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AN ENGLISH MISSIONARY IN GERMANY

Father Francis's picture
Saint Boniface

An Englishman, who became loved and honoured as the apostle of Germany, was born in 672 in Devon and given the name Winfrid. Having decided as a small child that he wanted to be a monk he was sent aged seven to school at a Benedictine monastery near Exeter and at 14 to the abbey of Nursling in the diocese of Winchester. He was such an outstanding student that when he had completed his studies he was made director of the school and wrote the first Latin grammar book ever compiled in England.

Winfrid was ordained to the priesthood at the age of 30, and he found scope for his intellectual talents in writing sermons and giving instructions in the faith. Then he heard about missionary work being undertaken in Germany and felt called to offer his help but had very little success when he went there in 716 and returned to his abbey.

Still determined to tackle the challenge of missionary work, he presented himself to Pope Gregory II in Rome in 718, was given the name Boniface and commissioned to preach to the heathen.

In the next three years, back in Friesland, his efforts began to bear fruit and he was able to send the Pope an impressive report on his work. In 722 Boniface was summoned to Rome and consecrated a regional bishop with special responsibility in Germany.

Many Christians in Germany had lapsed into paganism and Boniface set about eradicating their symbols and practices. On one occasion he felled an oak tree which was an object of pagan veneration in front of a large crowd, convincing them that their gods were powerless. From this moment the work of evangelisation advanced rapidly. Many monks and nuns left England to support his work. He established several new monasteries, including the great abbey of Fulda in 741, and then travelled into Bavaria where he reorganised the hierarchy, deposed corrupt priests and abolished abuses. In recognition of his success, the Pope appointed Boniface Archbishop of Mainz and Primate of Germany.

In spite of the high office Boniface never lost his enthusiasm for missionary work and in 745 returned again to Friesland where there was still work to be done. Boniface arranged to hold a confirmation but when a hostile pagan band descended on his camp he exhorted his companions to trust in God and welcome the prospect of dying for the faith. Boniface was the first to die in the attack and his body lies in his abbey at Fulda.

Boniface could have lived a comparatively tranquil life as a headmaster of a Benedictine school or lived in retirement in his Abbey. Instead he took up the challenge of missionary work to which he was called. He felt such compassion for the heathen tribes of Germany that he dedicated his life to converting them. Boniface bears out the Christian rule that to follow Christ is to follow the way of the Cross. For him this led to martyrdom.

Saint Boniface, pray for all missionaries and pray for the Church in Germany.