"Blessed Adolph Kolping, pray for us!" echoed through St. Peter's Square for the first time on October 27, 1991. On that day, Pope John Paul 11 declared, publicly, that the diocesan priest from Cologne, Germany, Father Adolph Kolping, had shown outstanding virtue in his life and could be honoured by Catholics throughout the world. Thus 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 Adolph Kolping, his canonization.
Adolph Kolping was born on December 8, 1813. He was the fourth child of Peter and Anna Maria Kolping, a couple who lived in Kerpen, a small town west of Cologne, Germany. The father worked as a shepherd and a small farmer, but the family of five children plus parents 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 studies after 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. Finally 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 1 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 to let him study theology. He persisted in this desire until Father Joecken, the parish priest, finally gave in. After theological studies in Munich and Bonn, as well as at the diocesan seminary in Cologne, Adolph Kolping was ordained a priest on the thirteenth of April in 1845, in the church of the Minor Rite in Cologne, to the happiness of that long awaited occasion was added a sadness - the death of his father, Peter, on the eve of his ordination.
The strength of Father Kolping's program was that it recognized 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 contact throughout Europe, which helped the spread of his apostolate for the working person. By this time, he was stationed at his beloved church, in which he had been ordained, the Minorite Church in Cologne.
Pope John Paul 11, in an address at the beatification, singled out Father Kolping's strength during the turbulent times of mid-1800 Europe. "Christians", said the Pope, "apply for the healing of the world, therapy quite different from that of materialistic's. They believe that a revolution must begin with the person." In Kolping's day, Karl Max 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 there to hold his remains. Kolping Brothers and Sisters make it the centrepiece of their visits to Cologne.