Leopoldinen Stiftung (Leopoldine Society)

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An Austrian mission society organized in 1828 in Vienna through the efforts of Frederick Résé, a German missionary who joined the U.S. Diocese of Cincinnati in 1824. While in Europe in 1828 to solicit funds for his diocese, Résé obtained an audience with Emperor Francis I, who granted permission for the new mission society; the following year the society received official approbation from Pope Leo XII. Patterned after the French Society for the propagation of the faith, established in Lyons in 1822, the Austrian organization was called Leopoldinen Stiftung to honor St. Leopold, an Austrian medieval margrave, and to memorialize the emperor's daughter Leopoldina, who died as empress of Brazil in 1826.

Members of the organization were required to pray for the missions and contribute a weekly alms to be used exclusively for America. Funds thus collected were sent to headquarters in Vienna, where they were then distributed to needy bishops and religious communities in the U.S. Contributions to America had totaled more than $436,000 by 1861, after which the activity of the society declined sharply. It ceased to exist in 1921, and by then the total contributed was $709,114. The generous financial assistance was augmented by valuable gifts of church goods and, more important, numerous Austrian recruits for the American missions, including the future Bishop (later Blessed) John neumann of Philadelphia; the future Bishop Frederic baraga of Marquette; Father Caspar Rehrl, founder of the Sisters of St. Agnes; Father Joseph salzmann, founder of St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee; Father Francis X. pierz of Minnesota; Father John Stephen raffeiner of New York; and many others. Coinciding with the period of expansion of church and nation into the Ohio and Mississippi valleys, this foreign mission aid proved more effective in strengthening Catholicism than the bare facts indicate, and served to arouse nativist opposition.

From the outset the society published missionary data; its annual reports, Berichte der Leopoldinen Stiftung im Kaiserthume Oesterreichs, presenting financial statements and letters from missionaries, which featured especially the work among the native and immigrant groups of the U.S., still constitute an important source of American Church history. Of historical value also is Canon Josep Salzbacher's Meine Reise nach Nord-Amerika im Jahre 1842, published after he, as editor of the Berichte, visited the U.S. to investigate charges of unfairness that had been reaching Europe regarding the distribution of aid.

Bibliography: b. j. blied, Austrian Aid to American Catholics, 18301860 (Milwaukee 1944). t. roemer, Ten Decades of Alms (St. Louis 1942).

[b. j. blied]

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Leopoldinen Stiftung (Leopoldine Society)

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