By Rev. Scott Donahue
One of my best friends for more than 40 years is a man named Chuck Otto. I’ve known Chuck since my college days. I celebrated the marriage of Chuck and his wife Amy, and Baptized their two beautiful children. In fact, Chuck’s son Cole is my Godson and is currently at Georgia Tech. When I was looking for a Saint of the Month for the month of July, I came across Saint Otto of Bamberg, a saint that I have never heard of. With Saint Otto and Chuck having a common name, I decided to read on.
As I read the life of Saint Otto it became apparent to me that his life was filled with a balance. Balancing his life and belief system between the teachings of the Church and his loyalty to the Emperor he served. Saint Otto is a saint today because he balanced state-held practices and religious beliefs beautifully.
Always loyal to the Lord and the Church’s teaching, Otto was able to serve both his Church and his Emperor. As Catholic followers of the Lord Jesus, we are called to serve and obey the teachings of our Church, guided always by a fully informed consciousness. As I said, Saint Otto seemed to do this brilliantly.
Born to nobility in southwestern Germany, Otto grew up with a strong educational background, which led to his ordination to priesthood before the age of 30. Soon after ordination, Otto entered the service of Emperor Henry IV, and eventually was appointed chancellor.
During Otto’s tenure as chancellor, Henry IV disagreed with the Church and created a schism by appointing an “antipope.” Otto supported the politics of Henry IV as long as it was lawful, however he did not approve of this schism. And although Otto was unable to bring Henry IV to repentance, Henry still respected Otto’s role as chancellor, and nominated him to become a bishop in 1102. Otto refused Henry’s nomination stating that “only the true Pope can appoint bishops.” Four years later, on a visit to Rome, Pope Pascal II consecrated Otto as the Roman Catholic Bishop of Bamberg on May 13, 1106.
Henry IV was succeeded by his son Henry V, who initially followed the schism created by his father. Bishop Otto continued his work balancing the Emperor’s laws and the Church laws. Eventually, through Otto’s works, he healed this breach with the Holy See, and Henry V and the Pope were reconciled.
Even during the schism years, Otto was trusted by the Emperor and both opposing political parties. This enabled Otto to carry on his episcopal duties and establish over 20 monasteries in what is now Germany, these efforts garnered him the name “Father of the Monks” in the region.
In his later years, Bishop Otto was asked by Duke Boleslaus III of Poland to continue his evangelizing work in the region of Pomerania, now part of modern Poland. Otto appealed to the pagans through his quiet generosity, inspiring sermons, and gentle yet firm demeanor. During this time, Otto and his missionaries converted more than 20,000 pagans and baptized them into Christianity. Throughout these travels, Otto performed many miracles and established 11 churches eventually converting the entire country to Christianity. It was these thousands of conversions that earned Otto the name for which he is best known, “Apostle of Pomerania.”
Otto continued his works of conversion for several more years in both Bamberg and Pomerania and this clever, pious, active and highly esteemed Bishop died on June 30, 1139. Pope Clement III canonized Otto 50 years after his death. Today, we celebrate the good works of Saint Otto of Bamberg on July 2.