Johann Philipp Jeningen was born a day or two before his baptism, which was administered on 5 January 1642 in the cathedral of Eichstätt (Germany). His father had converted to the Catholic Church and several of his children became religious. On 16 January 1663, at the age of 21, he entered the novitiate of the Jesuit Province of Upper Germany in Landsberg am Lech, which had been founded by St Peter Canisius in 1578. There he discovered the spirituality of the Spiritual Exercises and grew into the community of life and service with Jesus, which led him continually to seek God’s will and willingly accept it.
His ordination to the priesthood took place in Eichstätt in 1672. During his tertianship in Altötting (1672-1673), the most famous Marian pilgrimage site in Southern Germany, he gained pastoral experience in caring for pilgrims by hearing confessions, preaching and teaching catechism. For seven years, from 1673 to 1680, Father Philipp worked as a teacher in the colleges of Mindelheim and Dillingen. In 1680, he was sent to Ellwangen to take over the pastoral care of the school and collegiate church. His main task, however, became ministering to the pilgrims on the Schönenberg mountain, a pastoral centre for the whole region dating back to 1638, where the Jesuits had erected a simple wooden cross with a figure of Mary during the Thirty Years’ War, inviting people to pray there. Above the small chapel that had been built on the hill as thanksgiving for graces received, Father Jeningen succeeded in having a large baroque church built that was visible from all sides.
Despite his great charisma, the manner of his religious life was inconspicuous and ordinary; unusual, however, was the clarity with which Father Philipp did not lose sight of the goal of his life, and the strength and consistency with which he pursued it. Everything was directed towards reaching God the Father with Mary through Jesus and leading people on this path.
In his epitaph, Father Jeningen is described as a “tireless missionary in and around the district of Ellwangen in four dioceses”. In fact, his work as a rural missionary was the real apostolate of his life. Many Catholics lived scattered and had no pastor of their own, even the churches and parishes, often destroyed, were in need of renovation. Father Philipp travelled the country, held missions and gave retreats to priests; he cared especially for soldiers, prisoners and those condemned to death. In spite of his precarious health, he led a very active life and, despite his many illnesses, constantly brought comfort and help to people. The Eucharist was always his food. While he was in the midst of his activities, he fell seriously ill after starting the Spiritual Exercises and died on 8 February 1704.
Letter from Fr Arturo Sosa, SJ, Superior General, 2 July 2022
Fr Philipp Jeningen, Rural Missionary, is beatified
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