BORN in Oies, a lovely mountain village formerly part of the Austrian Alps, the child was named Josef Freinademetz (“he who is from halfway up the mountain”). His deeply Catholic parents baptized him on the day he was born.

Answering the call to the priesthood, he got ordained for the Diocese of Brixen and served as a model parish priest. Yet, the call to do missionary work within prompted the young priest to apply to Fr. Arnold Janssen, the founder of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD).

Together with another priest, Fr. Joseph Baptist Anzer SVD, Fr. Freinademetz went to China, the “field of dreams” for many missionaries.

Shantung, the province of China to where Fr. Freinademetz got assigned, was far from the cool, neat and clean Alpine region he came from. Unfortunately, the missionaries met some stiff opposition from nationalist Chinese, some of whom were members of the dreaded rebellious “Boxer Movement” against the unwelcome presence of foreign powers.

Homesick and bewildered at the hostile situation, the young missionary underwent the shock of his life when a band of rascals seized him and a catechist as they crossed the town’s marketplace. They were shamelessly thrown into a cesspool.

Freed by the arrival of the local police, the missionary sat at the cesspool’s edge. While wiping the slime from his face, he saw the catechist’s dirtied face. Then both spontaneously started to laugh at their situation. There and then, the missionary came to understand, appreciate and later love the Chinese people to whom he dedicated years of missionary service, teaching them about the truth and beauty of the faith.

His love made speaking to them easier when he realized that the language people understand is the language of love.

Years after his death in January 28, 1908, the Communist Chinese forcibly removed his bones from his grave. But the people he loved continue to remember the “Shen Fu” whom they lovingly call St. Joseph of Shantung.