Adolph Kolping was born on 8 December 1813 in Kerpen as the fourth of five children to the poor shepherd Peter Kolping and Anna Maria Zurheyden. He often lived in the shadow of frail health during his childhood.
He proved to be an able student while in school from 1820 to 1826 but his poorness prevented him from furthering his education despite his commitment to pursue additional studies. In 1831 he travelled to Cologne as a shoemaker’s assistant and soon became shocked with the living conditions of the working class that lived there and this proved to be definitive in influencing his decision to become a priest; he remained a shoemaker until 1841. In summer 1834 he attended the Three Kings School and afterwards in 1841 began his theological education in Munich at the college there as well as later in Bonn and Cologne. His time spent on his studies saw him become friends with the future Bishop of Mainz Wilhelm Emmanuel vonKetteler.
Kolping was ordained to the priesthood on 13 April 1845 in Cologne’s “Minoritenkirche” but his father died the night before so his ordination was full of mixed emotions. He first served in Elberfeld– now part ofWuppertal – as a chaplain and religious education teacher from 1845 until 1849.
In 1847 he became the second president of the Gesellenverein which gave its members both religious and social support. In 1849 he returned to Cologne as the cathedral’s vicar and established Cologne’s branch of the Gesellenverein. He united the existing associations as the “Rheinischer Gesellenbund” in 1850 – this fusion was the origin of the present international “Kolpingwerk”. In 1854, he founded the newspaper “Rheinische Volksblätter” (or the “Rhine Region People’s Paper”) which became one of the most successful press organs of his time at a rapid pace and the first issue was published that 1 April.
He was the editor of the Catholic People’s Calendar from 1852 to 1853 and of the Calendar for the Catholic People from 1854 to 1855. In 1862 he became the rector of the Saint Maria Empfängnischurch. Pope Pius IX titled him as a Monsignor in 1862 – this came about after the pair met in Rome in a private audience in May to discuss the priest’s work.
He died on 4 December 1865 due to lung cancer; his remains are buried in the “Minoritenkirche” in Cologne. Kolping had suffered from a severe joint inflammation in his right forearm that spring. He is remembered as the “Father of All Apprentices” and in 2003 was ranked eleventh in the Unsere Besten. Pope John Paul II visited his tomb in November 1980 while visiting the nation.