no. 1   january - march 2003


German monastery is the oldest in world with continuous Carmelite presence

          The former Archbishop, Dr. Karl Braun of Bamberg, celebrated the anniversary of the Straubing Carmelite Church together with numerous guests of honor and many laity.
          In his homily, the Archbishop said “God often writes straight with crooked lines.” God did so in the 19th century. After the so-called “Secularization” and the hostile actions against the Catholic Church, new religious centers were established.
          Looking to the future, the Archbishop underlined the need to be faithful to one charism and at the same time to offer oneself for the good of humanity. “The Carmelite charism will remain alive. The future does not develop by itself, following nature’s laws. It needs the human input. The history of your monastery shows this. God is still good for surprises!”
          Following the Eucharist, Professor Karl Hausberger, of the University of Regensburg, gave a talk on the secularization and reopening of the Carmelite monastery.
life of the Catholic monasteries was very much part of the government’s policy. Such interference also occurred in the mendicant Orders. The ecclesial-political situation had changed following the French Revolution in 1789. Already by 1796, Maximilian Joseph Freiherr von Montgelas asked for the abolition of the mendicant houses.
          All means were used to reduce the number of people involved in the monasteries. The few religious who remained received the minimal pension possible and remained enclosed in centralized monasteries.
          Straubing was chosen as the central monastery of the Order in Old-Bavaria. By 1801, the Carmelites had given all their gold and silver valuables to the war effort. By mid July 1802, the members of the community lost their right to work and the monastery was sequestered. Any incoming money was taken by the State. The few remaining members petitioned more than once for government help.
          The population of Straubing and the local government, however, gave support to the Carmelites. In the Summer of 1803, the civil schools were moved to the Carmelite monastery and by the end of the year a large part of the school for older children was also located there.


(Above) Painting of Fr. Peter Heitzer, O. Carm., "prior zelosissimus, conservator et restaurator" of Straubing. The painting hangs in the dining room of the Straubing monastery.

(Left) The Carmelite church of Straubing

(CITOC Photos 2002)


          Eight priests were in Straubing in 1816. By 1830, only two priest remained. Fr. Peter Heitzer, O. Carm., had been the prior since 1815. Fr. Heitzer was a native of Straubing and the last to have entered before the Secularization. After 1830, he was the lone occupant of the Straubing monastery.
          With Ludwig I’s coronation in October 1825, the politics of the government dramatically changed. Ludwig was a religious man and the relationship between the government and the Church changed accordingly.
          On August 14, 1826, Fr. Heitzer petitioned that the Carmelite monastery in Straubing be reopened. As there were no funds to pay for the necessary maintenance of the cloister, the request was refused. A second request in 1830 was also refused.


          After a parish priest left his money to the Carmelites of Straubing in his will, a fund was set up for the maintenance of the monastery. This spurred the parish priest of St. Jakob and St. Peter in Straubing to petition the King again.
          On December 10, 1840, a local lawyer and member of the City Council, Dr. Hölzl presented yet another petition for the reopening of the monastery to the King. The lawyer argued that there had been a strong connection between the Carmelites and the House of Wittelsbach in the later Middle Ages he pointed out that the tombs of Dukes Albrecht and Ernst were located in the Carmelite church.
          Dr. Hausberger commented, “The astute preparation that touched upon the history of King Ludwig’s own family brought the desired results.” On June 19, 1841, the King conceded the reopening of the Carmelite house in Straubing.
          On July 20, 1842, Bishop Valentine von Riedel opened the Kloster in the presence of the “Stadtkommissars” (City Commission) as the representatives of the government. For Fr. Peter Heitzer, who had worked tirelessly to restore the Straubing Karmel, only a few years of life remained. He died on February 15, 1847. The large funeral gave testimony to his good reputation and to the merits he earned during his exemplary life in Straubing.
          “All in all, the ‘Secularization’ cannot be declared a moment of honor in the history of Bavaria and of Germany,” declared Hausberger. The possibility of a rebirth for many of the monasteries in Baveria, within the decade of the ‘monastic springtime,’ was possible only because Ludwig I sense of history.
          In his words of welcome, the Oberbürgermeister (Mayor) of Straubing, Reinhold Perlak, emphasized the traditional connection between the city and the Carmelite monastery. He acknowledged that the testimony and the works of the Carmelites of Straubing since1368 have been notable. “Straubing has received much from the Carmelites.”

Summary from the Provincial Bulletin of the Upper German Province
October 19, 2002