henni ordained him on Dec. 21, 1866, and appointed him professor in the seminary. In this capacity, he composed an allegorical drama, Der Kampf der Gegenwart (The Battle of the Present), dealing with Europe's social problems. When F. X. Krautbauer of Milwaukee was appointed bishop of Green Bay, WI, in 1875, he took Katzer with him and later appointed him rector of the cathedral and vicar-general. When Krautbauer died suddenly, Katzer was named his successor and consecrated on Sept. 21, 1886, by Abp. Michael Heiss.
Leadership of the campaign for repeal of the Bennett Law (1889) passed to Katzer at the death of Heiss in 1890. Catholic opinion regarding the state law, which made education compulsory and prescribed the use of English in instruction, was divided. Despite Catholic disunity, the Heiss-Katzer crusade succeeded, and the law was repealed following the 1890 election.
Meanwhile the death of Archbishop Heiss in March 1890 had left the Milwaukee Archdiocese vacant. Fearing that Katzer might be named to it, some priests, desiring a more American metropolitan, tried to prevent his appointment. Abp. John Ireland advised Gibbons that Katzer was "thoroughly German and thoroughly unfit to be an archbishop." At the archbishops' meeting in Boston (July 1890), Katzer was set aside in favor of Bp. John L. Spalding of Peoria as the metropolitans' first choice for Milwaukee. Nevertheless, Rome, passing over other candidates, appointed Katzer on Jan. 30, 1891. Fully aware of the strained situation, Gibbons, at the conferring of the pallium in Milwaukee, warned of the dangers of dissension and nationalism. The sermon was hailed by those who regarded Katzer's appointment as a distinct triumph for the German-American element in the Church, but settlement of the German question was still remote.
Katzer was an ardent supporter of the legislation of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore concerning Catholic grade schools. With other German Catholics he was critical of Ireland's advocacy of the Faribault plan and was irked at Rome's toleration of it. In addition, he looked with disfavor on the 14 points that Abp. Francesco Satolli delivered to the American archbishops in 1892 to settle the school controversy. In regard to secret societies, Katzer likewise espoused the stricter view. When the election of 1896 raised the question of socialism, Katzer let it be known that he did not favor William Jennings Bryan, fearing that social revolution would follow from the free coinage of silver. In contrast to some churchmen who gloried in Catholic loyalty during the war with Spain in 1898, Katzer observed silence. But after Leo XIII issued his letter on Americanism, Katzer, together with his suffragans, dispatched a letter of thanks to the Holy Father affirming that the condemned errors were more widespread than many cared to concede. Four years later, Katzer died. His remains were interred in the Chapel-in-the-Woods cemetery at St. Francis Seminary.
Bibliography: c. j. barry, The Catholic Church and German Americans (Milwaukee 1953). b. j. blied, Three Archbishops of Milwaukee (Milwaukee 1955). f. loidl, Erzbischof Friedrich Xavier Katzer (Vienna 1953).
[b. j. blied]