Origins, Education, Chaplaincy

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Max Josef Metzger was born on February 3, 1887 in the predominantly Protestant industrial town of Schopfheim in southern Baden. He was the only son of Friedrich August Metzger, a high school teacher, and his wife Anna, née Gaenshirt. The couple had three daughters in addition to Max.

His father espoused strict nationalism and forbade his son, in whom he placed high expectations, to have contact with fellow students who were Protestant or Jewish. Metzger became acquainted with various sides of Catholicism at an early age: his father’s anti-Protestantism, his mother’s practical charity and the local priest’s evangelization.

This priest’s and an uncle’s example led Metzger to arrive at the decision to study Catholic theology in Freiburg im Breisgau after attending school in Donaueschingen, Lörrach and Constance. The strikingly intellectually gifted and humorous student found Georg Pfeilschifters’s (1870–1936) Church history courses especially interesting. On the other hand, Conrad Gröber (1872–1948), headmaster of the boarding school in Constance, noted the lively and self-assured Metzger negatively. He felt he would need considerable guidance in order to become a good priest

In 1908, Metzger switched to the University of Fribourg in Switzerland since he was still too young after his exam to be ordained a priest. In addition to attending the university, Metzger, together with students from other countries who expanded his horizons beyond Germany, cared for working class children on Sundays and sympathized with the German Peace Society.

During this time, he came to the decision to abstain from alcohol, meat and tobacco; he wanted to spread this ideal, provide pastoral care and perform social work with like-minded people in a community. Once again however, Metzger’s restlessness and unwillingness to subordinate himself attracted notice.

Metzger earned his doctorate in theology in July of 1910 with a study of “Two Carolingian Pontificals on the Upper Rhine” but no longer harbored academic ambitions. After his ordination to the priesthood on July 5, 1911, Metzger was a chaplain in Karlsruhe, in Mannheim from October 1912 until January 1914 and then in Oberhausen near Freiburg.

In addition to his ministry to workers, his social work with drinkers increasingly took on importance. Working for the “Catholic Cross Alliance”, he spread the abstinence movement’s ideas in the Diocese of Freiburg through lectures and numerous publications. His superiors, however, believed they detected fanatical traits in his activism against alcohol.

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  • © Archiv des Christkönigs-Instituts, Meitingen