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Book ReviewsDeath, Where is your Sting? Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, and his edifying encounter with Yellow Fever.

Who is Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos?  He is a man who lived from 1819 to 1867 and was born in a Bavarian town in Germany to a poor family.  He was a very intelligent student and was aided by priests and scholarships to complete his education in Munich.

Blessed Francis wanted to be a priest and a missionary in America.  He joined the Redemptorist Order was the superior of several of Redemptorist monasteries and schools.  He was assigned to New Orleans in 1866.  He prophesied to his friends and confreres that he would die in there.  This came true on October 4, 1867 when he caught the disease Yellow Fever that summer and fall of 1867.

Fr. Byron Miller, the postulator or promoter of Blessed Francis’ cause for canonization, compiled eleven articles or other literature that was connected with Blessed Francis and/or Yellow Fever that were written or published over the years.  Some of these are written by Blessed Francis’ confreres in religion who knew him or were present in his last days.  They are great primary sources on his death and how heroic he was in his illness.

One article is on Union General Benjamin Butler whom the people of New Orleans during the Civil War called “the Beast.”  He was a tyrant and corrupt.  One thing good that can be said of him during his time in New Orleans is that he kept New Orleans’ streets clean and sanitary.  During his rule there was no Yellow Fever, but in 1867 Yellow Fever or Yellow Jack returned because New Orleans had reverted to unsanitary conditions.  Around 3,000 died in 1867.

Blessed Francis was very popular in New Orleans as a school teacher and as a priest.  Many sought him out as a confessor and suspected he could read hearts.  Miracles were attributed to him during his life time and one has been recognized by the Vatican as a miracle after his death which qualified him to be beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2000.

This book of articles is a means for Blessed Francis to become better known and that a miracle through his intercession might occur to have him canonized.  Many of the articles on Blessed Francis were written to keep a record of his life and to keep his memory alive.  Also others wrote them for his eventual canonization process.  Many already considered him a saint.

Blessed Francis died before 6 pm on Friday October 4, 1867.  His body was prepared for burial and laid out in his casket in the parish church.  Many noticed that the color of his body changed to a healthier color and did not become rigid.  Miracles were reported by those who touched his body or touched rosaries and other objects to his body and were later used to heal people.  His funeral was attended by a large crowd.  His body was buried in the church’s crypt.  Many have come to his tomb over the years and miracles continued to occur.

The articles vary in length, but most are short and very readable.  Many are on the personal level and give a personal view of Blessed Francis and others who endured Yellow Fever.  There are several photos of the authors and some photos of New Orleans.  There are footnotes which help with the article especially when a phrase is in Latin or German.  There are short entries on different people and related material.   The footnotes serve as bibliographical references.

The dedication is to Anne Rice the author of many vampire books, but who has converted to a lighter side of writing.  Fr. Byron Miller is the author of   Befriended:  a guided retreat with Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos (2004).  Another book on Blessed Francis is the Cheerful Ascetic:  the life of Francis Xavier Seelos by Fr. Michael J. Curley that was first published in 1969 and later published again in 2002 with updates by Fr. Byron Miller.   More information on Blessed Francis is available at www.seelos.org where one can purchase the book.

Death, where is your Sting? is highly recommended to those interested in Blessed Francis or those who want to get to know him and to those looking for information on Yellow Fever epidemic and first hand accounts of it.

Br. Benet Exton, O.S.B., St. Gregory's University, Shawnee, Oklahoma.

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