“The First Branch in Austria,” Global Histories: Austria (2019)
“The First Branch in Austria,” Global Histories: Austria
Although missionaries had sporadically preached in Austria starting in 1865, only a few converts joined the Church in the 19th century. In 1899 Johann and Theresia Huber owned a large farm near Rottenbach, Austria, and were active in the town’s Catholic parish. Due to tensions between Johann and a member of the local clergy over politics, however, Johann stopped attending mass. Soon afterward, he was approached by Martin Ganglmayer, who had become a Latter-day Saint while living in the United States and was en route to Germany to serve a mission. Ganglmayer’s message rang true to Johann and in April 1900, he traveled to Munich to be baptized.
Johann’s decision to leave Catholicism, the dominant faith of Austria, and adopt a new faith quickly led to social and legal problems. When the Huber children were baptized as Latter-day Saints, family members and friends who attended the service were fined. If Johann’s children did not attend confession, they were threatened with removal to protective custody. Local authorities encouraged Johann’s wife to leave him and pressured workers to turn down employment on his farm.
In the face of their increasing isolation, the Hubers relied on contact with Church members in Munich for encouragement and support. When Johann’s six-year-old son, Josef, contracted a case of meningitis so severe that doctors discontinued treatment, Johann requested elders travel from Munich to bless his son. Hours after two missionaries administered to Josef, the boy was running around and playing with his wagon.
Gradually, many in the community grew to respect Johann despite his unfamiliar religion. When an attempt was made to commit Johann to a mental hospital, one judge spoke in his defense. “Gentlemen, if the children are so well behaved,” the judge reasoned, “it is impossible that he can be a bad man.” Amid these difficulties, Johann remained faithful to the teachings of the gospel and declared, “I’m living a happy life and have received knowledge of the gospel.”
Johann Huber also shared the gospel with others, and a branch was soon organized with Johann as president. Meetings were held in a barn on the Huber farm. The small group of Saints drew strength from each other as they strove to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.
The dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War I relaxed political and religious constraints, allowing members to practice and share their faith more freely. Branches in Haag am Hausruck and Vienna were soon established. Johann Huber served as branch president in Rottenbach for 25 years and personally brought at least 13 families into the Church.