The Blessed James Kern was born as Francis Alexander Kern in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, on April 16, 1897. As a young man he expressed a desire to lead a religious life and to become a priest. He was by all accounts a gifted child and at the young age of 11, permitted to enroll in the Minor Seminary in Hollabrunn.
While at seminary, the was known to spend his free time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. At age 14, he made a vow of perpetual chastity.
Kern completed his secondary studies in 1915 and then volunteered for the army. Although he had to adjust to life as a soldier, he still found time to maintain a daily devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. He attended adoration every day.
On January 1, 1916, as war continued to ravage the nations of Europe, Kern attended adoration in the church of St. Blasé in Slazburg. During a forty-hour devotion there, he asked God to allow him to share in the suffering of Christ.
God answered his prayers by sending him to the Italian front as an officer. While serving in combat against Italian troops, Lieutenant Kern was struck through the chest with a bullet which pierced his lung. The wound was permanent; he would never recover.
During his convalescence, he entered a seminary in the Archdiocese of Vienna.
Following the close of the war and the breakup of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, political events in the newly-formed Czech Republic led to a schism in the Roman Catholic Church with the church there forming its own rite, insisting on modernization of the liturgy among other changes. The new church was infused with Protestant thought and remains in existence today with a membership exceeding 100,000 souls.
For Kern, the schism was heart-wrenching and he offered himself as a living atonement for Isidore Bogdan Zaradnik, a Norbertine canon and doctor of philosophy who broke away to lead the schism.
It was Kern’s purpose to serve as an atonement for those who broke away from Rome.
On October 18, 1920, he took the name "James" when he received his Norbertine habit.
Kern was a devoted and pious member of his order and he took his religious life seriously. He was also a happy member, despite his poor health. His war wound continued to cause him pain and suffering.
On July 23, 1922, partly in acknowledgement of his lifelong desire, he was ordained as a priest and allowed to celebrate Mass at his abbey and neighboring churches. This portion of his phase lasted just a year when in 1923 doctors concluded that he had to have some of his ribs removed. The procedure was performed using only local anesthetic, so it caused extreme suffering.
He never fully recovered from the procedure and his physical health continued to deteriorate. Despite his suffering, he refused to take painkillers, and offered his suffering to Christ.
James Kern was scheduled to make his solemn vows in his order on October 20, 1923. Despite the commitment, he underwent another surgery that day. Before his operation, he predicted his passing saying that "Tomorrow I will see the Mother of God and my Guardian Angel." He asked for everything to be made ready for his final Communion, explaining that the last Communion should be as special and solemn as the first.
He died during the ringing of the noontime Angelus bell the same day.
Over the following decades, faithful Catholics came to his grave at Geras to pray for his intercession. Pope John Paul II beatified James Kern on June 21, 1998 during a visit to Vienna. Pope John Paul II referred to Kern and a hero of the Church and encouraged priests to follow his example and to be faithful to their vocation.
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By Rev. Peter M. J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D.