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A story for every day...

Saint Joseph

Edifying death of Count Joseph of Stolberg.

It is especially at the supreme hour of death that Saint Joseph assists in a special way his faithful servants and those who have had the good fortune to be placed more especially under his august patronage by receiving holy baptism. We have a new proof of this in the edifying circumstances which accompanied the death of the famous and pious Count Joseph Stolberg; we do not want to deprive our readers of these so edifying features.

On Friday, April 1, 1859, Count Joseph Stolberg arrived in Tournai, stayed at the Hotel de la Petite-Nef and went to pay his first visit to his aunt, Baroness de Cazier. It was a day when the Blessed Sacrament was exposed in the Jesuits’ church, adjacent to the baroness’ hotel. He went to find Mathilde, his sister-in-law, and, after having adored his God and having left the church, he said to her: “It was necessary to begin by addressing a word to our best Friend, wasn’t it? Now let’s enjoy each other.”

On Sunday the 3rd, he had come back to look for Miss Matilda, and, not finding her, he saw in the apartment a work by the blessed Leonard of Port-Maurice. When she returned, he said to her: “Here is an author who should be found in every Christian home. A good reading is always good. – What were you reading? – A passage on conformity to the will of God. The more we talk about it, the more we like it.” In the afternoon he was perfectly amiable and very cheerful, and spoke at length of his wife, his children, his happiness. “I can say it and I must say it,” he said, “God has always been too good to me. He has given me a wife who makes me quite happy; with her I could, it seems to me, bear the greatest sorrows without being unhappy.” The conversation fell on death: “For myself, it seems to me that I would have no anxiety if I had to die now; I believe that I would be perfectly tranquil and content; and you, Mathilde? – Oh, for me,” said this pious soul, “it seems to me that I would regret nothing but my sins. – But God is so good! – I would even wish to die,” continued the interlocutor; “but if I had a wife and soon ten children, I think it would not be so.” Looking at her with a serious air, this man of faith resumed, “No, no. What would I fear! Could I be the least bit worried about Caroline and our children? Is not the good Lord as good a husband and better a father than I am? If I died, would He not call me? Well, He would take care of those He has left me. But, if I think like this, it is perhaps because I feel perfectly well. Strong as I am, I only think of death as a distant thing. However one always thinks of it.”

That evening he did not come for dinner. His sister-in-law went to find him at the hotel, and seeing him a little unwell, she only obeyed the compassionate charity of her heart and spent the night there. The patient’s patience did not fail once. In order to follow the doctor’s orders, we were often obliged to give him some remedy; the patient answered each time with a word full of gentleness or with one of those looks that one never forgets. He continually prayed aloud and liked to repeat this pious aspiration: “Mein Gott: und mein Herr, erbarme dich meiner! Gelobi sey dein Wille! My Lord and my God, have mercy on me! May Your will be praised!” At one time he said these words with an expression of lively sorrow; his sister-in-law approached his bed, and, giving him to kiss a crucifix which she had with her, suggested this other jaculatory prayer, so consoling: “My Savior and my God, have mercy on me! look at me! look at me!” He looked at his relative with an inexpressible smile: “Yes, yes… You are right, Mathilde…. My Savior… our Savior and our God, have mercy on us!” From that moment on, he always repeated the prayer in this way. From time to time she gave him Christ to kiss, and showered him with testimonials of friendship. “Dear Joseph, you are suffering a lot, aren’t you? – But can’t we suffer a little for Him?” Such was his answer. The resignation to the divine will, which he had recommended so much during his life, he showed on his deathbed.

On Monday evening, the sight of the crucifix, with these words: “He loves you so much!” made him say: “Yes, and I too love Him very much…. We love Him very much. – Thank God! – Yes…. He knows it… And He sees it well.”

However, the disease was progressing rapidly. The doctors decided to have it administered. The Father Rector of Notre Dame College inspired great confidence in the Count of Stolberg. The patient had spoken of it again in the morning and the previous Saturday with great affection. It was about nine o’clock in the evening when the Father arrived. He spoke of a novena that was about to be started for the sick man, which prompted him to confess. The priest knelt down and waited for the Count to be ready. “My dear Joseph, you are very tired, aren’t you?” said his sister; “would you like me to examine your conscience with you, and to prepare ourselves together for confession?” He looked with an expression full of gratitude at the one who was consoling him: “Thank you, my good sister, that is not necessary, I have almost nothing to say and the good Lord knows it well, I am very tranquil. I am quite calm.” He was in the habit of going to confession every week, and took communion much more often, as he had done again the day before and the day before. He went to confession.

When the holy Viaticum was brought to him, he said he was not seriously ill, and asked his relative what she thought. “I think you are in danger,” she replied, “and that is also the opinion of the doctor.” The Count thanked her; then, as if he had had a scruple, he said to the Father Rector, “Father, I am not sick enough. – Count, the doctor has ordered it.” The sick man then raised his voice higher than he usually did: “That’s good!” And, kneeling on his bed, he took communion.

At about half past three in the morning, on Tuesday the 5th, he had to be prepared more soon for the eternal passage, by this word: “Let us make the sacrifice of life!” A sign showed that he understood. Later: “My dear Joseph, the Father will have the goodness to give you general absolution and the indulgence of death. We will make an act of contrition and acceptance.” He wanted to answer, “Yes, Math….” But he could not complete the name. A little later, as this invocation was suggested to him: “Praise be to Jesus Christ!” he did not answer. It was repeated more slowly: “Yes… Amen.” This was his last word on earth. He died a few moments later, at about half past four, without the slightest sign of agony.

The mortal remains were taken from the hotel to the house of the RR. PP. Redemptorists, and the following Friday was buried in Rumillies, in the family vault, next to his mother and sister.

Bishop de Kettler, Bishop of Mainz, wrote, shortly after the death, these words: “Let us pray for Joseph, and soon we will be able to pray to him and invoke him.” Bishop Osnabruck sent a letter to all his clergy announcing the death and recommending that they offer the holy sacrifice of the Mass for the deceased. Father Provincial of the Jesuits in Prussia also announced it to all the Fathers. The general mourning of Catholic Germany was shared in Belgium by the many friends of the pious Count and of the noble family to which he was allied.

Saint Joseph died in the arms of Jesus and Mary. He never fails to assist his pious servants at the hour of death, the decisive hour that fixes our eternity.

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