Today the Order of Prémontré celebrates the feast day of St Hermann Joseph.
Hermann was a native of the Rhineland, and was born into an aristocratic family in the middle of the 12th century. Though his blood was noble – his father was the Count of Meersbuch, near modern-day Neuß, Hermann’s family was not rich. Noble families in the middle ages often fell on hard times, and their titles were not meal tickets. Little Hermann, one day, who had worn out his shoes, went into the local church, and asked Our Lady to give him some new ones, because he could stand the cold rain on his bare feet no longer. The boy perceived that the image of his Blessed Mother was speaking to him, and she told him to go to a particular place, where he would find enough money to buy himself a new pair.
The next day, he returned to the church, but had nothing to present as an offering in gratitude to Our Lady, and so gave him an apple which he was carrying (which was the 12th century equivalent of bottled mineral water). Because he was so small, he could not reach the statue, and after straining himself in his attempts to give his little gift, the statue itself bent down to take it.
At the age of 12, he entered Kloster Steinfeld, a Norbertine abbey, south of Cologne (Steinfeld was secularised by the French invaders at the start of the 19th century). After initial schooling, he became an assistant refectorian, and waited on his brethren, a task which he initially resented, because it took away time he would rather spend in prayer. Our Lady explained to him that the service he performs for his brethren is a work of christian charity that greatly pleased the Lord.
He eventually was ordained, and became the sacristan, a task he performed diligently until the end of his life. As a priest, he celebrated the Mass with great devotion, and was often drawn into ecstasies, which many of his brethren found intolerable, since it prolonged his Masses, and they refused to serve him in the sanctuary.
His love of Our Lady prompted some of the more astringent members of the community to call him Joseph. But Our Lady found this new name quite acceptable. In a vision in church one evening, Hermann saw Our Lady, seated on a throne in front of the High Altar, flanked by two angels. The first angel said: “who shall be the spouse of this Virgin?” The other replied: “who is more worthy than this humble brother?” And so he became a little spouse of the Blessed Virgin, and took up the name Joseph in honour of her earthly spouse.
Hermann Joseph was a tremendously sensitive soul, and blessed with the virtue of holy naivety. He took very much to heart the words of Our Lord: “be ye as little children”. But the life of a sensitive soul can often be a hard one, for he was also given the gifts of mental and physical suffering – particularly around great feast days – in order to wean his heart from earthly satisfactions. And this done, the Lord called him to his heavenly home on this day in 1241, at the age of 91.
He was enrolled in the canon of the saints by Pope Pius XII in 1958.