Société des Missions Africaines –Province de Strasbourg

BARTHLEN Alphonse né le 3 août 1881 à Lutterbach
dans le diocèse de Strasbourg, France
membre de la SMA le 5 octobre 1902
prêtre le 17 juillet 1904
décédé le 17 juin 1976

1905-1912 Cadier en Keer, professeur
1912-1921 missionnaire à Macon, Géorgie (USA)
1921-1924 premier supérieur de Tenafly (USA)
1924-1937 missionnaire à Macon, Géorgie
1937-1976 supérieur, puis retiré à Tenafly

décédé à Teaneck, USA, le 17 juin 1976,
à l'âge de 95 ans

Father Alphonse J. BARTHLEN (1881 - 1976)

Alphonse Barthlen was born in Lutterbach, Alsace-Lorraine, in the diocese of Strasbourg, on August 3, 1881.
He died in Holy Name Hospital, Teaneck, NJ, on May 17, 1976.

Alphonse Barthlen was the tenth of eleven children born to Joseph and Justine (nee Rauch) Barthlen. Although born at a time when Lutterback was under German Rule, he considered himself a Frenchman, his father having served seven years in the Imperial Guard of Napoleon III. Alphonse received his elementary schooling at Uffholtz, Alsace-Lorraine, France. He then entered the Society’s Apostolic School, the College of Our Lady of Lourdes, at Cadier en Keer, near Maastrict, Holland, graduating in 1898. Alphonse studied philosophy in the Society’s seminary at Clermont-Ferrand, France, going on in 1900 to the Society’s major seminary at Cours Gambetta, Lyon, for his theological course. Alphonse was received as a member of the Society on October 5, 1902. He was ordained a priest in the seminary chapel in Lyon by Bishop Paul Pellet SMA, on July 17, 1904. Ordained with him on that day was Francis Weiss who was later to serve in America.

After ordination Alphonse spent a year at St. Joseph’s College, Wilton, Cork, Ireland, learning English. Many members of the Society were sent to Cork for this purpose because knowledge of English was essential in British West Africa where several SMA missions were located. He also taught in the Apostolic School where young Irish boys studied before going on to Lyon. Above average as a student, Alphonse proved a talented teacher and it was no surprise when on his return from Cork he was appointed to the staff of the school in Keer, teaching Latin, French and the humanities there between 1905-1912.

At the turn of the century, at the behest of Propaganda Fide and some senior American Churchmen, the Society had founded missions in the Southern States of America. These had been pioneered by Ignace Lissner, Alphonse’s fellow countryman. On December 1, 1912, sent to assist in this apostolate, Alphonse sailed from le Havre to New Orleans, arriving seven days later. On December 17th he preached his first sermon in English in the USA to the congregation at St. Anthony’s church in Savannah and then set out for his assigned post as assistant pastor of the African-American community of Augusta, at Immaculate Conception Mission. During his time in Augusta – first with Fr. Laube and then as Pastor - a fine new church, rectory and elementary school were built and a two-year high school was opened. In 1920 Alphonse became pastor of St. Anthony’s Church in Savannah. A year later the Society purchased property in Tenafly N.J. to be used as a seminary for black candidates for priesthood. Alphonse was assigned as first superior. In 1924 he returned to parish work in Macon, Ga., as pastor of St. Peter Claver church, succeeding another Alsatian born member of the Society, Fr. Dahlent. While in Macon he built a 500-seat church which was dedicated in 1927. From October 12, 1937 until his death he served at Tenafly, witnessing the establishment in 1941 of the American Province and later the transfer of Provincial HQ from Massachusetts to Tenafly. During these years he served as superior until 1963. He lived his remaining years in active retirement, offering Mass each day. Living to the age of 94 years and celebrating 72 years of priesthood, at the time of his death Alphonse, who had become an American citizen in 1921, was the oldest living member of the Society.

Alphonse was truly one of the great pioneers of the American Province, a trusted colleague and advisor to Fr. Lissner, a man who never wavered in his determination to fulfill his mission whatever the obstacles. In later life he recalled some of these obstacles. When he first went to Augusta the mission property was an old grocery store. In that building we ‘opened a church and a school, the top floor serving as the chapel and two rooms on the first floor serving as our school for some 30 pupils.’ He recorded that during his four years in Augusta only one fellow-priest from the diocese came to visit him. ‘We were ostracized because we were working with Blacks’. When he came to Tenafly in 1921 the house ‘had not been lived in for fifteen years, had no electricity, no heat, no cook and was full of rats’. Of small but robust built, Alphonse remained strong up to the last months of his life. Indeed, three years before his death, he traveled to Lutterback, Alsace, to visit his 100-year old brother, and to pray in the parish church in which he had sung his first Solemn Mass almost 70 years earlier.

He is buried in the SMA Community Plot, Mount Carmel Cemetery, Tenafly, NJ, USA.