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An Interview with Friederika Priemer

Gordon: Please share with our readers some information about your background

Friederika: Well, at school I always loved languages: English, Latin, French, but I did not want to become a language teacher. So I studied English and French to become a translator, later I took up Spanish as well. Strangely enough, in the end I never worked full-time as a translator, but had all kinds of jobs where languages were essential – starting with being a travel guide on “Europabus”, later I worked for British Airways in their town office. Afterwards I was a bilingual secretary in a pharmaceutical company and finally I worked for the University of Cologne/Germany organizing seminars and congresses with people from around the world.

Gordon: Where is your parish and what do you like most about it?

Friederika: My parish St. Franziskus is in Cologne/Germany, in the district of Weiden. What I like most about it is my weekly one-hour watch keeping the church open for people who want to say a prayer and light a candle. Sometimes the visitors want to exchange their problems with us or they simply say: “Thank you for keeping the church open”. This hour in front of the tabernacle – alone with Jesus - gives me peace and strength for my life.

Gordon: Where did you start working as a translator and what are some of the books that you have translated?

Friederika: Well, as I said earlier, I have not really worked as a translator, but have had various jobs where the knowledge of languages was required – in speaking and writing. And to be honest: I have so far only translated two books, namely “Nonni in America” and “Nonni in Japan” – both written in German by my favorite Icelandic author Jón Svensson SJ (1857-1944). I would not have dared to publish them without the help of a native speaker who was a godsend, namely Aimee O’Connell who lectured my translation.

Gordon: What do you do at IgNation?

Friederika: Unfortunately, igNation has not posted any more for quite some time. First, it was due to the summer break, but meanwhile I think there are health problems of the editor which cause the silence. I am simply an interested reader of the posts – sometimes giving a comment.

Gordon: You won the Gold Medal in the 2021-2022 for your translation of Nonni in America. What was your family's response to this award?

Friederika: I did not even tell them about it. You see, it’s like as the Bible says: “The prophet is not valid in his own country”.

Gordon: Please provide an overview of “Nonni in America”.

Friederika: “Nonni in America” is a great and very interesting travelogue of Jón Svensson’s journey around the world, volume I. At the age of 80 years! In the year 1936! Translating this book I felt as if I was sitting next to Nonni experiencing his many adventures together with him. The journey starts in the Netherlands where Jón Svensson lived at that time. By train he went first to Paris where he still had to give some lectures before he could continue his world trip. From Paris he flew (!) to London – Nonni was always up-to-date!

In London he bought the ticket around the world and a visa for entering the US. When he had finished the formalities, he took the train to Southampton where “his” boat was already waiting for him: the giant steamer “Berengaria”. On board Nonni met many interesting people, especially the son of a former president of the United States of America and a nice American boy who told Nonni everything about New York.

After landing there a professor from Fordham University was waiting for the guest from Europe and took him in a “cab” to the Bronx. Nonni stayed three months giving many lectures in French and even in English, and of course was interviewed many times. During his stay he visited the skyscrapers “Woolworth” and the “Empire State” which then were the highest buildings on earth! Again he met interesting and strange people, American squirrels, and went to an important fight between the athletes of Fordham University and Southern-Methodist University from Texas.

He was sorry to have to leave New York but actually he was on a world trip and had to catch a steamer in San Francisco which would take him to Japan. So he said “Goodbye” and bought a ticket to Denver via Winnipeg in Canada. It was a great detour, but he wanted to see his little brother Fridrik who had immigrated to Canada together with his foster parents and many other Icelandic families due to economic problems in Iceland.

In Denver he was invited by an old school friend whom Nonni had not seen for decades. Needless to say that on the train trip Nonni experienced again lots of adventures – he even got in an accident and narrowly escaped death. The last stretch Denver – San Francisco lead through the Rockies, not around them. Before leaving for Japan Nonni enjoyed sunny California, giving again several lectures – he had to pay his trip around the world from his own pocket, after all!

Gordon: Please share with our readers some background on Father Jon Svensson S. J.

Friederika: Jón Svensson (also written Sveinsson – the Icelandic version) was born at Möđruvellir in Hörgárdalur in North Iceland on November 16,1857, and was brought up there until he was eight. His parents were Sveinn ƥórarinsson and Sigriđur Jónsdóttir. They were respectable people who gave their children a good Christian upbringing in the protestant religion.

In 1865 Nonni (nickname of Jón) moved with his parents and his siblings to Akureyri where their father died four years later at the age of 48. Times were hard and their mother had great problems supporting her family. It was godsend that a French nobleman offered to pay for Nonni’s education in France. So 12-year-old Nonni left Iceland in 1870 and sailed to Denmark where he converted to the Roman Catholic church with his mother’s approval. Because of the French-Prussian war he had to stay in Copenhagen for a year. When the war was over he continued his trip to France and studied at a Jesuit college in Amiens. His happiness was perfect when the nobleman also sponsored Manni’s education – so the brothers were together again.

After completing his studies, Nonni became a member of the Jesuit order in 1878. He then studied at university level for 5 years in France, Belgium, and Holland, reading literature, philosophy, and theology. In 1883, he became a teacher at a Catholic school in Ordrup, Denmark. He went to England in 1888 and was ordained to the priesthood on August 31, 1890 – the first Icelandic Catholic priest after the reformation. He continued his theological studies in England, but later he returned to Ordrup where he spent the next 20 years as a teacher and a missionary.

In 1912, Nonni fell ill, had to give up teaching and advised by his doctors his superiors sent him to the Netherlands, where he began giving lectures about his childhood and his beloved Iceland. His speeches were a great success – young and old people filled the halls with enthusiastic listeners. When he could not go to all the cities where his fans wanted to see him, he started to write books and became a successful author of 12 Nonni books. Especially in Germany he was the best known Icelandic storyteller in the last century.

Many of his books were translated into various languages, some also into English. The editor of “Nonni in America” and “Nonni in Japan” of “Chaos to Order Publishing” has also published several Nonni books in English – please visit his website:

In 1936, at the age of 80 years, Nonni was able to fulfill his dream as a young boy: he wanted to see the world – especially the countries on the other side of the globe! Japan and China fascinated him most – the people with yellowish faces and black hair. He had got the permission of his superiors – under 3 conditions: a) His doctor would have to approve – he did! b) Nonni would have to pay his ticket by himself – he managed to do so by giving speeches and lectures up to the last minute and also during his journey. C) Nonni would have to write a book about his adventurous trip around the world – he did so and wrote even TWO books, namely “Nonni in America” and “Nonni in Japan”, although the latter had to be completed by his friend Fr. Hermann A. Krose SJ, because Nonni died before he could finish it…

He died on 16 October 1944 in Cologne/Germany, exactly one month before his 87th birthday. He was buried on the famous Melatenfriedhof (Melaten Cemetery). At his grave his friends will celebrate the 165th return of his birth on 16 November 2022. R.I.P.

Gordon: For our readers who may not know of Saint Thorlak. 'Please provide an overview of his life.

Friederika: Before I knew Aimee O'Connell I only had heard that Saint Thorlak is the patron saint of Iceland and I had seen his statue in the Catholic cathedral in Reykjavík, the capital city of Iceland. After reading her very interesting book “Saint Thorlak of Iceland” (published by “Chaos to Order Publishing”) I agree with Aimee that he is a role model for autistic people. I also have signed the petition for Thorlak becoming the patron saint of people with autism. I have also prayed the Novena authored by Aimee O’Connell, and I like her prayer card for children.

If you want to know more about Saint Thorlak, please look him up on the internet under “Aimee O'Connell Saint Thorlak” and visit Wikipedia.

Gordon: Thank you for a fascinating interview.

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