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40 Years at the door: St. Conrad of Parzham

Conrad of Parzham

Artist: Martin Anzinger / Photographer: Andreas F. Borchert | CC BY-SA 3.0 de

Larry Peterson - published on 04/15/21

From the doorway in his role as porter, he could see the tabernacle and people's hearts. He could not have been happier.

He was born on a farm in a town called Parzham in the Kingdom of Bavaria. The date was December 22, 1818. His parents, George and Gertrude Birndorfer, were devout Catholics, and they named their new baby Johann Evangelist. Johann was the second youngest of 12 children, five of whom had died in infancy. 

As a child young Johann demonstrated a love of prayer and solitude that indicated where his future might lead. He became filled with a great love for our Blessed Mother. He learned how to pray the Rosary, and prayed it every day.

By the time he was 11 or 12, Johann had a particular routine for Our Lady’s special feast days. He would journey on foot to a shrine dedicated to her, always a good distance away. He would attend Mass there, fast and pray all day, and not get home until it was dark.

Johann’s mom died when he was 14 years old. He remained on the farm helping his father. He attended Mass as often as possible and made frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament. Working in the fields gave the young man a chance to turn inwardly to prayer. He remained on the farm until his father passed away in 1838. 

Leaving the world behind

Johann received a substantial inheritance from his father’s estate. Having no desire for material things, he disposed of the inheritance and left the secular world. He joined the  Capuchin Franciscans and became a lay brother. When he entered the novitiate, he took the name Conrad, in honor of Conrad of  Piacenza. He would be known as Conrad forever after.

Soon after professing his vows, Conrad was sent to the Friary of St. Ann in the city of Altotting. Here is the Shrine of Our Lady of Altotting, the National Shrine of Bavaria. (Today this place is known as the Lourdes of Germany).

Conrad was given the job of porter at the shrine. From the doorway, he could see the tabernacle. He could not have been happier. He needed nothing else.

Porters are especially loved by God!

The list grows long of those who were porters and are now recognized as saints: Paschal Baylon, Charles of Sezze, Didacus of Alcalá, Felix of Cantalice, Alphonsus Rodriguez, André Bessette, John Macias, Benito Solana Ruiz, Bonaventure of Barcelona and Solanus Casey. This is only a short list and could grow even longer if every saint-porter were named.

The shrine was located in a bustling and busy city. The porter’s job was not an easy one, as people came to him all day long asking questions, wanting directions, looking for a priest, asking for advice, and just wanting someone to talk to.

Silence for God

Conrad filled his designated role perfectly. He also could see into the hearts of those who came to him. His wisdom, kindness, and holiness always seemed to be able to help satisfy the needs of those at the door.

Conrad loved silence. He used it to be in touch with God. When he managed to get a spare moment, he would stand in the nook by the front door so he could see the Blessed Sacrament.

At night he often deprived himself of sleep so he could step into the brothers’ oratory or the church to pray. Many believed that he hardly ever rested, but continually occupied himself with work or prayer.

Children sang as he left for heaven

Brother Conrad was on the job every day for 41 years. After an extremely busy day during April of 1894, Conrad felt his strength leaving him. He reported this to his superior, who ordered him to bed.

The children in the neighborhood loved Conrad and noticed him missing. They asked where he was and were told that he was sick. 

The word quickly spread and soon children from all over had surrounded the friary and began praying the Rosary for Brother Conrad. Their prayerful voices would be the last thing he would hear.

Conrad died on April 21, 1894. He had been given the gift of prophecy, could read the hearts of people he met, and was known for his wisdom, kindness, and holiness. Numerous miracles were also attributed to him. Pope Pius XI canonized him a saint in 1934.

St. Conrad of Parzham, please pray for us.

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