Who is Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos? He was born in a Bavarian town in Germany in 1819 to a poor family, he died in 1867. A very intelligent student aided by priests and scholarships to complete his education in Munich, he wanted to be a priest and decided he would become a missionary in America, joining the Redemptorist Order there. He knew St. John Neumann, a fellow Redemptorist, who became a bishop of Philadelphia and was later canonized a saint in 1975. Blessed Francis was the superior of several of Redemptorists monasteries and schools and assigned to New Orleans in 1866. He prophesied to his friends and confreres that he would die in New Orleans. This came to pass on October 4, 1867. He contracted yellow fever, as did three others in his monastery that summer and fall. Many died in this epidemic.
Fr. Byron Miller, the postulator (or promoter) of Blessed Francis’ cause for canonization, compiled eleven articles or other literature connected with Blessed Francis and/or yellow fever that have been written or published over the years. Some of these are written by Blessed Francis’ confreres in religion who knew him or were present in his last days. They are great primary sources on his death and how heroic he was in his dying. He suffered a great deal, according to the articles. His right lung had essentially collapsed, and he lost a lot of weight because he could not eat much. He desired only Holy Communion. One article is on Union General Benjamin Butler, whom the people of New Orleans during the Civil War called “the Beast.” He was a corrupt tyrant. One thing good that can be said of him during his time in New Orleans is that he kept the city’s streets clean and sanitary. During his rule, there were no outbreaks of yellow fever. In 1867, yellow fever - or “Yellow Jack” - came back after New Orleans had reverted to unsanitary conditions. Most people at the time did not know that mosquitoes caused the fever. Hundreds, even thousands died in yellow fever epidemics over the years. Around 3,000 died in 1867 alone.
Blessed Francis was very popular in New Orleans as a school teacher and as a priest. Many sought him out as a confessor; some suspected he could read hearts. Miracles were attributed to him during his lifetime, and one has been recognized by the Vatican as a miracle after his death, which qualified him to be beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2000. He needs another miracle attributed to him to be canonized. This book of articles is a means for Blessed Francis to become better known and that a miracle through his intercession might occur to have him canonized. Many of the articles on Blessed Francis were written to keep a record of his life and to keep his memory alive; others wrote them for his eventual canonization process - many already considered him a saint.
Blessed Francis died before 6 p.m. on Friday, October 4, 1867. His body was prepared for burial and laid out in his casket in the parish church. Many noticed that the color of his body changed to a healthier color. Also, it was noticed that over time his body did not become rigid. Miracles were reported by those who touched his body; rosaries and other objects touched to his body were later used to heal people. His funeral was attended by a large crowd, his body buried in the church’s crypt. Many have come to his tomb over the years, and miracles have continued to occur.
The articles vary in length, but most are short and quite readable. Many are on the personal level and give an intimate view of Blessed Francis and others who endured yellow fever. There are several photos of the authors and some photos of New Orleans, and footnotes which help with the article, especially when a phrase is in Latin or German. There are short entries on different people and related material, and the footnotes serve as bibliographical references.
The dedication is to Anne Rice, the author of many vampire books who has converted to a lighter side of writing. Fr. Byron Miller is the author of Befriended: A Guided Retreat with Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos (2004). Another book on Blessed Francis is the Cheerful Ascetic: The Life of Francis Xavier Seelos by Fr. Michael J. Curley that was first published in 1969 and re-issued in 2002 with updates by Fr. Byron Miller. More information on Blessed Francis is available at
www.seelos.org, where one can purchase the book. Death, Where Is Your Sting? is highly recommended to those interested in Blessed Francis or those who want to get to know him, and to those looking for information on yellow fever epidemic and firsthand accounts of it.