Cheerful Ascetic
Michael J. Curley
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Buy *Cheerful Ascetic: The Life of Francis Xavier Seelos, C.Ss.R* by Michael J. Curley online

Cheerful Ascetic: The Life of Francis Xavier Seelos, C.Ss.R
Michael J. Curley
Redemptorists, Seelos Center
480 pages
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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This is a second revised edition of a book by Fr. Michael J. Curley, C.Ss.R. aimed at helping disseminate information about Fr. Francis Xavier Seelos, C.Ss.R., to promote his cause for canonization as a saint. Fr. Seelos has not been canonized yet, but he was beatified by Pope John Paul II during the Holy Year 2000; beatification is the step before canonization and being declared a saint.

In recent weeks, it has been reported in the Catholic news that a woman in Baltimore, Mary Ellen Heibel, claims to have been healed of cancer after praying a novena to Blessed Francis Seelos for his intercession in 2005; the archdiocesan officials there are looking into it. She was told in 2003 about having esophagus cancer and that she would eventually die of it. A week after she and others prayed the novena, doctors informed her that her cancer was gone, that they could not explain what had happened and that chemotherapy could not have destroyed the cancer. If the miracle is validated, this may be the miracle that gets Blessed Francis canonized (the story can be read at the news and update section of Blessed Francisís website at

Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos was a man from Bavaria, Germany, who was holy, intelligent, and studious. He attended university in Munich and thought about becoming a priest. He also considered becoming a missionary priest in America to help immigrants there from Germany and other countries.

Accepted by the Redemptorist order in the United States, he crossed the Atlantic with other men wanting to join the order. They arrived in the United States to find things very primitive. Seelos made progress, eventually making his final vows and being ordained to the priesthood. He worked in various cities, including Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cumberland, Maryland, Annapolis, Maryland, Detroit, and finally New Orleans. He served in various positions in the Redemptorist order in the U.S. - prefect, rector, novice master, and other positions. A much sought-after preacher and confessor once people came to know him in his various assignments, his sermons were considered to be on a level that all people could understand and profit from.

Curley relates instances when people asked Seelos to pray for them or their loved ones, and many miracles occurred through Seelosís intercession during his lifetime. Many converted after hearing his sermons or talking with him. During parish missions, many lined up to confess to him instead of other priests who were present. Seelos was known to be a humble and unassuming person - when he was a superior, he did not lord it over his subjects, often taking up the slack when needed unbeknownst to others. He slept very little and mostly then on the floor. Many observed the countenance of this ďcheerful asceticĒ as one of true holiness, not a fake ascetic or holy person. He believed himself to be a major sinner, like other saints and blessed before him such as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and St. Therese.

Seelos served with saintly men - fellow Redemptorist Saint John Neumann in Pittsburgh, who eventually became bishop of Philadelphia, was one - and some not so saintly, which is the way of humanity. When the Bishop of Pittsburgh resigned, he wanted Seelos to be his successor. However, many (including Seelos) did not want him to be a bishop, and in the end another priest was made the bishop. Seelos endured conflicts with other members of the order who thought they should have his positions or thought he wanted their positions of authority or influence, but h was always obedient to his superiors even when maligned.

Seelos did not himself desire to be a superior but to remain simply one of the members. Toward the end of his life, he got his wish when he was sent to New Orleans to serve, where he somehow knew he would die. With other members of his order, he ran three parishes and other ministries - like going on sick calls, hearing confessions, doing baptisms, and more.

Yellow Fever struck New Orleans in 1867 and spread because it was yet unknown what caused Yellow Fever. Many people died of this disease while the Redemptorists continued their duties, which included visiting the sick and the dying. Several caught the fever, and some died of it. One of these was Francis Seelos. Curley describes Seelosís heroic death as he endured great suffering on October 4, 1867. Throngs attended his funeral the next day despite fear of contracting Yellow Fever; many came to touch rosaries and other religious articles to his body since they felt he was a saint. Buried under the statue of the Sorrowful Mother in St. Maryís Church, he was beatified on April 9, 2000, by Pope John Paul II during the Holy Year Jubilee, and October 5 was declared Blessed Francisís feast day.

This book includes copious illustrations, mainly black-and-white photos, as well as endnotes, a bibliography and an index. Curley quotes from Seelosís works and from others who lived with and knew him. The epilogue tells about the process leading up to Seelosí beatification, updating the 1969 edition of the book. The front cover features an image of Seelos; the front flap bears an image of the reliquary that holds Seelosí relics kept in New Orleans.

This title is not easy to come by. Used bookstores may have it, but the best place to purchase a copy is to contact the Seelos Center in New Orleans via Internet at or by mail at Seelos Center, 2030 Constance Street, New Orleans, LA 70130.

Cheerful Ascetic is highly recommended to those interested in Blessed Francis or those who might want to learn about an American blessed and American Church history.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Br. Benet Exton, O.S.B., 2009

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