Today is the feast day of Saint Otto of Bamberg. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Otto, born into the noble though impoverished family of Mistelbach in Swabia. He was ordained a priest while still young, but it is unknown where he was educated. He entered the service of Emperor Henry IV and ultimately was appointed chancellor.
In the conflicts over investitures between Henry IV and Pope St. Gregory VII, which ended in excommunication for the Emperor, the noble cleric was caught between two masters. However, Otto navigated the situation admirably upholding the sovereign in all he could, but refusing to approve his schism and his other crimes, laboring to bring him to repentance and submission.
When the Emperor nominated him Bishop of Bamberg in 1102, Otto refused to be consecrated by a schismatic bishop and traveled to Rome instead where he was consecrated by Pope Paschal II himself.
Under Henry V who began to follow in his rebellious father’s footsteps, Otto worked to heal the fresh breach with the Holy See and the consequent damages.
Enjoying the trust and respect of both parties, and amid his political activities, he managed his episcopal see admirably. He increased the possessions of the Church by new acquisitions, recovered alienated dependencies, completed the cathedral, improved the cathedral school, built castles and churches. In particular he favoured the monks, and founded over twenty monasteries in the Dioceses of Bamberg, Würzburg, Ratisbon, Passau, Eichstatt, Halberstadt and Aquileia. He reformed other monasteries. Thus he merited the name of “Father of the Monks”.
For about a year he answered the call from Boleslaus III of Poland who conquered part of Pomerania, which region was still steeped in paganism. With a number of priests and catechists, Otto launched an evangelizing effort which initially garnered 20,000 converts for the Faith. His greatest service was his missionary work among the Pomeranians. In the Peace with Poland in 1120 the latter had engaged to adopt Christianity.
Appointing clergy to continue his work, he returned to Bamberg, but a few towns having reverted to paganism, Otto again traveled to Pomerania in 1128. With his inspiring speech, he won over all the nobles of the land, reaching remote regions with the message of the Gospel. He finally was able to establish an ecclesiastical see in the area. In his missionary travels he was said to have performed miracles.
In the papal schism of 1130-31 the pious, active, clever bishop tried to remain neutral, stayed out of political turmoil, and died greatly esteemed by Emperor Lothair and his princes.
Saint Otto died June 30 1139 in Pomerania (part of Modern Poland). He was canonized in 1189 by Pope Clement III.
He was buried in the monastery of St. Michael in Bamberg. Bishop Embrice of Würzburg delivered the funeral oration and applied to Otto the words of Jeremias: “The Lord called thy name, a plentiful olive tree, fair, fruitful, and beautiful.” On his mission journey he is reported to have worked many miracles. Many happened also at his tomb.