Kolping grew up as the son of a shepherd. At the age of 18 he went to Cologne as a shoemaker's assistant. He was shocked by the living conditions of most people living there, which influenced his decision to become a priest. At age 23 he attended the Dreikönigsgymnasium and afterwards studied theology in Munich, Bonn and Cologne. On April 10, 1845 he was ordained a priest in Cologne's Minoritenkirche.
In 1847 he became the second president of the Catholic Association of Journeymen, which gave young journeymen religious and social support.
In 1849 he returned to Cologne as vicar of the cathedral and helped establish Cologne's Association of Journeymen. He united the existing journeymen associations as the Rheinischer Gesellenbund in 1850. This fusion was the origin of today's international Kolpingwerk. Until his death he labored to spread the federation of journeymen associations. By the year of his death, 1865, there were more than four hundred journeymen associations worldwide.
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By Deacon Keith Fournier
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