Saint Conrad of Parzham

Conrad, whose baptismal name was John, was the son of the devout and honest couple George Birndorfer and Gertrude Niedermayer. He was born on a farm near the town of Parzham in Bavaria in the year 1818. From his earliest years he gave indications of his future sanctity by his modesty and love of solitude. The fervor of his devotion was noticeable especially when he prayed in church, the distant location of which was no hindrance to his visiting it frequently even in inclement weather. He was inflamed with great love for the Blessed Virgin, and each day fervently recited the rosary. On feast days he frequently made a journey to some remote shrine of the Mother of God. During such pilgrimages, always made on foot, he was constantly engaged in prayer, and when he returned in the evening, he was usually still fasting.

Having spent his youthful years on the farm, closely united to God by means of interior union with Him, he decided at the age of 31 to bid farewell to the world. After disposing of a very large inheritance, he received permission to be admitted as a lay brother among the Capuchins.

Immediately after his profession he was sent to the convent of St. Anne in the city of Altoetting. This place is particularly renowned among all others in Germany for its shrine of the Mother of Mercy, and hundreds, even thousands of the faithful come there daily. Because of the great concourse of people in this city, the duty of the porter at the friary is a very difficult one. As soon as he arrived, this charge was given to Conrad, who retained it until his death. Diligent at his work, sparing in words, bountiful to the poor, eager and ready to receive and help strangers, Brother Conrad calmly fulfilled the task of porter for more than 40 years, during which time he greatly benefited the inhabitants of the city as well as strangers in all their needs of body and soul.

Among the virtues he practiced, he loved silence in a special way. His spare moments during the day were spent in a nook near the door where it was possible for him to see and adore the Blessed Eucharist. During the night he would deprive himself of several hours of sleep, to devote the time to prayer either in the oratory of the brothers or in the church. Indeed, it was quite generally believed that he never took any rest, but continually occupied himself in work and exercises of devotion.

On a certain feast day, when he had ministered to a large number of pilgrims, he felt his strength leaving him. He was obliged to manifest his weakness to his superior. Obedience sent him to bed. Only three days later, little children, to whom the news of Conrad's sickness had not been given lest they be over saddened, gathered as by instinct around the friary, reciting the rosary. As Blessed Father Francis had died to the music of the birds he loved, so his son died with the voices of the children, these lovely creatures of God, ringing in his ears. On April 21, 1894, the Capuchin porter heard the sound of the Bell for which he had so patiently waited. For the last time he ran to the Door. But this time the Door was literally his Christ.

His heroic virtues and the miracles he performed won for him the distinction to be ranked among the Blessed by Pope Pius XI in the year 1930. Four years later, the same pope, approving additional miracles which had been performed, solemnly inscribed his name in the list of saints.


ON COMBINING THE CONTEMPLATIVE WITH THE ACTIVE LIFE


1. Already as a child, little John gave evidence of his piety, but he was not petted and coddled on that account. There were other pieties to be practiced. He was taught to help in the house or in the fields, and these tasks he undertook cheerfully, thus laying the foundation for his later years. When his parents died, he became the pillar of strength to the bereaved family, and work on the farm could proceed because "Big John" was not merely able but eager to do more than his share in wresting a livelihood from the soil. In spite of his heavy labor, he found ample time for pious practices. We read that he joined no fewer than nine pious associations. Each one seemed to speak to him of some element of Christian piety in which he could afford to make progress. This is a direct challenge to men and women of the present generation who consider it burden enough to belong even to one pious society. -- Do you belong to these, or do you possess the material out of which saints are made?

2. As Brother Porter, St. Conrad merely continued to do what he had been taught to do in early life. Thought not a contemplative, he must attain to a contemplative's spiritual outlook whilst engaged in the busiest and most exacting services to others... A thousand times a day, perhaps, he must open the door and hold converse with strangers. Very well, he will see Christ in the busy world of men. He did not shrink away from the crowds. He spoke words of comfort to them and they went away solaced... At times he is wearied by the importunity of thoughtless people; he will them remember the weariness of his Lord. And so in the midst of his activities, he remained continually recollected in spirit with God. The religious whose life, like Brother Conrad's, is devoted in great part to external duties may take courage from this example of a fellow religious to learn how to use these very duties as stepping stones to God, the means "whereby he may enter into the inner life of the spirit." Let us thank Jesus that in His infinite love He has chosen us in preference to so may others, to combine the active life with the contemplative.

3. Considered in itself, the contemplative life is better and more perfect than the active. Christ Himself affirms this: Mary has chosen the better part. And St. Bernard, speaking of the active life, expresses himself as follows in his Sermons on the Canticle: God forbid that I should decry this kind of life, but still I would not say that it attains to perfect beauty. But the mixed life is preferable to the state of those who only lead the contemplative life. This is the opinion of the saints, especially St. Thomas, who wrote: As it is better to illuminate than merely to shine, so it is more perfect to give to others the fruits of our contemplation than merely to contemplate. And so when St. Francis wondered what was the will of God in this regard, he applied to Brother Sylvester to ask God to make His will known to him. He sent a similar message to St. Clare. Their prayers ended, both informed St. Francis that it was God's wish that he should devote himself to the mixed life of prayer and preaching. Brother Conrad shows us this type of life is possible both within and without the cloister. -- Have we reflected sufficiently on this in the past? Have we made the best use of the opportunities at our disposal to arrive at the perfection to which we have been called? If not, let us say in truth what St. Francis said in humility: Let us begin at last, my brethren, to serve the Lord our God, for hitherto we have done by little."


PRAYER OF THE CHURCH O God, who hast willed to open to Thy faithful the door of Thy mercy, we humbly beseech Thee, that through the intercession of Blessed Conrad, Thy confessor, Thou mayest bestow on us assistance for both time and eternity. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

from: The Franciscan Book Of Saints, ed. by Marion Habig, ofm., © 1959 Franciscan Herald Press


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