Memorial of Bl. Jakob (James) Kern of Geras, O. Praem.
(b. April 11, 1897, † October 20, 1924)
- Crucifix = Identification with Christ’s sufferings
- Rifle and gas mask = WWI
- Abbey of Geras
Francis Alexander Kern was born in Vienna on April 11, 1897. At age 11, the intellectually-gifted youth enrolled in the Minor Seminary at Hollabrunn. At age 14, he made a vow of perpetual chastity.
Francis enlisted as a volunteer in the army during WWI. In September of 1916, as a lieutenant on the Italian Front, a bullet pierced his lung and caused a wound from which he would never fully recover. He entered the seminary of the archdiocese of Vienna as a convalescent.
Around this time, a group of Czech Catholics separated themselves from Rome and founded the schismatic Czech National Church. A Norbertine canon of Strahov Abbey and a doctor of philosophy fell away from the Church and became a leader of the schism. James was deeply shocked and decided to offer himself in atonement. Pope John Paul II would later say, “In this sad event, James Kern discovered his vocation. He desired to be the propitiatory sacrifice for this fallen-away Norbertine. James entered the abbey of Geras to replace him in the order.” On October 18, 1920, James received the white habit.
Having been put to the test by his war injury, he took religious life very seriously. Through a special indult, given in view of his poor health, he was ordained a priest. At his first Mass he said, “This Palm Sunday will be followed by my Good Friday.”
In 1923 some of his ribs were removed using only a local anesthetic and his Way of the Cross began. In his festering wound, he remembered the wound of the Czech schism. On the day he was to profess Solemn Vows, he underwent surgery again. Before the operation he said, “Tomorrow I will see the Mother of God and my Guardian Angel.” The hospital chaplain gave him the Last Rites and blessed him for the final leg of his earthly journey. James Kern died on October 20, 1924.
Large groups of the faithful came to his grave in Geras to pray and to ask for his intercession. Pope John Paul II beatified James Kern on June 21, 1998, at Vienna’s “Heroes’ Square.” More than one hundred Norbertines joined the thousands present for this celebration, during which the Pope encouraged priests to follow this “Hero of the Church” and remain faithful to their vocation.
Date(s) - October 20, 2017