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Kohlmann, Anthony


Defender of the seal of confession and of religious freedom; b. Kaiserberg, Alsace, July 13, 1771; d. Rome, Italy, April 11, 1836. After his theological studies and ordination at Fribourg, Switzerland, he joined (1796) the Congregation of the Fathers of the Sacred Heart. After transferring (1800) to the Society of Jesus then existing in Russia, he joined (1804) the Georgetown College community, Washington, D.C., and frequently made missionary excursions into Pennsylvania and Maryland. From 1808 to 1815 he served in New York; under his direction the foundations of old St. Patrick's were laid, a school was established on what later became the site of the new cathedral, and a school for girls was opened under the Ursulines (1812). While rector of St. Peter's in 1813, Kohlmann undertook to return goods stolen by a penitent. When the owner, James Keating, urged the court to compel Kohlmann to reveal the name of the penitent, four Protestant judges of the Court of General Sessions upheld Kohlmann's defense of secrecy of the confessional. Referring to article 38 of the state constitution, the Protestant defense lawyer, Richard Riker, asked: "Where is the liberty of conscience to the Catholic, if the priest and the penitent be thus exposed?" The controversy attracted attention throughout the country; New York and other states soon passed special protective legislation.

Kohlmann returned to Georgetown (1815) and was later assigned (1824) to the Gregorian University, Rome, where the future Leo XIII was one of his students. He served as consultor to the College of Cardinals and to various congregations of the Holy See. During his last days he was confessor at the Gesú, where he died.

Bibliography: a. p. strokes, Church and State in the United States, 3 v. (New York 1950).

[t. o. hanley]

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