Written by Paul Floersch, sharing from extensive research on early life in Germany. (Frank Floersch lineage. Johann, Michael, Frank, Paul Floersch Sr., Paul Floersch Jr, Mark Floersch, Paul Floersch)
Theology has a way of being strikingly personal.
This is one of the major points I have learned since I have been here in Rome. It is the story of God and his contact with man—or more concretely with particular men, those who hear his voice and respond in faith. But what is faith exactly? It is one of those words that we throw around often but don’t define often enough. Faith is like falling into God, entering a world different from this one. We receive this new world, through faith, by way of a promise made to us by God, who is something, or someone rather, totally Other than the world. Faith is in Him, He who you may not see, although belief in Him will transform your vision. Remember St. Paul who at his conversion was blinded naturally, so that he could see Christ supernaturally. Faith is like the movement from a life of black and white to a life of vibrant color painted with the colors of abundant hope and enduring love. We need to learn to beg for these “colors” every day because if we forget we need them, we will forget we can’t see. Faith is not believing in what is not real. On the contrary, faith is belief in what is more real than what the world itself can offer.
Faith comes from what is heard
Another major point that I have learned since I have been here, is that God is playful. What do I mean? Not that he is silly or funny, but that he is creative. He, the all-powerful God, could have created the world however he wanted, but he chose to create it the way it is. Likewise, He could have saved us however he wanted but he chose to save us the way he did. Part of this plan is that we would participate in one another’s salvation. What does this mean? We need to show each other how to see with the new eyes of faith. We need to talk to one another about the Christian life precisely because “Faith comes from what is heard.”
For example, some four thousand years ago God formed a covenant with an old man he drew out of Chalcedon (modern day Iran) and renamed him Abraham. The sacred covenant “of a promised land and descendants as numberless as the stars in the sky” was passed to Abraham’s son Isaac, Isaac’s son Jacob, Jacob’s son Joseph, and the line continues…down the generations to Moses and the Prophets, through the Kings like David and his son Solomon. Throughout these generations God remains faithful to his people, building up his promises more and more, even until He promises the apparently unthinkable. Through the prophet Isaiah he promises to the Kings, the House of David: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (or God with us).” Or put otherwise, God promises to dwell among us, to cross the divide of heaven and earth, and to walk with us, talk to us, eat bread and fish with us, drink with us, etc. Some hundred years after this promise is made, it is revealed to the Blessed Virgin Mary by the message of an angel that she should bear the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
The events of Jesus’ life shake the world, awakening it to the reality of Faith. His miracles, healings, exorcisms, all indications of the divine colors bringing life to an otherwise bleak world. Faith in Jesus as the Son of God is the clarity to see the most beautiful hues of color possible, to see what is most real. And the purest paint of all is the color of His Innocent Blood which ran down the side of his dead body, down the wood of the cross from which He hung, and finally His Innocent Blood crosses into the soil of our sin. The sin of every human who ever lived. This innocent blood, freely offered for my sake is what makes me see. It is what made Abraham see. It is what would make Peter and Paul see, and all the Holy People who ever lived or will live see. “Holy People.” What does that mean? Are those just the people who are better humans than we are? No. These are the people that learned to beg God for the color of faith everyday, because they knew they were blinded by sin and could not see. They know the brokenness of their own humanity.
Okay, so I apologize that this was a little preachy, but I can’t help myself from thinking that the only way I can talk about our family is first by recalling these all-important truths. This portion is almost over. Stay with me.
This Innocent Blood of Christ, which by its power transforms us into Christians (literally “bearers of Christ”), turns us into Him. Yes, this sounds weird, but that’s simply the way it is. If we are going to be saved we have to let ourselves be transformed into Christ. Seeing with the eyes of faith simply means seeing with the vision of Jesus who is God. That’s the promise he makes to all of us, that the New Covenant of his blood transforms us into Him. The early Fathers of the Church had a saying which we need to recover: “God became man, so that man might become God.” God’s promises are huge.
Peter and Paul knew this to be true to the depths of their bones. And they carried this message to the belly of the beast that killed their God…they proclaimed the necessity for the vision of faith all the way to Rome, the heart of the Roman Empire. There, they died like their Savior, becoming re-presentations of Him whose blood they carried. Paul was killed by beheading, Peter was crucified upside-down. The early Church of Rome would not have had mass on those days because they rightfully believed that the liturgical sacrifice was already carried out by the spilling of the blood of their leaders. They would say, “The blood of the martyrs becomes the seed of the Church.” And they were right. How many people died for Zeus or Venus or other pagan gods? Zero. How many laid their lives down for Christ? Hundreds upon hundreds, even until now. Christ is not some myth. He is the most real event in history.
Worms, Höchborn (Blodesheim), and Frettenheim
Not long after the deaths of Peter and Paul the Roman Empire transformed into the beginnings of a Christian Kingdom. Already in the 5th century this meant there was a Christian presence in present day Germany, the land of our fathers. Worms, a city 20 km south of the small villages of Höchborn and Frettenheim, the exact villages of our fathers, was one of the principle capitals of the Holy Roman Empire which spanned the middle ages, for nearly 1,500 years. The faith was built up here, shared amongst families and friends until there was literally no other belief system present except that of a life lived for God though Jesus Christ. Which is simply to say, the region we come from has been saturated with Christianity for a very long time.
Still today stand Churches which have been documented as having been erected in the 10th century, some possibly even earlier. Even in little Hochborn (our “hometown” formerly known as Blodesheim), the church “Holy Redeemer” was documented as existing at least in the 11th century. Because there is so little written history from this period, we can only speculate what life was like. It is quite likely the Floersches in these parts were wine cultivators as this Rhine river region where they lived is fit mostly for this kind of cultivation. Even today these rolling green hills are full of miles and miles of grape vines. Surely, they did all sorts of farming, but vine growing is documented as being fruitful here since the ancient Roman times. We can also say their lives centered around the life of the Church as everyone’s would have been in these centuries. “Holy Redeemer” was in the center of town, and Jakob Floersch, the last living Floersch in Hochborn who died sometime in the 2000s owned the house directly adjacent to the Church. How long this property was in the family, I do not know. But in this Church, for centuries, our ancestors received the Body and Blood of Christ, and saw with the eyes of faith.
Martin Luther and Protestant – Catholic Schism
Tragedy struck in Hochborn in 1585 when the division of the Protestant-Catholic Schism took root in our own town. The Church was taken over by Protestants. The city of Worms is actually where Martin Luther formally declared himself apart from the Roman Church in 1521, only 17 km from our hometown. It is not clear what kind of turmoil this division caused in the town of Hochborn, but one can only assume it was extremely difficult for such a small community to be divided over what had been the greatest source of unity for many centuries.
Catholics regained some use of the Church, then they were relegated to use the upper floor of the town hall, the building just behind the Church, until finally, in 1707, the Lutherans took full possession of the property, leaving the Catholics to seek a house of worship elsewhere.
St. George – Frettenheim – 1759
Around this time, the Catholic Church in Frettenheim was built (1759), called St. George. For unknown reasons, Frettenheim ’s former Church called “All Saints” no longer existed. Frettenheim is close to Hochborn, less than 6 km apart. This is also where Johannes (b. 1800) and Maria Elizabetha Flörsch (b. 1798) are documented to have owned land and likely lived before they emigrated to the USA. Therefore, in my estimation, it is not mere speculation, but quite reasonable to assume this is where the Johannes Floersch family of the 18th and 19th centuries went to mass.
Based on the mere appearance of the Church in Frettenheim, St. George, it is clear that the Catholics who kept up this Church were people of great devotion. The high altar there is incredible, and frankly has no business in a tiny country parish. What is clear is that farmers in this area forked over some serious dough to afford such an incredible, hand-carved masterpiece. This devotion is a clear sign of faith. It is recounted that the altar once resided in a chapel in Mainz, a major German Cathedral, but this is not documented anywhere official. Perhaps it is legend or perhaps it is modesty on the part of the parishioners to have left this clearly important fact undocumented.
In 1843, Johannes and Maria, sold their land in Frettenheim, and their power of attorney was Peter Floersch III of Hochborn. There is a possibility that Johannes and Peter where brothers, otherwise they were at least cousins. Peter III’s tomb can be found to this day in the Hochborn cemetery. It was a profound honor to pray at his tomb with my friends.
In the same year of 1843, Johannes and Maria left Germany with their six children, Jacob, Johann, Peter, Marianna, Phillip, Matthais, and Michael (b. 1834) to set out for the USA. And of course, we all know the drama of the story there.
Little Michael who left Germany at the age of 7, would grow to become one of the first white settlers in Potawatomie County, KS. His obituary read that he was a highly respected man who lived a life of faith, which he clung to since his boyhood in Germany. He passed this faith on to his son Francis, and Francis to his son Paul, and Paul to his son Paul Jr., and Paul Jr. to his son Mark, and Mark to his son…me.
Nothing moved me more than being in the Church in Frettenheim, St. George wondering if Johannes Floersch, seven generations before me ever thought it would be possible for his descendants to pray here again to His God as he knelt for the last time before his journey to America. Yet, there I was, just this last week, almost certainly the first of his descendants to return, overwhelmed with the gift of being present again in this holy space. This place where God contacted my great-great-great-great grandfather, he has now deeply contacted me, only to remind me of the beautiful way he has redeemed me by his blood. That the faith I see with has come to me through generations upon generations. This good news of my Holy Redeemer was promulgated through the martyrs in Rome, brought by missionaries to Germany, held fast to my family for centuries, and most recently carried across an ocean to the American plains. And because of all this, now I see.
Click to see pictures.
 Isaiah 7:14