"I will not, I repeat, will not obey the work of the devil."

Author Riepe has collected extensive materials in fashioning this enlivened biography of a fascinating religious leader whose lifeline spanned two continents and several American states in his wish to help the needy and create spiritual sanctuaries. Joseph Albrecht, born in 1801, would inherit a significant swathe of farmland in his home in rural Germany. Married at a young age to Mary, a girl chosen by his father as a suitable bride, he would find himself increasingly aligned with the Catholic church as war swept through Europe. The couple was intensively involved in aiding their local community, with the oversight of the church, so much so that Mary and her daughter separated from Joseph to become nuns. They would emigrate to America for freedom of religion, and eventually, Joseph would do likewise as an ordained priest in his late forties.

Settling initially in Ohio and moving later to Minnesota, he immediately established a parish and constructed a convent, the first of many such undertakings. But Joseph’s strong personality, which garnered many dedicated followers, also put him in conflict with church law. When he preached and acted in condemnation of a young parishioner who dared to wear a hoopskirt to church and refused to obey instructions from Rome delivered by a bishop whose word and motivations he dared to question, he would be sanctioned and excommunicated. Yet Albrecht continued to act as a priest. He had a small but staunch group of families that maintained their support for this rogue religious leader in life and later, in death, when they proved their loyalty in an unusual, almost mystical, act of devotion to a man who had possibly risen to the ranks of sainthood.

Riepe, having grown up in Minnesota, began his study of Albrecht in 1982. The author's own life story includes a dedication to history and a lengthy stint in the United States Navy as a linguist in both Arabic and Russian. This portrayal of Albrecht’s life, richly shown here and based largely on threads of factual research as gleaned and enlivened by Riepe, reveals the priest to be a fascinating figure. The author deftly describes him as one who lived by his innate convictions, one of which was to use whatever worldly wealth he might possess for the guidance and benefit of others. This deeply held compulsion led him to America to build and oversee large, religious-based projects, battling such foes as a cholera epidemic, a fire that destroyed one of his early communities, and even the Catholic hierarchy itself.

Through this dynamic tale, Riepe expresses his sincere wish to share Father Albrecht’s long and action-packed journey so that readers will not only have a broader grasp of the personality and inner complexities of the man himself but will also acquire “a better understanding of their individual religious beliefs.” Riepe’s book joins, links, and enhances other accounts of the remarkable priest, offering an intelligent perspective that can be appreciated for its human touches as well as its devotion to historical fact. It will doubtless be appreciated by spiritual seekers regardless of religious affiliation and especially by those more directly connected to the lore of Albrecht, his times, works, and convictions.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Return to USR Home