Priest, social reformist, publicist, pastor and "father of the journeymen" – all these activities mark Adolph Kolping (1813-1865). Adolph Kolping was born in Kerpen near Cologne, Germany, and grew up in a poor family. After a short time at school at the age of 13 he started an apprenticeship as shoemaker.
He spent ten years in this profession, travelling around from one place to another like all journeymen did. At the age of 23 he took an unusual step when he decided to become a priest. He attended the Marzellen grammar school in Cologne and had to earn his living himself. Afterwards he studied theology in Munich and Bonn. On April 13, 1845 Adolph Kolping was ordained in the Church of the Minor Friars in Cologne. His first position as a priest was in Wuppertal-Elberfeld.
There he saw the poverty of the workers caused by industrialisation and the social change it brough with it. Because of the breakdown of the guild system the journeymen lost their homes in the families of their masters. In Elberfeld he got to know an organization for journeymen which had been founded a short time before by the teacher Johann Gregor Breuer. He was elected Praeses of this association. Kolping recognised this organisation as being a way of overcoming social problems.
Help for self-help, bringing out social change by changing people, this is how his approach was later described. Soon Kolping came to Cologne where on May 6, 1849 he founded the first catholic jouneymen's association, the predecessor of today's Kolping family. The idea of self-help and community help quickly spread through Europe and beyond.
Adolph Kolping's beatification ceremony took place in Rome on October 27, 1991. Today his life's work continues in more than 60 countries around the world.