Biography of St. Joseph Freinademetz

Joseph Freinademetz was born on April 15, 1852 in Oies, a small village of five houses in the Dolomites in the Alps of northern Italy in South Tyrol. He was baptized on the same day as his birth and learned from his family to have a simple but strong faith at the same time. During his theological studies at the Major Seminary in Bressanone, he already began to think seriously about foreign missions as a possibility for his life. After being ordained a priest on July 25, 1875, he was sent to the community of San Martino di Badia, very close to his birthplace, where he soon gained the people's respect and affection.

In all that time, however, he did not abandon his restlessness for the missions. Only two years after his ordination, he got in touch with Father Arnoldo Janssen, founder of a missionary congregation that would soon afterwards officially become the "Society of the Divine Word." With the permission of his bishop, Joseph entered the missionary house of Steyl in August 1878. He received the missionary cross on March 2, 1879 and together with another Verbite missionary, Father John Baptist Anzer, he left for China. Five weeks later they landed in Hong Kong where they remained for two years preparing for their assigned mission in South Shantung, a province of China that had 12 million inhabitants and only 158 baptized.

They were hard years marked by long and difficult journeys, assaulted by robbers, and an arduous job in forming the first Christian communities. As soon as he was able to build a community that could stand on its own, the order of the Bishops came to leave everything and start again in another place. Joseph soon understood the importance of the laity as catechists for initial evangelization. He devoted much effort to their formation and prepared a catechetical manual in Chinese for them. At the same time, together with his brother Anzer who had become a bishop, he committed himself to the spiritual preparation and ongoing formation of Chinese priests and other missionaries.

His whole life was marked by the effort to become Chinese among the Chinese, so much so that he wrote to his family members: "I love China and the Chinese; I want to die among them, and among them be buried." In 1898, the continuous work and many hardships took a toll on him. Sick in his larynx and with the first symptoms of tuberculosis, the Bishop and his brothers insisted on his spending a period of time in Japan with the hope of recovering his health. He returned to China, regained some strength, but was not completely healed.

When the Bishop had to travel to Europe in 1907, Father Freinademetz took over the administration of the diocese. During this period, a typhus epidemic broke out. Joseph, being a good shepherd, gave his tireless assistance until he became ill himself. He immediately returned to Taikia, the seat of the diocese, where he died on January 28, 1908. He was buried under the twelfth station of the Stations of the Cross and his tomb soon became a point of reference and pilgrimage for Christians.

Father Freinademetz was able to discover and love deeply the greatness of the culture of the people to whom he had been sent. He dedicated his life to proclaiming the Gospel, the message of God's love for humanity, and incarnating this love in the communion of the Chinese Christian communities. He animated these communities by encouraging them to be open to solidarity with the rest of the Chinese people. His example led many Chinese people to become missionaries among their own people, such as catechists, religious men and women and priests. His whole life was an expression of what was one of his slogans: "The language that everyone understands is love."