1851  — 1903

Johann Baptist von Anzer

Catholic missionary and bishop in China.

Born in Weinrieth, near Regensburg, Germany, Anzer was the fourth student to join a new mission house at Steyl, Holland, which was later to become the Society of the Divine Word (SVD). He was ordained in 1876 and, together with Joseph Freinademetz, left for China in 1879; they were the first SVD missionaries. In 1882 Anzer became pro-vicar of South Shantung (Shandong), and in 1886 vicar apostolic of the new vicariate. In 1882 he began with 158 Catholics; when he died, after 21 years of tireless activity, the extensive territory had 26,000 baptized Catholics and 40,000 catechumens, numerous institutions (seminaries, schools, orphanages, homes for the elderly, hospitals), an impressive number of beautiful churches, and many small chapels.

Anzer made his residence in the historically important city of Yen chowfu (Yanzhou), capital of South Shantung and stronghold of opposition to Christianity. In 1884 he opened a school for catechists and a seminary. In 1889 he ordained the first two Chinese priests. He played an important part in the question of the German protectorate, for which he was both praised and criticized. While his position in connection with the “reparation churches” after the murder of missionaries Franz Nies and Richard Henle and later the occupation of Kiaochow by Germany is questionable, it is quite clear that he was not motivated by political interests. He always had the good of the mission and the safety of the missionaries at heart.

Anzer was one of the most brilliant missionary organizers and strategists of the time. He placed great emphasis on the Holy Spirit, to whom he dedicated the two large churches in Yenchowfu and Tsining (Jining) and in 1892 his whole mission. Rather unusual for that time, he obtained permission from Pope Leo XIII to portray the Holy Spirit in human form. As a result of his many journeys, his correspondence, and his widely disseminated New Year’s greetings, he made a substantial contribution to the spread of mission awareness in Germany and the United States. He died of a heart attack while on a visit to Rome.


This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.


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  • H Grunder, Christliche mission und deutscher Imperialismus. Eine politische Geschichte ihrer Beziehungen wahrend der Koloniatzeit (1884-1974) unter besonderer Berucksichtigung Afrikas und Chinas (1832)
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About the Author

Karl Muller

Formerly Director, Society of the Divine Word Missiological Institute, Sankt Augustine, Germany