Peter Joseph Baltes

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Bishop Peter Joseph Baltes of Alton, Illinois

Peter Joseph Baltes (born April 7, 1827 in Ensheim , Saarpfalz , † February 15, 1886 in Alton , Illinois ) was a Catholic clergyman and from 1869 to 1886 Bishop of Alton , Illinois. He is a well-known theological writer in the United States .


Youth and priesthood

Peter Joseph Baltes was the fourth child of the carpenter and can maker Andreas Baltes and his wife Susanna Walljan. In 1833 he emigrated to America with his parents and siblings because of economic hardship. The family settled in Oswego, New York State, at that time a small town of about a thousand people, right on Lake Ontario . The Baltes family were early immigrants in this area. The area on Lake Ontario experienced a great boom when the Erie Canal was opened in 1825 , which connected the Hudson River with Lake Erie . Joseph Peter Baltes began an apprenticeship as a carpenter and took private lessons from a priest at the age of 16. Then the young man attended Holy Cross College in Worcester , Massachusetts ; later he went to Chicago , Illinois, to study philosophy and theology at the University of St. Mary of the Lake and to give German courses at the same time. Baltes then moved to Montreal , Canada, and attended Lavelle University, where he continued and completed his theology studies. On 21 May 1853 at the age of 26, became the Peter Joseph Baltes (still in Montreal) priest for the Diocese of Chicago ordained . Since 1844 the whole state of Illinois consisted of only one diocese with a bishopric in Chicago. Only in 1853 was another diocese based in Quincy added, but in 1857 it was moved to Alton . With this new diocese one took into account the strong influx of Catholics, especially from Germany and Ireland, partly also from France. When the first Bishop Henry Damian Juncker died in 1868, the Catholic population was already 80,000 in 77 parishes. Pastor Baltes took up his first office in the town of Waterloo , Monroe County, which is part of this diocese , where he worked in St. Paul's Church until 1855. Then he was called to Belleville , where, as the successor to the pastor Ostlangenberg, who was born in Alsace, he built the St. Peter's Church there, a training center for young women and a parish school. the school sisters of Notre Dame settled. He was a person full of energy and creativity, optimism and trust in God: When the almost completed church collapsed on December 6, 1865, Pastor Baltes did not hesitate to rebuild it immediately and completed the new building within a year (except for the towers). It later became the cathedral of the new diocese of Belleville . The chronicle shows that the church was mainly built by craftsmen of German origin.

A steep theological career followed for the Palatinate priest. In 1866 he was elected by Bishop Henry Damian Juncker as his theological advisor to the 2nd Plenary Council in Baltimore and he was appointed Vicar General of the Diocese of Alton, Madison County, in southwest Illinois - an area heavily used by German Catholic emigrants was coined and in the following time became a center of Catholicism. Baltes is mentioned by name in the contemporary text: "The Concilium in Baltimore, October 7-21, 1866, a picture of church life from America" ( Andreas Niedermayer , Verlag für Kunst und Wissenschaft, Frankfurt). It says there: "Now the general vicars and administrators of vacant bishoprics came in shimmering robes, about 40 in number. We only name Mr. Melchers from St. Louis, Stibiel from Pittsburg, Luhr from Cleveland, Baltes from Alton ." Page 22) Just one year later (1867) he became the administrator of the still young diocese (founded in 1857) when Bishop Juncker was called to the Vatican Council in Rome, an office that was reassigned to him when Bishop Juncker died in 1868.

Bishop of Alton

On September 24, 1869 he was finally taken over by Pope Pius IX. appointed the new (and altogether second) Bishop of Alton and consecrated on January 23, 1870 in the St. Peter's Church in Belleville , which he built . Principal consecrator was Bishop John Henry Luers of Fort Wayne , co-consecrators were Bishop Augustus Maria Többe from Covington and Archbishop Patrick John Ryan , Philadelphia ; the two consecrating bishops were German, the archbishop an Irish. During his pontificate, Bishop Baltes had many new churches built in his diocese and founded a number of ecclesiastical orders, whose work he strongly supported. For example, he also founded the “Ecclesiastical College of the Sacred Heart” in Ruma. His diocesan administration is described as very successful, and Bishop Baltes has also written numerous writings on the formation and leadership of the priesthood and the ecclesiastical laity. He paid particular attention to the design of the liturgy, church discipline and church property law. The most important work in this context is his “Pastoral Instruction” (New York, 1875; reissued and supplemented, 1880). In 1878 Bishop Baltes visited his home diocese of Speyer on a trip to Rome. Jakob Bisson states:

A surprising coincidence led him to Speyer, after the Holy Mass in the cathedral, with his compatriot, Pastor Zimmermann von St. Martin. He accepted the invitation of his compatriot to St. Martin and a few days later, accompanied by the former pastor of Ensheim, Pf. Peter Wack, now Wachenheim, visited his home parish Ensheim. Here he was given a happy and warm welcome. As Bishop of Alton he organized the young diocese to such an extent that it was unique in North America at the time. He carefully took into account the linguistic diversity of his diocese. He did not prefer any nationality. He loved those who were most faithful to the Church. He was all a model of a strict way of life and a conscientious fulfillment of duty. In addition, Bishop Baltes founded an association for immigrants arriving from Europe. "

- Jakob Bisson, Seven Speyer bishops and their time, page 191

During his tenure, the number of Catholics had risen to 109,000, spread over 126 parishes and 77 missions - served by 138 priests. Bishop Baltes also attached great importance to the expansion of the church school system. In 1886 there were two colleges and a high school for boys, nine girls' academies and 102 Catholic elementary schools for 11,000 students, as well as 13 hospitals, three orphanages and two old people's homes, which were run by the Catholic Church. Bishop Baltes died on February 15, 1886, at the age of less than 59 years, in Alton, after being sick for 3 days, as a result of liver disease. On February 19 he was buried in a crypt in St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Alton, in the presence of the Archbishops of Chicago, St. Louis and Milwaukee, 160 priests and many other mourners. In his obituary it says:

"Father Baltes had been great as pastor, he became even greater as bishop." (Bishop Baltes was a great pastor, but he became an even greater bishop.)

A year after his death, the diocese was divided: now there was the diocese of Alton in the north (with 28 counties) and the diocese of Belleville in the south (also with 28 counties). Since 1923 both have risen in the Diocese of Springfield .

The bishop's parental family remained connected to Oswego for the next several decades. Corresponding tax lists from 1850 and 1860 have been preserved for his father Andreas Baltes. Various family members are mentioned there between 1865 and 1890. Today, however, there seem to be no more Baltes descendants living here. But a look at the Social Security Death Index shows that there are many Baltes living in the New York area, who probably belong to the other relatives of the Palatinate missionary bishop. The Baltes family is still based in Ensheim.


  • Der Deutsche Pionier (American emigrant newspaper): German-language obituary, 1886; Complete scan of the obituary
  • Eugen Matheis: Reminder sheets on the occasion of the 800th anniversary of the parish Ensheim . Catholic parish office Ensheim, 1935.
  • Dr. Jakob Bisson : Seven Speyer bishops and their time . Pilger Verlag, Speyer 1956, pp. 191, 192.
  • Viktor Carl: Lexicon of Palatinate personalities . Hennig Verlag, Edenkoben 1998, p. 26
  • Baltes, Peter Joseph . In: James Grant Wilson, John Fiske (Eds.): Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography . tape 1 : Aaron - Crandall . D. Appleton and Company, New York 1887, p. 153 (English, Textarchiv - Internet Archive ).

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