Father Adolph Kolping
Adolph Kolping was born on 8 December 1813. Kolping’s father was a shepherd and small-scale farmer, and the family with five children remained at subsistence level. Later, in his writings, Father Kolping expressed it thus: ‘My parents were quiet and honest people who found it difficult to maintain and provide for their family. They wanted to make sure of one thing, a good education for their children, so we were never allowed to absent ourselves from school.’
A desire for study was one of the qualities that Kolping found easy to develop. But, because of the family’s poverty, he could not continue his studies beyond a basic elementary education. At age thirteen, he was apprenticed in Kerpen to a master shoemaker by the name of Meuser. After completing his apprenticeship, he worked in various workshops in the area to attain experience as a cobbler. Eventually he was taken on by one of the most famous shoemakers in Cologne. Of those days he wrote, ‘I quake at the thought of the terrible days I spent in that place in the midst of the depravity and indifference of fellow journeymen of Germany in those days.’ Finally, through the generosity of a well-to-do lady, he was able to begin his studies. Although older than his classmates, he went back to school, beginning studies at the ‘Marzellen’ gymnasium in 1837, in Cologne.
After only three-and-a-half years of schooling, he passed the final exam in 1841. He then had to convince his parish priest, Father Joecken, to let him study theology, and he persisted in this desire until the priest finally gave in. After theological studies in Munich and Bonn, and at the diocesan seminary in Cologne, Adolph Kolping was ordained a priest in April 1845, in the Minorite Church in Cologne.
The strength of Father Kolping’s programme was that it recognised that ‘history’ was not enough. He offered the young men who had lost their family roots and their spiritual moorings a new alternative. The boarding houses, or ‘Kolping Houses’, that he opened enabled these young men to further their schooling and self-education in a supportive, religious environment. His genius lay in offering not just a boarding house, but the support, the sharing, and the values that formed a family. Even today, the Kolping Societies are referred to as ‘Kolping Families’.
Father Kolping, though of frail health, worked tirelessly with his young working men. He travelled and made contacts throughout Europe, which helped the spread of his apostolate for the working person. He was stationed at his beloved church, in which he had been ordained, the Minorite Church in Cologne.
‘Blessed Father Adolph Kolping, pray for us!’ echoed through St. Peter’s Square for the first time on 27 October 1991. On that day, Pope John Paul II declared, publicly, that the diocesan priest from Cologne, Germany, Father Adolph Kolping, had shown outstanding virtue in his life and should be honoured by Catholics throughout the world. This ended a process that first began about the turn of the century but was twice delayed and set back by two World Wars. Worldwide, the members of the Kolping Society are now beginning to pray and work for the final mark of saintliness in the life of Blessed Father Adolph Kolping, his canonisation.
Pope John Paul II, in an address at the beatification, singled out Father Kolping’s strength during the turbulent times of mid-1800s Europe. ‘Christians.’ said the Pope, ‘apply for the healing of the world, therapy quite different from that of the materialistic. They believe that a revolution must begin with the person.’ In Kolping’s day, Karl Marx and others were calling for a revolution to change the order of society, but not the person. The Catholic social action that was accomplished by the journeymen’s societies provided an alternative to the godless philosophy of the revolution-minded.
Since the beatification, a new sarcophagus has been erected to hold Father Kolping’s remains. Kolping Brothers and Sisters make it the centrepiece of their visits to Cologne.