Vicariate Apostolic of Northern Germany

The Vicariate Apostolic of Northern Germany or Vicariate Apostolic of the Northern Missions was a Roman catholic 'missionary' jurisdiction in the predominantly Protestant 'Prussian' north of Germany.


It covered the Grand Duchies of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the Principality of Schaumburg-Lippe, the free Hanse towns Hamburg, Lübeck and Bremen, the Principality of Lübeck (capital Eutin), belonging to the Grand Duchy of Oldenburg and the Island of Helgoland. The Northern Missions, viewed in a wider sense, included also the Prefecture Apostolic of Schleswig-Holstein, coinciding with the Prussian province of that name, which was placed under a separate prelate in 1868. Both vicariate and prefecture were under the permanent jurisdiction of the Bishop of Osnabrück as administrator Apostolic. In the vicariate Catholics numbered about 79,400 (with 1,925,000 members of other confessional denominations), under 47 secular priests having care of 17 parishes and 17 mission stations. The following religious congregations had houses in the vicariate: Sisters of Mercy of St. Charles Borromeo, 1; Sisters of St. Elizabeth (Grey Nuns), 5; Franciscan Sisters, 2; Ursulines, 2. The Prefecture Apostolic of Schleswig-Holstein had in 1909: 11 parishes, 31 mission stations, 34 secular priests, 35,900 Catholics, and 550,000 of other beliefs; 4 communities of Sisters of St. Elizabeth and 3 of Franciscan nuns. In summer the Catholic population of the vicariate and prefecture was increased by 17,000 to 20,000 labourers (chiefly Poles) from other parts of Germany, who return to their homes at the beginning of the winter. The spiritual interests of the faithful were inadequately attended to owing to the extent of the parishes, the lack of priests, the poverty of the majority of the Catholics and in many places the adversity of the Protestant state or municipal governments. A more encouraging picture was presented by the numerous Catholic societies and by the maintenance of private Catholic schools, despite the fact that the Catholics were often obliged to contribute also to the support of the state and parish schools. A very fruitful activity has been developed in these missions by the Boniface Association.

The Reformation in the sixteenth century caused the loss of almost all Northern Germany to the Church. In 1582 the stray Catholics of Northern Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Norway were placed under the jurisdiction of a papal nuncio in Cologne. The Congregation de propaganda fide, on its establishment in 1622, took charge of the vast missionary field, which at its third session it divided among the nuncio of Brussels (for the Catholics in Denmark and Norway), the nuncio of Cologne (North Germany) and the nuncio of Poland (Sweden). The scattered Catholics were chiefly confided to the Jesuits, Franciscans and Dominicans. Catholics in many places had at their disposal only the chapels established in the houses of the diplomatic representatives of the Austrian emperor and of other Catholic Powers, France and Spain. Sometimes admission even to these chapels was rendered difficult, or entirely prohibited to native Catholics.

In some districts the conversion of the princes, e.g. Duke Johann Friedrich of Brunswick-Lüneburg (1651) and Duke Christian of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1663), brought Catholics some measure of freedom. The number of Catholics having increased in 1667, chiefly through the above-mentioned Duke of Brunswick, a vicariate Apostolic was established for Northern Germany. The first vicar was Valerio Maccioni, titular Bishop of Morocco, who resided at Hanover. He died in 1676, and was succeeded by the celebrated Danish convert Nicolaus Steno, who in 1680 was obliged to leave Hanover, was made Auxiliary Bishop of Münster, and in 1683 returned to the Northern Missions. He died at Schwerin in 1686, and was followed in the vicariate successively by Friedrich von Hörde, Auxiliary Bishop of Hildesheim and titular Bishop of Joppe (1686-96), Jobst Edmund von Brabeck, Bishop of Hildesheim (1697-1702) and Otto von Bronckhorst, Auxiliary Bishop of Osnabrück. Owing to its vast extent, the old vicariate Apostolic was divided by Pope Clement XI into two vicariates (1709): the Vicariate Apostolic of Hanover (or Upper - and Lower Saxony), embracing the portions of the old vicariate situated in the Palatinate and the Electorates of Brandenburg and Brunswick, which was placed in charge of Agostino Steffani, Bishop of Spiga and minister of the Elector Palatine, as vicar Apostolic; the rest of the original vicariate (Denmark, Sweden, Lübeck, Hamburg, Altona and Schwerin), which retained the title of Vicariate of the North, was placed under the Auxiliary Bishop of Osnabrück. This division lasted until 1775, when Friedrich Wilhelm von Westfalen, Bishop of Hildesheim, reunited under his administration the vicariates except Norway and Sweden.

The French Revolution and the Napoleonic regime brought great relief to Catholics in many cities and states; but the equality granted them by law in some countries was often merely theoretical. At the reorganization of Catholic affairs in Germany after the Napoleonic era (see Rheinbund), the greater part of the Northern Missions was added to adjacent bishoprics. The only districts remaining mission territory were the Kingdom of Saxony, the Principality of Anhalt, constituted separate vicariates Apostolic in 1816 and 1825 respectively, and the North, which in 1826 was placed temporarily under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Paderborn. In 1839 Pope Gregory XVI wished to entrust the vicariate to a bishop with his see at Hamburg. Johann Theodor Laurent was appointed vicar and consecrated bishop. Protestant opposition prevented the realization of the plan and Laurent was unable to reach Hamburg. The pope thereupon gave the administration of the vicariate to the Auxiliary Bishop of Osnabrück, Karl Anton Lüppe (d. 1855). The Bishop of Osnabrück was since then the regular Vicar Apostolic of the Northern Missions, and administrator of the Prefecture Apostolic of Schleswig-Holstein, since that was separated from the vicariate in 1868. In 1869 Denmark was erected into an apostolic prefecture, and in 1892 into an apostolic vicariate.



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