The Apostle of the German Immigrant

Today marks the birth of Father Johann Stefan Raffeiner (1785-1861), an apostle to the German immigrant in nineteenth century New York. Born in Austria, his studies for the priesthood were postponed by the Napoleonic Wars. He then studied medicine and served as a surgeon in the Austrian army. When peace came, he returned to the seminary and was ordained in 1825. By then German immigration to America was increasing rapidly, and there was a need for German-speaking priests. In 1833, he went to New York, where he spent the rest of his life. He soon organized the city’s first German parish, St. Nicholas, on the lower East Side. In 1836 he welcomed St. John Neumann to America. In 1841, he purchased land in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg section, where he established Most Holy Trinity parish and school. Altogether he established eight German parishes across Long Island. In 1853, when the Brooklyn Diocese was formed, he became Vicar General for German Catholics. (Until 1929, Brooklyn had two Vicars General, one Irish and one German.) In August 1853, he got word that a group of Dominican Sisters from Bavaria had arrived in New York en route to Pensylvania. But the priest assigned to escort them never showed up, and Raffeiner persuaded them to come to Brooklyn instead. Thus began the story of the Amityville Dominicans. (In 1876 they moved their motherhouse from Williamsburg to Amityville.) During his lifetime Father Raffeiner was involved in the founding of thirty German parishes in New York and elsewhere.

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