Raffeiner, John Stephen

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Pioneer missionary; b. Mals, Austrian Tyrol, Dec. 26, 1785; d. Brooklyn, N.Y., July 16, 1861. His studies for the priesthood, at the Tyrolean Benedictine abbey in Fiecht and later in Rome, were interrupted in 1809 by the Napoleonic wars. He then turned to medicine, obtained his degree in 1813, and conducted a highly successful practice as physician and surgeon in Italy, Austria, and Switzerland. After resuming his theological studies, he was ordained at Brixen in the Tyrol on May 1, 1825. He served as assistant and pastor in his native diocese of Brixen until, in response to an appeal of Bishop Edward Fenwick of Cincinnati, Ohio, through the Leopoldine Association, he volunteered for missionary work in the United States.

Upon his arrival in 1833, he was persuaded by Bishop John Dubois to remain in New York City to minister to the fast-growing colonies of German Catholics there. With personal funds earned in his previous medical career, he rented a carpenter shop as a temporary chapel and later leased a former Baptist church, where he formally organized the first New York City congregation of German Catholics. In 1834 he bought land from John Jacob Astor for St. Nicholas's Church, New York City, which was dedicated in 1836. He visited German congregations at Macopin and elsewhere in New Jersey; at Albany, Utica, Salina, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, and other missions in New York State; and, at the request of Bishop Benedict Fenwick, at Boston, where he founded Holy Trinity Church, dedicated in 1844. In all these visitations he had notable success in settling national difficulties and disputes between congregations and pastors arising from the prevalent system of incorporating church property under boards of lay trustees.

Among the 30 churches he was instrumental in establishing, including the above, were St. John's, New York City (1840), and Holy Trinity, Williamsburg, Brooklyn (1841). In 1843 Bishop John Hughes of New York appointed him vicar-general for the German Catholics of the diocese, an office in which he continued until his death. In addition, he remained pastor of Holy Trinity and acted as vicar-general of Bishop John Loughlin from the time Brooklyn was separated from New York as a new diocese (1853).

Bibliography: m. a. corrigan, "Register of the Clergy Laboring in the Archdiocese of New York from Early Missionary Times to 1885," Historical Records and Studies of the U.S. Catholic Historical Society of New York 7 (June 1914): 201. t. f. meehan, "Very Rev. Johann Stephan Raffeiner, V. G.," ibid. 9 (June 1916): 161175. "Documents: The Schwenninger Memorial," American Benedictine Review 10 (1959): 107135; ibid. 11 (1960): 154178.

[j. a. reynolds]