First Missionary

St. Joseph Freinademetz

Joseph was born on April 15, 1852, the fourth child of Giovanmattia and Anna Maria Freinademetz. The family eked out a living on their poor and small farm as did their neighbors. Years later, the little farm house and quiet hamlet of Oies in the Gader Valley changed when Joseph Freinademetz, SVD, was beatified in 1975 by Pope Paul VI and then canonized a saint in the Roman Catholic Church on October 5, 2003, by Pope John Paul II in Rome.

Joseph’s early years were uneventful. He helped in the farm chores, attended daily Mass at his local parish and, on the advice of the parish priest, attended a school some eleven hours walk from his home. He eventually entered the major seminary and was ordained a priest for the Brixon Diocese in 1875. His initial assignment was to be a teacher. But soon an article in the local diocesan newsletter about the new Mission House at Steyl, Holland, founded by Fr. Arnold Janssen caught his attention. Joseph went to visit the Mission House. The visit was enough to convince Joseph that this was where he could follow his vocation to be a missionary priest. He joined the fledgling group at Steyl in 1878, and barely a year later he received his mission cross along with Fr. John Baptist Anzer, SVD. He had one more brief visit to his family home to say goodbye for the last time, as he would never return to his homeland again. He was to be a missionary in China. In 1881, the Mission House had received its own mission territory, the Province of Shandong. Joseph was so devoted to his mission that, except to recover from an illness, he never left Shandong.

As so many missionaries have discovered, the foundation of their mission work is first and foremost a strong personal prayer life. Joseph had promoted this amongst the clergy along with the words, “Do you imagine you can become holy without meditation, something no saint was able to do? Without meditation life is lost.” He said his daily Mass and prayed his Divine Office with the same intense dedication as he did with his missionary work. Joseph had unwavering hope and belief in the power of God and the sacraments. During such difficult times as the Boxer Rebellion in which two young Divine Word Missionaries were martyred, he remained at his mission post. Well before his death, the Chinese people and others with whom he worked recognized him as a saintly man for his humility, for his firm yet gentle approach to his work, and for his total love of his people. Toward the end of his all-too-few years, he was appointed the Provincial for the Society of the Divine Word, a post he held until his death from tuberculosis in 1908 at age 46.