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The time in Oberhausen

12 April 1894 - 23 September 1899

After Katharina and Joseph returned from Strassburg, she had to look for possibilities to support herself and her child. It seemed sensible to look for work in Cologne, which was not far from home. She got a job as cook, probably with the von Guilleaume family. She took up this position some time between 1892 and 1894, but was not allowed to take her son with her. His grandmother, who was 76, was no longer able to care for the child.

In Cologne Katharina got to know Fr August Savels (12 July 1837 - 21 February 1915). She probably belonged to his parish of the Apostles. He became her confessor and advisor. Before he came to Cologne, Fr Savels had been pastor and rector of the church of St Joseph in Oberhausen. Together with his sister, Antonie Savels, he began to take in and care for orphans in his presbytery. This small start led to the foundation of the St Vincent House in Oberhausen. Other women joined his sister, and later they altogether affiliated to the Arenburg Dominican Sisters. In 1882 the first of the buildings was completed.

Katharina seems to have spoken to Fr Savels about her son, and followed his advice to take him to the orphanage. It could be that the better educational opportunities in Oberhausen also played a role in her decision. The St Vincent House had its own elementary school and the Sisters made sure that the teachers were competent.

So Joseph Kentenich arrived in the orphanage. His mother brought him there and handed him over to the care of the Sisters. Above all, however, she handed him over to the Blessed Mother in the house chapel. She asked Mary to be his mother in the future and to care for him. As a visible sign of this act of dedication she hung a small cross on a golden chain around the statue’s neck. It has been given to her at her First Communion by her godmother. Katharina Kentenich had got to know this practice from her own mother, Anna Maria.

However, her son, who was not yet nine, also entered into this act of consecration. It became a central event in his life, and later also in Schoenstatt’s history.

For the eight-year-old the change from Gymnich to Oberhausen could not have been greater. In Gymnich he had had the whole village to play in. In Oberhausen he had to be satisfied with the house and playing field that was surrounded by a high wall. Until then he had been cared for by his mother and grandmother – to the best of their abilities - in Oberhausen he was just one of a crowd. There were about 200 children in this house at the time. In order to secure at least a somewhat ordered rhythm of life, and to care for so many children with few staff and restricted financial means, the Sisters had to emphasize discipline and order. The conditions were simple, but very clean. It is known that in 1911 the Sisters had 45 Pfennig per child per day at their disposal. Even at that time it wasn’t much. So, as in many families at that time, there was meat only on Sundays, the children went barefoot during the week – if it rained they wore wooden clogs – and only wore shoes on Sunday. It is not surprising that Joseph suffered from homesickness and felt hemmed in. He tried to run away on two or three occasions, but each time his school uniform gave him away and he was returned to the orphanage.

On 25 April 1897, Low Sunday, Joseph Kentenich received his First Holy Communion in Oberhausen, and on 24 September 1897 he was confirmed in the temporary church of the Sacred Heart in Oberhausen by Auxiliary Bishop Antonius Fischer of Cologne.

On 23 September 1899 the registers in the St. Vincent House record his departure. He was not quite 14. - The Website about Pater Joseph Kentenich, Foundator of the International Schoenstatt Movement.