Category Archives: Faith and Religion.

Prison Meditations of German Pastor and Nazi Resister Alfred Delp, S.J. (1907-1945).

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By John P. Walsh

FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT.

During World War II in Germany, Alfred Delp, S.J. (1907 – Berlin, 2 February 1945) was a member of the Kreisauer Kreis (The Kreisau Circle) composed of German men and women from a variety of backgrounds who opposed Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. Fr. Delp was arrested by the Nazis in 1944 and, after six months in prison in shackles, the German Catholic priest and Jesuit was sentenced to death for high treason and executed by hanging on Candlemas 1945. Following the Allied victory, Delp’s prison writings were assembled into a posthumous book called Facing Death (German: Im Angesicht des Todes). A highlight of the 37-year-old Delp’s writings are his seasonal sermons and meditations for Advent and Christmas which were written as he languished in a cell “three steps wide” surrounded by Nazi guards. His writings, scrawled on numerous slips of paper and smuggled out before his death, have been compared to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison also written in Tegel prison in Berlin, Germany, during World War II. Father Delp was developing his thoughts and writing about the annual Advent drama at least as early as 1933 so his prison writings became a concluding chapter of a lasting adult interest as he faced his death.

Alfred Delp

Alfred Delp S.J. (German, 15 September 1907 – Berlin, 2 February 1945) wrote his meditations and sermons on Advent and Christmas as a political prisoner in Nazi Germany in World War II.

From Alfred Delp, S.J., “Figures of Advent” (adapted), Advent of the Heart, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2006:

“I see this year’s Advent (December 1944 in Berlin’s Tegel Prison) with an intensity and discomposure like never before….Along with these thoughts comes the memory of an angel that a good person gave me for Advent in 1942. It held a banner: ‘Rejoice, for the Lord is near.’ A war bomb destroyed the angel as well as that good person although I often sense that she continues to do angel-services for me. It is the knowledge of the quiet angels of annunciation, who speak their message of blessing into the distress of our world situation and scatter their blessing’s seeds which begin to grow in the middle of the night which informs and encourages us of the truth of a situation. These angels of Advent are not loud angels of public jubilation and fulfillment but, silent and unnoticed, they come into private and shabby rooms and appear before our hearts as they did long ago. Silently they bring the questions of God and proclaim to us the miracles of God, with whom nothing is impossible. Advent is a time of refuge because it has received a message – and so to believe in God’s auspicious seeds that the angels offer an open heart are the first things we must do with our lives. The next is to go through the days as announcing messengers ourselves. We wait in faith for the abundance of the coming harvest – not because we trust the earth or the stars or our own good sense and courage – but only because we have perceived God’s messages and know about His herald angels – and even have ourselves encountered one.”

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SECOND SUNDAY IN ADVENT.

Thomas Merton in his Introduction to Alfred Delp’s Prison Writings – a modern compilation of a young German Jesuit’s writings in prison in Berlin before he was executed for high treason as a Nazi resister in World War II – states that Delp was condemned because he and others “hoped to build a new Germany on Christian principles.” (p. xxv.) Merton links Delp’s political activity in the Kreisau Circle—an underground group of about twenty-five German dissidents of diverse backgrounds opposed to the Nazi regime—to broader Church doctrine and the western tradition of liberalism in evidence since the Ancient Greeks that “always hoped to attain a more equitable world order by peaceful collaboration among nations.” (ibid.) For Delp, according to Merton, the stark choice before human beings remained the crucial one of global order or global destruction. Father Delp observed that even religious people in his time had fallen into the militaristic government’s syllogistic trap of “conquest first and a new and better world later.” Delp’s concern when making this sort of choice is that “if the person who says it tolerates or helps further conditions which are fatal to mankind…or weakens his or her own spiritual, moral, and religious sense” – then even “the most pious prayer can become a blasphemy.” (ibid.) Delp proposed that any human indifference to honesty and justice originating in passionate conviction vitiates human nature which is left to then express itself in a vicious circle of fear and arrogance. From Delp’s perspective, his active participation in Kreisauer Kreis for which he was executed by the Nazis in February 1945 pointed to the eschatological character of the Advent drama by Delp’s hope in his time for the political and social ruin of Germany which had sunk into bitter darkness and that it would find its way ahead by the light of each person’s burning candle “for honesty and justice.”

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From Alfred Delp S.J., Prison Writings, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2004:

“So this Sunday we must again fold our hands and kneel humbly before God in order that his salvation may be active in us and that we may be ready to call upon him and be moved by his presence. The arrogance so typical of modern men and women is deflated here. At the same time, the icy loneliness and helplessness into which we are frozen melts under the divine warmth that fills and blesses us …If we are terrified by a dawning realization of our true condition, that terror is completely calmed by the certain knowledge that God is on the way and actually approaching. Our fate, no matter how much it may be entwined with the inescapable logic of circumstance, is still nothing more than the way to God, the way God has chosen for the ultimate consummation of his purpose, for his permanent ends. Light your candles – such candles as you possess – for they are the appropriate symbol for all that must happen in Advent if we are to live.”

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THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT.

On Friday, July 28, 1944, two Gestapo men were waiting outside St. George’s church in Munich, a simple Baroque pile in an almost pastoral setting near the Englischer Garten. Eight days before there had been an assassination attempt on Hitler’s life which failed. For active German dissidents to the Nazi regime in custody and, for the time being, still walking free – things were going to get worse. Helmuth James Graf von Moltke (1907 – 1945), one of the leaders of the Kreisau Circle, a type of anti-Nazi salon, had been in prison since January 1944. Now, following the failed bombing at the Wolf’s Lair, the other leader of the Kreisau Circle, Peter Yorck von Wartenburg (1904 –1944), was arrested immediately, sent to Berlin and tried and executed on August 8, 1944.

St. Georg München-Bogenhausen

St. Georg München-Bogenhausen, the parish church of Father Delp where the Gestapo arrested him on July 28, 1944.

Interior, St. Georg München-Bogenhausen.

Interior, St. Georg München-Bogenhausen. Parish church where German resister and martyr Alfred Delp, S.J. was pastor during World War II.

One of the two Gestapo men waiting outside St. George’s to arrest Father Alfred Delp, S.J. happened to be an old schoolmate of his. Like other Catholic bishops and priests who were de facto dissenters working against the Nazi regime, especially its social and racial ideologies and practices, Delp too had long been under close surveillance by the Gestapo. As a member of the Kreisau Circle – a group of professionals of varying religious, social, and political backgrounds but all of them dyed-in-the-wool anti-Nazis – Delp was their social scientist with a Ph.D. who illumined their minds to cutting-edge labor issues including the German worker’s role after the war in a post-Nazi Germany.

Helmuth James Graf von Moltke

Helmuth James Graf von Moltke (March 11, 1907 – January 23, 1945). Count Moltke had close sympathies with the democratic forces of the day and expressed open criticism as he watched the rise of Hitler. In 1933 he refused to accept Nazi appointments. After the outbreak of World War II, as an expert adviser on international law and the laws of war he served as war administration councilor in the Office for Foreign Affairs/Counterintelligence in the Armed Forces High Command in Berlin. He was particularly active in advocating for humane treatment of prisoners of war and observance of international law. In 1940 Moltke with Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg became the leading figures in a group that emerged as the Kreisau Circle with its discussions held in Berlin and Kreisau. Moltke, formulating memoranda on the establishment of a new political order in Germany, systematically extended his contacts to Protestant and Catholic church leaders and to leaders of the social democratic political opposition. Moltke was arrested on January 19, 1944 after he had warned members of the Solf Circle that they were under Gestapo surveillance. His involvement in the plans for a coup against Hitler was not exposed until after the failure of the assassination attempt of July 20, 1944. Helmuth James Graf von Moltke was sentenced to death by the People’s Court on January 11, 1945 and executed on January 23, 1945 in Berlin-Plötzensee.  http://www.gdw-berlin.de/home/

Once under arrest, Delp disappeared into Nazi prisons in Munich and Berlin for almost three weeks. None of his friends could find him. At Lehrterstrasse, a Gestapo prison in Berlin that specifically dealt with German resisters, the doctor-priest was regularly beaten. Delp was charged by the National Socialists with a half dozen crimes—being in Kriesau Circle; holding resistance meetings; knowing von Moltke and other anti-Nazis; knowing Claus von Stauffenberg who placed the bomb on July 20, 1944 to assassinate Hitler; knowing in advance of the assassination plot; and, displaying a general attitude of anti-Nazism. The charge of knowing about the assassination plot before it happened greatly concerned Delp. He categorically denied it and, consequently, worked vigorously through his lawyer to disprove it.

On August 15, 1944, having moved to Tegel Prison in Berlin on August 8, Delp’s whereabouts were finally discovered by Marianne Hapig (1894-1973), a social worker and indefatigable friend to German resistance. Delp found another significant friend at Tegel—Harald Poelchau (1907-1972) the prison’s Lutheran chaplain since 1933. With the agency of chaplain Poelchau, Catholic Father Delp had wafers and wine to say mass and messages could be smuggled in and out by way of the laundry. It was through such a clandestine route that Father Delp made his final vows as a Jesuit on December 8, 1944. In front of a visiting witness, Fr. Delp pronounced the vow formula and, later apologizing for the emotion, sank into a prison chair and wept.

Marianne Hapig.

Marianne Hapig (March 5, 1894 – March 23, 1973) discovered Father Delp’s presence at Tegel prison in Berlin after his disappearance following his arrest in Munich three weeks earlier. A career social worker and anti-Nazi Marianne Hapig and her lifelong jurist friend Marianne Pünder managed to smuggle Alfred Delp’s prison writings out of Tegel prison where soon after the war they were published.

HARALD POELCHAU.

Harald Poelchau (October 5, 1903 – April 29, 1972). He gained his doctorate in 1931 under Paul Tillich, the leading representative of Religious Socialism. At the end of 1932, Poelchau applied for a prison chaplain’s post in Berlin and became the first cleric to be employed by the National Socialist regime in a penal institution. As an official in the Justice Department he rapidly became an important source of support for the victims of National Socialist violence, and gave spiritual comfort to hundreds of people sentenced to death as they faced execution. From 1941 onwards he was a member of the circle around Helmuth James Graf von Moltke and attended the first major Kreisau Conference. After the failed coup attempt of July 20, 1944 Poelchau was able to pass on last messages and farewell letters to the relatives of many of those sentenced to death. Harald Poelchau managed to avoid being investigated by the Gestapo and survived the war.

Many of Delp’s Advent writings come from these months in prison, smuggled out by Marianne Hapig and her lifelong friend Marianne Pünder. For more than a decade, Delp had written extensively on the Christian season of expectant waiting for the coming of Christmas. During these months in prison, his hands almost always in chains, Delp had identified with a specific artwork as he wrote his Advent thoughts onto endless slips of paper. It was a sixteenth century German wood sculpture of St. Sebastian known as Die gefesselten Hände (English:“Bound Hands”) by Tilman Riemenschneider (c.1460-1531).

Tilman Riemenschneider

Die gefesselten Hände (“Bound Hands”) by Tilman Riemenschneider (c.1460-1531).

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Die gefesselten Hände (English:“Bound Hands”) by Tilman Riemenschneider (c.1460-1531). Detail.

At his two-day trial in January 1945, rabid Nazi judge Roland Freisler was interested in one charge against Delp – his association with von Moltke. The leader of Kreisauer Kreis would be soon on death row and executed on January 23, 1945. Friesler’s reign of terror already included five thousand death sentences as president of the People’s Court since 1942. It did not help that Delp was a Catholic priest and Jesuit. So with Hitler, Friesler was maniacally anticlerical. Although many Nazis grew up as Catholics, in adulthood such notorious men as Hitler, Josef Goebbels, Martin Bormann, Heinrich Himmler, and others, held Christianity in utter and complete contempt. (Ian Kershaw; Hitler: a Biography; pp. 381–82). Once in power, Hitler believed that Christianity signified “the systematic cultivation of the human failure” and that its religious organization and central beliefs had to be marginalized and eventually purged from a heroic German worldview (Alan Bullock; Hitler: a Study in Tyranny; p. 218). When Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939, the Superior-General of the Jesuits was just then a Pole, Wlodimir Ledóchowski, S.J. (1866 –1942). Ledóchowski who was in charge of neutral Vatican Radio made international broadcasts about Nazi wartime atrocities in many languages.

Wlodimir Ledóchowski, S.J.

Wlodimir Ledóchowski, S.J. (1866 –1942) had been the Polish Superior-General of the Jesuits since 1915 when Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, setting off World War II. A renowned institutional builder, Ledóchowski established several notable institutes and colleges in Rome. In January 1940, Vatican Radio controlled by the Jesuits and with Pope Pius XII’s authorization broadcast the details of the Polish wartime situation. When the German ambassador protested the German language broadcasts, the Pope honored the request.  But Vatican Radio broadcasts in other languages of the Poland situation continued and in even more explicit detail. The British press at the time hailed Vatican Radio as “tortured Poland’s powerful advocate.” (Peter Hebblethwaite; Paul VI The First Modern Pope, Paulist Press, 1993, p. 140.)

That Father Delp remained a Jesuit—even after he was offered a plea deal by the Nazis to walk free of all charges if he renounced his religious faith—undoubtedly deserved the death penalty in Freisler’s court. After the death sentence was pronounced on January 11, 1945, the typical procedure of immediate execution was delayed. During this time, the bombing by British and Americans intensified. Delp desperately hoped that the Allies would arrive in time to set political prisoners like him free. But, finally, on February 2, 1945, at Berlin-Plötzensee Alfred Delp was taken from his holding pen by the Nazi executioner and executed by hanging. The next day, February 3, 1945, Roland Freisler presiding in his People’s Court, was killed by collateral damage in an Allied bombing attack.

Original Painting of Jesus by Thérèse of Lisieux.

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (French, 1873-1897) traced and painted this image of the Holy Face of Jesus and tacked it to wool for hanging as a gift to her sister Céline who was at home at Les Buissonnets taking care of their widower father who was suffering from illness. The National Shrine of St. Thérèse in Darien, Illinois. A similar sort of facial expression may be expected to be found on Father Delp for his condemnation and execution by the Nazis on February 2, 1945 for “hop[ing] to build a new Germany on Christian principles.”

From Alfred Delp, S.J., “Meditation for the Third Sunday of Advent Written in Tegel Prison, Berlin, December 1944” (adapted), Advent of the Heart, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2006:

“Mankind is challenged again to stand and deliver. Only man does not merely exchange one set of chains for another – God’s calls are always creative. They increase the very reality within us that is called upon – precisely because of their realness and authenticity…Freedom is the breath of life. We sit in musty bomb cellars and cramped prisons and groan under the bursting and destructive blows of fate. We should finally stop giving everything a false glamour and unrealistic value and begin to bear it for what it is – unredeemed life. As soon as we do this, the jangling of chains and the trembling of nerves and the faintness of heart transform themselves into a small prayer – “Drop down, dew…” We should much more definitively unite our concrete destiny with those kind of connections and call upon God’s redeeming freedom. Then the narrowness widens, our lungs breathe in fresh air again, and the horizon has promises again. Existence still weeps and mourns, but already a soft, joyous melody of longing and knowledge is ringing through the mourners’ broken voices. With this knowledge and attitude humanity releases itself from the lonely relationship to things and circumstances. A person finds wholesomeness and healing – not the goal-oriented, cool distance of calculation, mechanization, and organization. It is rather that higher level of freedom, the perspective given to someone looking from the heights to what lies below. The voice of such a person is not so quickly silenced!”

“The conditions for true joy have nothing to do with conditions of our exterior life but consist of humanity’s interior frame of mind and competence, which make it possible now and again for the person to sense, even in adverse circumstances, what life is really about…And the first answer is found in the figure of John the Baptist who personifies Advent. Humanity must be brought to an absolute clarity about himself and honestly before himself and others. He must come down from all the pedestals of arrogance onto which he always climbs…From the high-horses of vanity and self-deception that, for a time, let themselves be trotted out so proudly. Those horses though finally throw off their “master” in the wilderness…Two criteria identify whether we are following an authentic impulse or not…Both are found once again in John the Baptist. The first is service – human honesty requires a person to see himself as a servant and perceive his reality as mission and an assignment…The second criterion keeps us on track- annunciation, which calls us to praise of God. An extended personal effort is required to keep giving oneself the impulse to rise above, move away from self. But at the same time this is how a human being attains the necessary openness in which he or she must continue if sincerely wanting to strive toward the great realities God has prepared for him or her.”

Advent Nativity

Advent Nativity.

FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT.

Merton makes clear about Father Delp that his writings on Advent are usually a simple presentation of the traditional Christian faith with no special originality to his images. (p. xxxv, Prison Writings). It is Delp’s application of those facts based in his personal experience – that is, as an active dissident and prisoner of a Germany in ruins during World War II – that infuses a sometimes hackneyed outcome to Advent of its original hope. In Fr. Delp’s world, if humanity is fully alert to the desperation and bitterness of the times, Advent’s basic image of God-made-man becomes opportune, favorable, for humanity’s future although not holding any foregone conclusions or sudden outcomes.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Luke 4:18-19.

Thomas Merton views Father Delp’s Advent meditations in Pauline terms, although Delp himself found St. Paul had a ‘tendency to over-emphasize.’ (p. 55, ibid.). Humanity hopes in God’s close alliance so to win back or have restored a future that is not any longer in ruins and in which humanity – and even life itself – is absurdly helpless to fix.

From Alfred Delp S.J., Prison Writings, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2004:

“God in the Christmas encounter is still the challenging God. The greatest misconceptions all center round the typical Christmas picture of God.  Humanity becomes so wrapped up in appearance that the breathtaking reality of the birth of God as a human child scarcely enters our mind and the soul doesn’t grasp its significance….Of course the externals, the sweet sentimental pictures, carols, cribs and so on, are a comfort….but there is a great deal more to the nativity than that. The truth of it is too tremendous to be appreciated unless one concentrates on it fully. Since the birth of God, humanity has been confirmed in the hope that when we turn to God’s throne for favor that God is on our side. This does not mean that God has dethroned Himself any more than it means that human life has become a primrose path in the wake of that stupendous event. We need to look critically at the tendency to sentimentalize the divine attributes by personifying them in an innocent child or over-beautifying the adult Jesus. The glamorizing of the nativity story – the making the whole tone of Christ’s life equal to a Baroque sermon full of ominous warnings and grave moralizing –  has contributed quite a lot to the West’s being paralyzed in the face of those conditions that hinder us and keep us trapped. God became man but nevertheless is God, master of all creation. Human beings must approach the God-made-man with reverence and adoration – disenthralling themselves in order to find themselves. It is the only way.”

Nativity window.

Nativity stained glass window (detail), Sts. Peter & Paul, Naperville, IL.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Bullock, Alan, Hitler: a Study in Tyranny, Completely Revised Edition, Harper & Row, New York, 1964.

Delp, S.J., Alfred, Advent of the Heart, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2006.

Delp, S.J., Alfred, Prison Writings, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2004.

Hebblethwaite, Peter, Paul VI The First Modern Pope, Paulist Press, New York, 1993.

Kershaw, Ian, Hitler: a Biography, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 2010.

Kidder, Annemarie S., Ultimate Price Testimonies of Christians who Resisted the Third Reich, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2012.

Royal, Robert, The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century A Comprehensive World History, Crossroad, New York, 2000.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

Bl. Franz Jägerstätter (1907-1943): Austrian Farmer, Husband and Father, Conscientious Objector, and Martyr.

Text by John P. Walsh

Dated October 26, 2017.

In his 17-minute speech at the TED conference in April 2017, Pope Francis talked about the importance of human interdependence, equality, and inclusion. Perhaps surprisingly, the pope stressed the power of the human individual to affect positive change. While one might expect a pope to wax on communal connections reflected in a Gospel passage such as, “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20), Pope Francis looked instead to the radical nature of the single individual to bring about a message of hope into the world. Pope Francis said: “A single individual is enough for hope to exist and only then it turns into ‘us.’ And so, does hope only exist when it turns into us? – No. Hope starts with the individual ‘you.’ When there is an us, it starts a revolution.” Grounded in an individual’s conscience and action, hope for the world can begin. The pope is savvy enough to know that this message of hope by way of a single individual—and he encourages his TED auditors to be that individual— does not comes without its price. What Mother Teresa of Calcutta said on love the pope adapted to any message of hope: that it cannot be done “unless it comes at your own expense.”

The power of an individual to be the cause of hope with potential to revolutionize even a nation is what Richard Attenborough (1923-2014) dramatizes from history in his 1983 Academy-Award-winning bio-pic film, Gandhi (1983). Early in the three-hour film, in segregated South Africa, young Indian lawyer Mohandas K. Gandhi (Ben Kingsley) is visited at his ashram by an equally young American journalist (Martin Sheen) who tells Gandhi he is an awfully small minority to be taking on governments and empires. But Gandhi replies: “If you are a minority of one – the truth is the truth.”

Questions of the conflict of the morality of individual conscience and the social morality which is directed to the attainment and conservation of the values represented by the state and the nation is part of what the young American journalist, in the film Gandhi, warned the hero about—and which remains in tension in any era, including today. The debate surrounding the nature or limits of individual conscience as well as its interaction with cultural earthly values and things is bound to be— at least philosophically and even theologically— complex and indefinite. Arguments and subtleties become rife when these topics are raised. Following some of the definitions and descriptions of conscience from Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) — and as only part of the range for hope that Pope Francis alludes to in his TED speech— the conscience’s normal function relates to resisting action demanded from within or outside the self. Although conscience, according to Bonhoeffer, is not called upon in the face of good—it simply acts—nor includes the whole fabric of life, when the individual conscience encounters a forbidden act, it views it as “a peril to life as a whole, that is to say, disunion with oneself.” Bonhoeffer’s Protestant theology will not boast of having a good conscience except to say that, by it, humans importantly discover their lack of knowledge of God as well as their own corruption and that by this self-knowledge expressed in conscience find a road to God. Bonhoeffer writes: “All knowledge is now based on self-knowledge….Knowledge now means the establishment of the relationship to oneself; it means the recognition in all things to oneself and of oneself in all things. For man who is in disunion with God, all things are in this disunion, what is and what should be, life and law, knowledge and action, idea and reality, reason and instinct, duty and inclination, conviction and advantage, necessity and freedom, exertion and genius, universal and concrete, individual and collective; even truth, justice, beauty and love come into opposition with one another, just as do pleasure and displeasure, happiness and sorrow…All these disunions are varieties of the disunion in the knowledge of good and evil. The point of decision of the specifically ethical experience is always conflict. But in conflict the judge is invoked; and the judge is the knowledge of good and evil; he is man.”

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Franz Jägerstätter (May 20, 1907-executed, August 9, 1943).

On October 26, 2007 at St. Mary Cathedral in Linz, Austria, Pope Benedict XVI in front of 5,000 pilgrims beatified Franz Jägerstätter, a relatively unknown 36-year-old Austrian farmer who was executed by the Nazis in August 1943 because—similar to Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music—he was anti-Nazi and refused to fight in their armed forces. Blessed Jägerstätter’s 94-year-old widow, Franziska (1914-2013), and his four daughters, one from a previous relationship, attended the beatification. Franziska rode to the cathedral in the sidecar of a motorcycle, in memory of her husband’s love of motorcycling. After being drafted three times into the German army, Franz Jägerstätter decided after his training and noncombatant military service ended in April 1941 that he would not comply with any future compulsory enlistment in the Third Reich. To this end, he compiled gut-wrenching notes with his opinions on his conscientious objection in the face of the Nazi régime. After her husband’s arrest in early 1943, Franziska hid his writings and brought them into the light of day after the war. By that time,  Franz Jägerstätter lay buried in an obscure and sometimes defaced grave in St. Radegund, Austria, a mountainous village northwest of Salzburg. In notes written during his erratic military service—Jägerstätter had been sworn into the German army on June 17, 1940 at Braunau Am Inn which lasted only a few days before he received a deferment and then called-up again to serve from October 1940 to April 1941 until another deferment —the Austrian farmer examined issues surrounding his refusal to fight anymore. By expounding in writing as well as posing argumentative questions Jägerstätter judged what he should do in response to his deep-seated antipathy to the Nazi régime and its war effort.

For his beatification in 2007—a first step to Catholic sainthood—Jägerstätter’s family and supporters recalled his clear rejection of National Socialism because of their racial policies, including the myth of racial purity; war glorification; state deification; and their declared program of annihilating all faith and religion. Jägerstätter’s total rejection of Nazism echoed Bishop Johannes Maria Gföllner of Linz (1867-1941) whose extensive writings and sermons in this period provided a phrase Jägerstätter would consider his motto: “It is impossible to be a good Catholic and a true Nazi.” When Hitler came to Linz on March 12, 1938 Bishop Gföllner refused to meet with him and lamented other bishops in Austria who were more ingratiating. Bishop Gföllner regarded the myth of racial purity propagated by Nazism as “a backsliding into an abhorrent heathenism.” In 1933 Gföllner wrote: “The Nazi standpoint on race is completely incompatible with Christianity and must therefore be resolutely rejected. This also applies to the radical anti-Semitic racism preached by Nazism. To despise, hate and persecute the Jewish people just because of their ancestry is inhuman and against Christian principles … ”

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Bishop Johannes Maria Gföllner (center) at a celebration in 1935.

Adopting St. Thomas More, St Thérèse of Lisieux and other saints (including the patron of Switzerland) as his role models, Jägerstätter challenged virtually everyone he knew or came into contact with—be it his mother, neighbors, or church or civil representatives— with his developing conviction to refuse to fight for the Third Reich. What was seen to be his civic duty and the only action he could concievably follow so to “save his life” Jägerstätter was having serious doubts over. Even Jägerstätter’s loving wife Franziska argued that he should comply with any conscription order. Less than two years before, in April 1938, Franziska had to insist that he not shirk attending the Anschluss plebiscite which Jägerstätter declared he had every intention to do. On March 12, 1938, less than one month before the plebiscite, German troops occupied Austria and, that same day, Hitler personally crossed the long-closed border to visit Linz. Under penalty of being sent to a concentration camp for electoral truancy, the official turnout for the Anschluss plebiscite was reported at 99.71%—with 99.73% in favor of annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany. Thirty-year-old Franz Jägerstätter formed part of that microscopic minority in Austria who voted “no” to Hitler’s Anschluss and was the only one of St. Radegund’s 500 citizens to do so. Though never part of an organized resistance, Franz Jägerstätter was soon identified by an informer to the Gestapo as anti-Nazi which the town mayor—who on his own initiative did not report Jägerstätter’s vote to the authorities and had obtained Jägerstätter’s two deferments —quashed. Now as 1941 turned into 1942 and 1943, Franziska once and for all decided to stand by her husband in this matter of his refusal to fight for Hitler in the Wehrmacht after seeing him for many months and years argue his points alone. “If I had not stood by him,” she later explained, “he would have had no one.”

Franz Jägerstätter

Franz Jägerstätter on a motorbike in St. Radegund, Austria, following his first deferment in summer 1940 after a few days in the German army.

Für eine „klare Haltung gegen rechtsextreme Umtriebe“ hat sich die Katholische Aktion Oberösterreich (KA) ausgesprochen.

Franz Jägerstätter (third from the left) during training as a military driver in Enns, Austria, in November 1940 during his second call up.

While firmly against Nazi ideology, Franz’s ultimate refusal to serve in the German armed forces developed more deliberately. After being conscripted twice in 1940, it was during basic training on December 8, 1940 in Enns that Jägerstätter entered the Secular Franciscans. After taking “Third Order” vows in St. Radegund church in 1941, he grew more determined to be a pacifist in regard to the German war effort. Jägerstätter believed as an individual who formed his conscience and acted upon it —in his case, saying a resolute “no” to Nazism, including as a conscientious objector— would “change nothing in world affairs.” But Jägerstätter hoped that his conscientious objection would be “a sign” that not everyone let themselves be “carried away with the tide.” Jägerstätter acted on his conscience until, as Mother Teresa of Calcutta observed, “it came at his own expense.” Any of his thoughtful wrangling—if he hoped it would sway others—did not occur. Almost thirty years after the fall of the Third Reich, some villagers continued to view Jägerstätter’s brand of pacifism as unnecessary, extreme, “religious,” and even traitorous in terms of national defense. At war’s end, except for his wife and daughters—and they were denied state benefits until the 1990’s—there was a handful of anti-Nazi resisters—some of whom were Catholic priests— who supported or otherwise mirrored Jägerstätter’s brand of conscientious objection. But many of the individuals who, like Jägerstätter, acted on what they recognized as a Biblical call to social justice laid in their own obscure, premature graves because they, too, had been condemned as enemies of the state.

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Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter refused to support the Nazis and participate in the war effort, despite a tidal wave of pressure to do so in World War II.

EXCERPTS OF FRANZ JÄGERSTÄTTER’S WRITINGS:

ON CALLS TO PATRIOTIC DUTY.

“Who dares to assert that among the German people in this war only one person bears the responsibility, and why then did so many millions of Germans have to give their ‘Yes’ or ‘No’? Can one be reproached today for lacking patriotism? Do we still even have a mother country in this world? For if a country is supposed to be my mother country, it may not just impose duties—one must also have rights, and do we have rights here today? If someone becomes ineducable and might be a burden on the state, what happens to them? Would such a mother country be worth defending at all? Which we cannot speak of anyway, because Germany was attacked by no one. Once, I believe, we would have had the right to defend ourselves, and that was four years ago when we were still Austrians…”

ON THE ANSCHLUSS. 

“Let’s just ask ourselves: are Austria and Bavaria blameless that we now have a Nazi government instead of a Christian one? Did Nazism just simply drop on us from the sky? I believe we needn’t waste many words about it, for anyone who hasn’t slept through the past decade knows well enough how and why everything has come about in the way it has…In March 1938, what horror stories weren’t spread and invented here in Austria against Chancellor [Kurt] Schuschnigg (1897-1977), a still Christian-minded man, and against the clergy? Those few who didn’t catch the madness and who couldn’t be persuaded to cast that misguided ‘Yes’ vote were simply labeled fools or Communists, yet today the Nazis still haven’t given up the struggle to maybe win those fools over to the Nazi movement after all, or at least to sacrifice them to their ideology!”

ON WHETHER IT IS A JUST WAR.
“What Catholic can dare to say that these raids which Germany has carried out in several countries, and is still carrying out, constitute a just and holy war?”

ON THE CONSEQUENCES OF HITLER’S PROGRAM
“Oh, we poor German people, bedazzled by delusions of grandeur, will we ever return to reason again? As the saying goes: ‘Nothing comes about by chance, everything comes from above.’ Then did this war, which we Germans are already waging against almost all the peoples of the world, break over us as suddenly as, perhaps, a terrible hailstorm, which one is forced to watch powerlessly, only praying that it will soon stop without causing too much damage? For, thanks to the radio, newspapers, rallies, etc., nearly all of us knew what program Hitler was planning to carry out, and that the shrugging off of the debts and the demonetization of the Reich mark would bring about the very consequences which have now occurred in plenty …”

ON THE GERMAN INVASION OF THE SOVIET UNION.

“It is very sad to hear again and again from Catholics that this war, waged by Germany, is perhaps not so unjust because it will wipe out Bolshevism. It is true that at present most of our soldiers are stuck in the worst Bolshevist country, and simply want to make harmless and defenseless the people who live there and defend themselves. But now a question: what are they fighting in this country – Bolshevism or the Russian people? When our Catholic missionaries went to a pagan country to make them Christians did they advance with machine guns and bombs in order to convert and improve them? Most of these noble warriors for Christianity wrote home that if they only had the means to hand things out, everything would go much faster… If we look back a little into history, we note almost the same thing again and again: if a conqueror attacks another country with war, they have not normally invaded the country to improve people or even perhaps give them something, but usually to get something for themselves. If we fight the Russian people, we will get much from that country which is of use to us here. If one were merely fighting Bolshevism, these others things – minerals, oil wells or good farmland – would not be a factor.”

ON BEING MARRIED WITH YOUNG CHILDREN.

“Again and again, people try to trouble my conscience over my wife and children. Is an action any better because one is married and has children? Is it better or worse because thousands of other Catholics are doing the same?”

ON THE CHURCH HIERARCHY.

“If the Church stays silent in the face of what is happening, what difference would it make if no church were ever opened again?”

ON THE CAUSE OF ALL THE INJUSTICE AND SUFFERING. 

“Ever since people have existed on this earth, experience teaches us that God gives people free will and has only very seldom noticeably interfered in the fate of individuals and peoples, and that therefore it will be no different in the future either, except at the end of the world. Adam and Eve already completely ruined their destiny through their disobedience towards God; God gave them free will and they would never have had to suffer if they had listened more to God than to the tempter. Even His beloved Son would then have been spared infinite suffering. And so it will remain until the end of the world: that every sin has consequences. But woe to us if we always try to avoid shouldering those consequences and aren’t willing to do penance for our sins and errors.”

Nationalratspräsidentin Barbara Prammer gratuliert Franziska Jägerstätter zum 99. Geburtstag

Franz Jägerstätter’s wife Franziska on her 99th birthday (center) with two of their three daughters, Maria (left) and Aloisia (right). With local dignitaries in 2012.

Nationalratspräsidentin Barbara Prammer gratuliert Franziska Jägerstätter zum 99. Geburtstag

Visiting Franz Jägerstätter’s gravesite in S. Radegund, Austria, in 2012.

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At the Beatification for Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, conscientious objector, on October 26, 2007 at St. Mary Cathedral in Linz, Austria.

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Franziska Jägerstätter with Bishop Ludwig Schwarz, Beatification of Franziska Jägerstätter, October 26, 2007.Jagerstatter-window-Newman-Centre-rev-e1487610325818

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Austrian layman Blessed Franz Jägerstätter depicted in stained glass in St. Radegund with his beloved motorcycle .

Franz Jägerstätter sought advice from friends and clergy about his intention to be a conscientious objector. His decision caused arguments in his family and among his friends. One local priest told Jägerstätter that his decision to not serve in the Nazi military was “suicidal” and although the church hierarchy had accommodated Nazism under the rationale to keep Austrian Catholic parish church doors open to bestow the sacraments, Jägerstätter was, at least in this instance, refused absolution. Since Bishop Gföllner’s pastoral letters had significant influence on Franz Jägerstätter’s evaluation of Nazism, he hoped to receive helpful advice from Gföllner’s successor, Bishop Joseph Calasanz Fliesser (1896-1960). Prepared as usual, Jägerstätter brought eleven difficult questions to ask the bishop. But this new bishop, the Anschluss already in place, was  taciturn. Fliesser did not resolve Jägerstätter’s questions but reminded him of his family responsibility. Jägerstätter bristled, however, at the bishop’s traditional advice that as a soldier he would not be held accountable by the church for following orders.  Jägerstätter wrote: “We may just as well strike out the gifts of wisdom and understanding from the Seven Gifts for which we pray to the Holy Spirit. For if we’re supposed to obey the Führer blindly anyway, why should we need wisdom and understanding?” To be fair to the bishop, some have claimed his cautious response was that he feared Jägerstätter could be a Nazi spy. Others claim that such a pall of collective dread had settled over the populace that the bishop could not understand or accept how one individual farmer could be so truly courageous. Later, at Jägerstätter’s trial that condemned him, Jägerstätter simply said: “The Bishop has not experienced the grace that has been granted to me.”

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Jägerstätter shirt. On the back it has this quote by Jägerstätter : “I can say from my own experience how painful life often is when one lives as a halfway Christian; it is more like vegetating than living.”

Franz Jägerstätter was born on May 20, 1907 between Salzburg and Braunau am Inn as the illegitimate child of Rosalia Huber, a housemaid, and Franz Bachmeier, a farmer. Jägerstätter was only 15 months younger than German pastor, theologian, and anti-Nazi dissident, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was also murdered by the Nazis for his nonconformity. Franz was first cared for by his paternal grandmother, Elisabeth Huber.

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Birthplace of Franz Jägerstätter. Born on May 20, 1907, Jägerstätter was an illegitimate child of a housemaid and a farmer.

After Franz’s father died in World War I, Rosalia married prosperous farmer Heinrich Jägerstätter in 1917 who adopted the boy. As Franz’s formal education ended when he was just 14 years old, it was out of necessity as much as pleasure that he remained an avid reader. “People who don’t read,” Jägerstätter quipped, “will never be able to stand on their own feet. They will all too easily become a football for the opinions of others.” Many in St. Radegund were impressed by this popular young man who rode a motorbike he bought in the mining town of Erzberg, Austria, with his earnings.

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Franz Jägerstätter at 18 years old. The young man was an avid reader, worker, and motorcycle rider.

Working as a farmer in Teising, Germany and, in 1927, in the iron ore industry in Eisenerz, Austria, Jägerstätter returned to St. Radegund in 1930 where, in 1933, this “raufer” soon fathered an out-of-wedlock child. There was no question that 26-year-old Jägerstätter would not marry Theresia Auer, a working maid. At first he even disputed his paternity, but then helped care for both the mother and child (named Hildegard) and forged an affectionate lifelong father-daughter bond. This experience started Jägerstätter on a different path in life. His future wife, Franziska Schwaninger (1913–2013) of Hochburg, Austria, was working as a dairy and kitchen maid when in 1934, the 21-year-old Austrian woman met Jägerstätter at a local parish social. One of the first questions Franziska asked “raufer” Franz was whether he attended church. From the start of their relationship, her religiosity influenced him. Franz and Franziska were married on April 9, 1936, during Holy Week. Working as a farmer, in the next four years Jägerstätter and Franziska had three daughters. Franziska included Jägerstätter’s illegimate daughter as part of the family. After 1945, however, Hildegard lost contact with her half sisters. This family riff is attributed to their grandma Rosalia (Jägerstätter’s mother) who never liked Theresia Auer, Hildegard’s mother.

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Wedding photograph of Franz and Franziska Jägerstätter in spring 1936. After their wedding they set out to Rome, Italy, and received Pius XI’s papal blessing. Within the year Pius XI published and had proclaimed from Catholic pulpits in Germany his encyclical Mit brennender Sorge (“With burning concern”) which condemned leading aspects of the Third Reich.

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The peasant mother of Franz Jägerstätter (left), his three daughters, Maria, Aloisia and Rosalia, and his wife, Franziska. Franziska sent this photograph to Franz on November 3, 1940 when he was in the military service (basic training) from October 1940 to April 1941. It was the town mayor who  obtained repeated deferments for Franz Jägerstätter.

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Photograph of Maria, Louisi and Rosi.

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In Austria in 2007 an American Benedictine sister (center) visits with her hosts, Aloisia and Richard Meier. Aloisia Meier was the youngest daughter of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter.

After many delays, Jägerstätter was finally called to active duty a  third time on February 23, 1943.  It was the day after Hans and Sophie Scholl were executed for high treason. Three weeks earlier, the German public was informed of the official surrender of the German Army at the Battle of Stalingrad. It marked the first time the Nazi government admitted to a failure in the war. Able-bodied Austrian farmer Jägerstätter reported to duty at Enns (Austria) on March 1, 1943 and promptly declared his mulled-over conscientious objection. The Nazis responded by putting him in jail. A priest from home visited him and repeated the advice to do his civic duty and come out of jail. Jägerstätter refused and was sent to Linz prison for the rest of March and April 1943 and then transferred to Tegel prison in the western suburbs of Berlin in May 1943. Incarcerated at Tegel in the same time period was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was there from his arrest on April 5, 1943 until October 1944. Bonhoeffer would be moved to Gestapo headquarters on Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse (today’s Niederkirchnerstrasse) in Berlin where he stayed until February 1945. Until Bonhoeffer’s execution by hanging at Flossenbuerg concentration camp on April 9, 1945, the theologian had been also transferred to Buchenwald concentration camp and to Regensburg. There is no known evidence that Franz Jägerstätter and Dietrich Bonhoeffer met one another at Tegel. Jägerstätter did learn at Tegel that a Catholic priest was executed as a conscientious objector citing reasons very much like his own. This single individual’s martyrdom brought a message of hope to Jägerstätter’s plight. Bonhoeffer wrote some of his best known letters at Tegel and Franz also sent missives.  In one letter to his wife Franziska he wrote: “Most beloved wife, today I received with joy your dear letter. Not a God or a church gives a commandment requiring that we must under a burden of sin commit ourselves in an oath to obeying the civil authorities in all matters. I cannot take an oath in favor of a government that is fighting an unjust war. The true Christian is to be recognized more in his deeds than in his speech. Let us love our enemies, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who persecute us. For love will conquer and endure for all eternity.”

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Yard at Tegel prison in Berlin.

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The sign Jägerstätter’s daughters hold reads: Lieber Vater komm bald! (Dear Father come [home] soon!). This is the photograph sent to 36-year-old Jägerstätter held in Tegel prison that brought him tears of joy.

About ten minutes by motor car from Tegal prison, in the period between August 1939 and February 7, 1945, the Reichskriegsgericht filed almost 1,200 sentences of capital punishment for various forms of treason, spying, resistance (frauen und männer des widerstand) and conscientious objection (kriegsdienstverweigerer)—and nearly 90% of these death sentences were carried out.  Accused by the Third Reich of undermining Wehrkraftzersetzung (or “military morale”) —as had been passive resisters Sophie Scholl (1921 – 22 February 1943) and other members of the White Rose — Franz Jägerstätter was found guilty at military trial at the Reichskriegsgericht, the highest German military court during the period of national socialism, and sentenced to death on July 6, 1943. Standing before the second panel of the national court martial led by Werner Lueven, Jägerstätter was “condemned to death for sedition” and, sentenced to loss of civil rights and of eligibility for military service, punitively cut off from society. The written judgment of the court is a summary of Jägerstätter’s path to conscientious objection. It reads: “In February 1943 the accused was again called up, by written command, for active service with motorized replacement unit 17 in Enns from 25 February 1943. At first he ignored the call-up, because he rejects National Socialism and therefore does not wish to do military service. Under pressure from relatives and the persuasion of his local priest, he finally reported on 1 March 1943 to the permanent company at motorized replacement unit 17 in Enns, but immediately announced that because of his religious views he refused to do armed military service. During questioning by the court officer, despite detailed instruction and advice as to the consequences of his conduct, he maintained his negative attitude. He explained that if he fought for the National Socialist state, he would be acting against his religious conscience. He also assumed this negative attitude during questioning by the court investigating officer of Division No. 487 in Linz, and by the representative of the national court martial. However, he declared himself willing to serve as a medical orderly as an act of Christian charity. At the main trial he repeated his statements and added that it was only during the last year he had reached the conviction that as a believing Catholic he could not perform military service and could not simultaneously be a National Socialist and a Catholic. That it was impossible. If he had obeyed the earlier call-up, he had done so because at that time because he had regarded it as sinful not to obey the commands of the state. Now God had made him think that it was not a sin to reject armed service, There were things over which one should obey God more than man. Because of the command ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’ he could not fight with weapons. He was however prepared to serve as a medical orderly. The accused had already been a soldier for six months  (1940-41 call-up), had taken the oath of loyalty to the Führer and Supreme Commander of the Army, and during his period of service was amply informed about the duties of the German soldier. Nevertheless, despite being told about the consequences of his conduct, he stubbornly refuses for personal reasons to fulfill his patriotic duty in Germany’s hard struggle for survival. Accordingly, the death sentence is pronounced.”

Facade of Reichskriegsgericht, Berlin.

In this building at Witzlebenstrasse 5, Berlin, on July 6, 1943, the Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter was sentenced to death by the Supreme Military Court of the Third Reich (Reichskriegsgericht) on grounds of his conscientious objection to military service. In addition to dealing with various charges of treason, this building dealt with proceedings associated with Hitler’s “Night and Fog” decree. The order of December 7, 1941 directed that persons captured in occupied territories who acted to undermine German troops were to be taken “by night and fog” to Germany to face trial in special courts which could ignore procedures and conventions for a prisoner’s humane treatment.

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Memorial sign outside today’s former Reichskriegsgericht building in Berlin.

Following his July 6, 1943 condemnation by the supreme military tribunal, Jägerstätter was given several weeks at Tegel to ponder his conscience’s perilous consequence. The Third Reich, desperate for manpower in 1943, allowed conscientious objectors to recant their objection unconditionally and be immediately assigned to a military probation unit. The practice of conscientious objection was relatively rare in Western societies prior to World War II. It was only after the military defeat of Hitler that the Catholic Church began to vocalize a mission to be a moral advocate in terms of social justice. Throughout World War II individuals like Jägerstätter but also Bonhoeffer, Hans and Sophie Scholl, Alfred Delp, S.J., Blessed Nikolaus Gross, Max Metzger, Erich Boch, Ernst Volkmann and others stood up for their faith as well as human rights and were executed as enemies of the state. In their lifetimes these martyrs’ actions received little to no sympathy from bishops or ordinary Catholics because social justice— including conscientious objection—was basically absent from standard church teaching. Even with the advent of democracy, there remained the church’s ancient teaching that governments derive their authority from God and citizens should obey them. However, the obvious illegitimacy of the Nazi regime despite legalities helped make religious sense of disobedience, refusal, and conscientious objection by Jägerstätter, Bonhoeffer, the Scholls, etc., who cited Biblical and philosophical truth and justice as greater than state authority—and, oftentimes, church authority. Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) proved sufficiently intrepid to try to get in front of this new spiritual juggernaut of social justice that had martyrs’ blood spilled upon it. On February 18, 1946 he appointed three new German Cardinals who had publicly opposed the Third Reich. Yet for the rest of this Germanophile pope’s time on the seat of Peter, the church’s goals and objectives for social justice remained vague and ambiguous.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (4 February 1906 – 9 April 1945). Lutheran pastor and theologian, it was after the failure of the July 20, 1944 plot on Hitler’s life—and discovery of Abwehr documents (Abwehr was a German military intelligence organization Bonhoeffer had joined) relating to the plot—that Bonhoeffer, already under Nazi arrest, was accused of conspiracy.  Bonhoeffer was executed by hanging at Konzentrationslager Flossenbürg on April 9, 1945, just two weeks before the camp was liberated by American soldiers.

Hans-et-Sophie-Scholl

Hans Scholl (German, 22 September 1918 – 22 February 1943) and Sophie Scholl (German, 9 May 1921 – 22 February 1943). Upon distributing anti-Nazi political resistance leaflets on February 18, 1943 at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, students Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst were immediately arrested. On February 22, 1943 they were tried in the Volksgerichtshof and found guilty of high treason. They were executed by beheading the same day.

Alfred Delp

Alfred Delp, S.J. (German, 15 September 1907 – Berlin, 2 February 1945) was a member of the Kreisauer Kreis composed of men and women from a variety of backgrounds who were opposed to Hitler’s Nazi regime. Delp was arrested in 1944, sentenced to death and executed in 1945. Delp’s book Facing Death, written during his six months imprisonment has been compared to Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison.

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Blessed Nikolaus Gross (German, 30 September 1898 – 23 January 1945) and Elizabeth Koch Gross (March 11, 1901-February 21, 1971). An anti-Nazi journalist, Nikolaus Gross was arrested on August 12, 1944 in connection with the failed plot to kill Hitler at the Wolf’s Lair (July 20, 1944). In September 1944 he was taken to Tegel prison where Elizabeth visited him twice and saw torture markings on his body.  Gross was hanged on January  23, 1945 at Plötzensee Prison.

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Servant of God Eugen Bolz (German, 15 December 1881 – 23 January 1945) was a politician and member of the resistance to the Nazi régime. Bolz had been Protestant Württemberg’s first Catholic president when the Nazis came to power in 1933. Since Bolz loathed the Nazis, they immediately forced him from office and sent him to a concentration camp. When he was released, Bolz went into semi-retirement near Ulm, where he was constantly monitored by the Gestapo. In 1942 Bolz secretly accepted the post of Culture Minister in a shadow German “government in waiting” ready to replace Hitler. But when the plot to kill Hitler failed on July 20, 1944, Bolz was arrested where he was tried and, on January 23, 1945,  beheaded at Plötzensee Prison.

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Max Metzger (German, 3 February 1887 – 17 April 1944) was  a Catholic priest and longtime peace activist in Germany. After Hitler came to power in 1933, Metzger was arrested many times by the Gestapo. A pamphlet writer, his 1943 essay on German state reorganization in a post-war world was given to a courier who betrayed him.  Metzger was arrested on June 29, 1943. The presiding judge at his trial said Metzger and people like him should be “eradicated.” Fr. Metzger was executed in Brandenburg prison on April 17, 1944.  

Father Franz Reinisch

Franz Reinisch (1903-1942), an Austrian Catholic priest, was conscripted for military service in the Third Reich on September 12, 1941. Reinisch refused to swear allegiance to Hitler but publicly noted he would swear allegiance to the German people so to join the Wehrmacht. Reinisch was arrested and charged with undermining military morale. Brought to Tegel, a prison chaplain denied Reinisch communion for failure to perform his civic duty. Tried and convicted, Reinisch was moved to Brandenburg in Berlin where he was beheaded by guillotine on August 21, 1942.

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Pope Francis with a portrait of Franz Reinisch.

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Ernst Volkmann (1902-1941). Ernst Volkmann had to die because he refused to fight for Nazi Germany on religious grounds. In 1929, he married Maria Handle from Bregenz, Austria, with whom he had three children. He ignored all Wehrmacht conscription orders, which is why Ernst Volkmann was arrested in June 1940. The Berlin court sentenced him to death on July 7, 1941. A month later on August 9, at 5:05 am, Ernst Volkmann was beheaded in the Brandenburg-Görden prison.

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Almost immediately after the war was over, Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) appointed three German bishops to be Cardinals who had publicly defied the Third Reich. These were Blessed Clemens August Graf von Galen (16 March 1878 – 22 March 1946), Konrad Maria von Preysing (30 August 1880 – 21 December 1950) and Josef Frings (6 February 1887 – 17 December 1978). A fuller development for social justice as a mission of the church would need to wait for future popes.

In his last letter written from Brandenburg-Görden prison where he was executed on August 9, 1943, Jägerstätter wrote these words: “Now I’ll write down a few words as they come to me from my heart. Although I am writing them with my hands in chains, this is still much better than if my will were in chains. Neither prison nor chains nor sentence of death can rob a man of the Faith and his free will. God gives so much strength that it is possible to bear any suffering…. People worry about the obligations of conscience as they concern my wife and children. But I cannot believe that, just because one has a wife and children, a man is free to offend God.”

Jägerstätter was then led out to the executioner’s guillotine and beheaded on August 9, 1943. Franziska did not learn of her husband’s death until about a month later. She had sent him a letter in early September 1943 but the response came from the prison chaplains at Tegel and Brandenburg who informed her of his death. Sometime after that, Franziska received the official announcement of the execution of her husband, together with his last letter, from the Nazis.

Franz Jägerstätter’s final essay

First page of Franz Jägerstätter’s final essay written in prison. The first sentence reads: “Now I’ll write down a few words as they come to me from my heart. Although I am writing them with my hands in chains, this is still much better than if it were my will in chains.”

LEGACY.

Thomas Merton was influenced by the life of Franz Jägerstätter. Merton included a chapter on Jägerstätter in his popular 1968 book Faith and Violence (University of Notre Dame Press – available in several reprinted editions).

Gordon Zahn (1918-2007) from Loyola University in Chicago, wrote A Solitary Witness: The Life and Death of Franz Jägerstätter in 1964. Zahn was a conscientious objector during the World War II who related that one of the great moments of his life was when he heard a student during the Vietnam War say he was burning his draft card “in memory of Franz Jägerstätter.” Zahn was a guiding light in the Catholic peace movement as a co-founder of Pax Christi USA. Today Pax Christi focuses on human rights and security, disarmament and demilitarization, a just world order and religion and peace. Its president Kevin Patrick Dowling, a South African Redemptorist. Its website: http://www.paxchristi.net/about-us/why-pax-christi

The Refusal (Der Fall) is a 94 minute-dramatized film about Franz Jägerstätter. Directed by Alex Corti with a screenplay by Hellmut Kindler, it stars Kurt Weinzierl and
Julia Gschnitzer as Franz and Franziska Jägerstätter. It was originally released in (West) Germany in 1971. Villagers are interviewed almost 30 years later.

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Kurt Weinzierl (Franz Jägerstätter), Michael Janisch (Corporal) in The Refusal.

CATHOLIC MASS READINGS FOR OCTOBER 26:

Reading – Romans 6:19-23

Brothers and sisters:
I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your nature.
For just as you presented the parts of your bodies as slaves to impurity
and to lawlessness for lawlessness,
so now present them as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
For when you were slaves of sin, you were free from righteousness.
But what profit did you get then
from the things of which you are now ashamed?
For the end of those things is death.
But now that you have been freed from sin and have become slaves of God,
the benefit that you have leads to sanctification,
and its end is eternal life.
For the wages of sin is death,
but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 1:1-2,3,4, and 6.

R. (Ps 40:5) Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
Blessed the man who follows not
the counsel of the wicked
Nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the LORD
and meditates on his law day and night.
R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
He is like a tree
planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever he does, prospers.
R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
Not so the wicked, not so;
they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
For the LORD watches over the way of the just,
but the way of the wicked vanishes.
R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.

Alleluia-Philippians 3:8-9

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I consider all things so much rubbish
that I may gain Christ and be found in him.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel – Luke 12:49-53

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I have come to set the earth on fire,
and how I wish it were already blazing!
There is a baptism with which I must be baptized,
and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.
From now on a household of five will be divided,
three against two and two against three;
a father will be divided against his son
and a son against his father,
a mother against her daughter
and a daughter against her mother,
a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

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Grave of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, St. Radegund, Austria.

FRANZISK
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Blessed Franz Jägerstätter icon: On the path to Catholic sainthood. Patron of Conscientious Objectors.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Pope Francis TED Speech, April 2017 – – https://www.ted.com/talks/pope_francis_why_the_only_future_worth_building_includes_everyone?language=en. Web. – retrieved October 26, 2017.

Gordon Zahn, A Solitary Witness: The Life and Death of Franz Jägerstätter, Templegate Publications; revised edition, 1986.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics,The Macmillan Company, New York, 1968.

Diözese Linz, Franz Jägerstätter 1907 – 1943 – Martyr, Katholische Kirche in Oberösterreich, n.d. Web. – retrieved October 26, 2017.

H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, Harper & Row Publishers, NY, 1975.

Robert A. Krieg, Catholic Theologians in Nazi Germany, Continuum, NY, 2004.

Martin Conway, Catholic Politics in Europe, 1918-1945, Routledge, 1997.

Walter M. Abbott, S.J., The Documents of Vatican II, Guild Press, NY, 1966.

The Holy See, The Vatican, n.d, Bl. Franz Jägerstätter (1907-1943) – Biography. Web. – retrieved October 26, 2017.

Eran Putz, Franz Jägerstätter Martyr – A Shining Example in Dark Times, Grünbach: Steinmassl, 2007, Print and Web. – retrieved October 26, 2017.

Footnotes will be made available on request.

 

St. Francis of Assisi and the Leper.

 

By John P. Walsh

Come la notte Francesco pregando nella selva incontro il lebbroso – How St. Francis praying one night meets a leper.

Starting at 38:15, the dramatic five-minute scene in the middle of Roberto Rossellini’s 1950 Italian film Francesco, giullare di Dio (Francis, God’s Jester or The Flowers of St. Francis) shows the medieval St. Francis of Assisi (c. 1181-1226) seeking out and embracing a leper, the time-honored social outcast. Following their embrace—an encounter Francis up to this point in his life had assiduously avoided—the saint falls to the ground and, out of the depths of his being, in tears he utters: “My God. My Lord and my all!  O great God!”

While this event is dramatized in Rossellini’s film after Francis’s brotherhood is established, historically it occurred at the beginning of the Italian saint’s conversion.  In Francis’s own Testament written in 1225—one year before his death at 44 or 45 years old—the saint stated his embrace of the leper became the cause of his conversion. As Francis put it he “exercised mercy” to the leper not because he had been converted but that the leper— a common sight in medieval Europe and one that filled Francis with horror whenever he came upon one—became the astonishing means for his conversion.

In the thirteenth century in Europe, lepers by law had to live apart from the rest of society owing to their contagious infectious disease. Yet from at least the seventh century in Italy onward there was special orders of knights who took care of them. For a rich young man such as Francis seeking glory in military arms, he naturally despised this dastardly contagion and diligently avoided lepers. In the time period that Rossellini’s poignant film scene is set— it is either 1205 or 1206—there existed tens of thousands of church-run leper “hospitals” in Europe including one that was only a short walk outside Assisi’s town walls called San Salvatore delle Pareti.

Before this famous encounter of embracing the leper in the life of St. Francis, Francis, who was around 24 years old, had worked up to the crucial moment only gradually. After he had given up his several quests to be a soldier and returned to Assisi for good, he was welcomed back by his family and friends.  But for the same reasons that he abandoned his military career before it even started, these also prompted him to walk tentatively out of Assisi along the road to the leper hospital (whose site today is a farm field) to interact with its challenging pastoral activity of caring for these patients which stretched back 600 years to Pope Gregory the Great (540-604).  Sometimes it was the sickening smell peculiar to the leper hospital that would waft into Francis’s nostrils and make him flee. Other times, young Francis—who by now was living mostly as a hermit— after venturing to the leper hospital to give them a charitable gift vanished as bell-clanging patients appeared. He left his gift on the roadside because he did not desire to come into any closer quarters with these outcasts.

It took much more time, effort and prayers in solitude which Francis believed were eventually answered by God until he discovered his courage and confidence to embrace a leper as dramatized in Rossellini’s film.  Following a lifetime spent in heroic Franciscan mendicancy, the now world-famous Umbrian saint proclaimed that it was at this moment—as he conquered his fears and embraced the other in love no matter how apparently godforsaken—that his life in and for God truly started.

SOURCE: St Francis of Assisi: A Biography by Johannes Jørgensen (1912). Translated from the Danish with the author’s sanction by T. O’Conor Sloane, Image books, 1955.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

All of the Angels in stained glass at St. Michael Church in Old Town, Chicago.

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ASSUMPTION WINDOW (central panel/detail), 1902, St. Michael Church, Chicago. Franz Mayer & Company, Munich, Germany.

By John P. Walsh

INTRODUCTION:

St. Michael Church in Old Town on Chicago’s north side is one of the oldest parishes and church buildings in the city. Founded in 1852, its brick walls from 1869 withstood the flames of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, yet those flames left it a charred, empty shell. Feeding on clapboard houses that surrounded the historically-German parish, the bell tower collapsed in intense flame as the Fire continued its northward march until petering out for good about one mile away (the Great Fire had started about three miles to the south on the other side of the Chicago River). 

In 1869 the church building had cost over $130,000 to build (approximately $2.25 million in today’s dollars) and in 1872 after the fire its repairs cost $40,000, not including unknown insurance money amounts, or about $700,000 today. Reconstruction did not include these beautiful stained glass windows photographed by the author in 2015 – and that are gloriously preserved for the visitor to see in the sanctuary today – because they were not created and installed until thirty years later. 

In preparation for St. Michael’s Golden Jubilee in 1902 these tall and thin Bavarian-made stained glass windows -the fourth set of windows to be installed into architect August Walbaum’s original design for the building (the others, merely frosted or tinted, in 1866, 1873 and 1878) – drew on centuries of craft and technique in stained glass-making. For the Golden Jubilee in 1902 Franz Mayer & Company of Munich produced some of the finest stained glass of the early twentieth century to depict colorful New Testament scenes for the east and west walls of the sanctuary. Along with five new altars crafted and installed by Hackner & Sons of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, for the same Golden Jubilee, the realism and expressiveness of Mayer’s windows – recently experiencing a complete cleaning in 2013 – gave to the prospering parish a new sense of wonder and great joy in their sacramental worship and lives that can still be seen and experienced in its intact form today.

Mayer’s west windows depict the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary: the (non-biblical) Presentation of Mary and (biblical) Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity and Epiphany, and Assumption. The east windows depict events in the life of Jesus: Finding Jesus in the Temple, Jesus Blesses the Children, Jesus’s feet washed by Mary Magdalene, Ascension and (non-biblical) Sacred Heart. All of these faith events are accompanied by Mayer’s fine depictions of a cacophony of angels manifesting the heavenly host (the special subject of this blog entry’s 11 photographs). The windows’ rich color tones are rendered by using precious metals: gold dust for red; cobalt for blue; uranium for green. The story scenes are given a Renaissance Europe setting. Mayer & Company, founded in 1847 as “The Institute for Christian Art,” established a stained glass department in 1860. In 1882 it was awarded by “mad” King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886) the designation as a Royal Bavarian Establishment for Ecclesiastical Art. The Pope later pronounced the foundry a Pontifical Institute for Christian Art. Instead of thinking of St. Michael commissioning a venerable Old European arts company that is Mayer’s status today, in 1902 Franz Mayer was a German company that mirrored the Chicago parish in its contemporaneity. 

The founder’s son Franz Borgias Mayer (1848 – 1926) continued to grow the royal manufacturing company for Christian Art so that ten years after St. Michael’s stained glass windows, Pope Pius X (1835-1914) commissioned the German company to make stained glass for St. Peter’s Basilica as well as for several windows in important chapels in Vatican City. Throughout the United States, Mayer grew in clients and prestige serving an increasingly prosperous Catholic immigrant community. This involved significant ecclesiastical work in Chicago, Illinois, and also New York, Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, Washington State and California. In 2016 Franz Mayer continues as family-owned and operated business (see http://www.mayer-of-munich.com/werkstaette/). 

NOTES:
valuation comparables – http://www.in2013dollars.com/1870-dollars-in-2015?amount=40000

stained glass department in 1860- Franz Mayer of Munich, edited by Gabriel Mayer, University of Chicago Press, 2013.

Pope Pius X commission – Nola Huse Tutag with Lucy Hamilton, Discovering Stained Glass in Detroit, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 1987. p. 152.

 

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

Brief Reflections at Christmas: on Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams; the Christian Ashram Movement; a role for Christmas clothes; and child hunger in America.

Featured Image is Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Model for Altarpiece in St. Peter’s, Italy, Rome, 1625,  oil on canvas 16 x 24 1/4 in. (40.64 x 61.6 cm). The Ciechanowiecki Collection, Gift of The Ahmanson Foundation, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

By John P. Walsh

Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams –

I finished watching “Field of Dreams” last night, a film I had never seen before. Starring Kevin Costner, it is a good film about, one could say, the intersection of reality and fantasy on the American landscape—or simply the intersection of what are different realities. As Costner’s character Ray Kinsella hears voices to build a baseball field on his low-income Iowa farm, he is promised that “If you build it, he will come.” In this case, the “he” is Kinsella’s own deceased father John who had played baseball as a young man, got old too quickly, and then died right after he and a teenage Ray had a falling out over the 1919 Chicago “Black” Sox team. A late-1980’s Ray, now married with a family, still thinks about his relationship with his father that was cut short and the film asks whether it may be possible for John Kinsella to meet a grown-up Ray on his “field of dreams.” Ray never doubts his voices but is never sure what they mean except when he tries to connect the dots by traveling at times across long distances of place and season to meet strangers for whom the answers most matter. Ray’s efforts lead to surprising, mysterious and ultimately fulfilling encounters for those who come to play on his field of dreams—or are there simply to watch.

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Pontormo (1494-1557), Visitation (detail), c. 1529, oil on panel, 20.2 x 15.6 cm,  Church of San Francesco e Michele, Carmignano, Italy.

The Christian Ashram Movement –

Bede Griffiths (1906-1993), a Catholic English monk known as Swami Dayananda (bliss of compassion) dedicated his life’s work to the Christian Ashram Movement and its role in the development of dialogue between Christianity and Hinduism. Swami Dayananda said in an interview: “I feel that in the Christian view, which I share, the body is of very great importance. There is a tendency in certain forms of Hinduism, certainly, to think that the purpose of spiritual exercises is to get beyond the body. But in my understanding, the human being is body, soul, spirit, and it is an integrated whole. Body and soul – the body is dependent upon and integrated with soul, and body and soul are dependent upon and integrated in spirit. The body is part of the wholeness of the human being. And that’s why incarnation is very important. God enters the psycho-physical realm and assumes it and doesn’t discard it. And at the resurrection the body is not discarded, it is assumed into the life with the soul and the spirit. I think the place of the body is a significant part of the Christian contribution. It is the total human being which is to enter into the life of the spirit.”

SOURCE: Marvin Barrett, “The Silent Guide,” Parabola, v.xi, no. 1.

Chartres, whitened Black Madonna

Our Lady of the Pillar, 1508, Chartres Cathedral. In her right hand she holds a pear.

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Odilon Redon (1840-1916), Mystical Conversation, c. 1896. Oil on canvas, 65 x 46 cm, The Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu, Japan.

A role for Christmas clothes –

There is a drive in today’s society to be singular, intimate, and well known in a society that is, paradoxically, vast and impersonal, as well as incredibly common and conventional. Seeking to be “authentic” in the public domain, at the same time we are insecure about the people we meet there. We don’t know our next door neighbor but presume intimacy with the wider world. To be intimate and authentic in a vast and alien society―and one needs to peruse the internet for five minutes for its revelations ― is the modern age’s new growth industry. Yet there remain less flashy moments of behavior regarding the private self in the public space. Such is, for instance, the thriving language of love—the raised eyebrow; dropped glove; the rush to light her cigarette. Each small and well-timed gesture and inflection of voice raises the romantic ante without loss of boundaries between a private self and the public space. These silent cues are found in many venues, although absconded by the tactical importance of self-image (interchangeable, often) striving for immediate intimacy—a glimpse of the inner self, the cult of personality—in the public square. Fashion changes clothes with the seasons in a modern-age attempt to convey private personality (“taste”) in the public arena. For this increasingly popular social model, it is important to take the world by storm—and each and every time so that the costumed yet exposed private self does not disintegrate before public scrutiny or is destroyed by it.

Clothing  provides a rich metaphor for the dilemma of the private self in the public space. It serves those seeking to make hyperbole of their private personality and fluctuating nature thereof as well as those seeking to downplay and even hide it. In a world of omnipresent security cameras and airport pat downs, a traditional notion of clothing to exclude public encroachment on the private  and (trustingly) sacred self appears to be increasingly gone with the wind. At Christmas the use of clothes in a sacred context is important. In the Gospel of Luke the angel tells the shepherds: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

In the Bible a major teaching tradition is that when one discovers the Divine Presence—for God makes every attempt to self-disclose—the moment of recognition is like putting on a new garment that is tailored to the individual’s exact measurements. The Divine garment endows a person with a specific sense of dignity and private self-awareness―a sacred and highly personal investiture that turns the modern notion of the private-as-public self upside down. The rule of clothes extends to John the Baptist—a figure who is important in both Christianity as saint and prophet and in Islam as a prophet. John is described as coming out of the wilderness wearing “a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3). When God “dresses” humanity in the divine image something is expected of them in ways other than the modern idea of a new image or appeal. It is an inner and private change which takes on a significantly different meaning than one more public role.

SOURCES: Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man, W.W. Norton, 1976; Joseph Wolf, “Divine Clothing,” Parabola, v.xix, no. 3.

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Odilon Redon (France, 1840-1916), Night, 1910-11, Distemper on canvas, 200 x 650 cm. Abbaye de Fontfroide.

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Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), Adoration of the Magi, 1636-1639Prado.

 

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Gentile da Fabriano (c. 1370-1427), Adoration of the Magi (detail), 1423, tempura on panel, 283 x 300 cm, Uffizi, Florence.

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(after) Hieronymus Bosch (c.1450-1516) Nativity (The Birth of Christ). c.1568-1600. oil on panel. 66 × 43 cm (26 × 16.9 in). Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne, Germany.

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Parmigianino (1503-1540), Holy Family with the Infant Baptist, c. 1535-39, tempura on canvas, 65 5/8 x 52 in. (159 x 132 cm), Galleria Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples.

Child Hunger in America –

Hunger is defined as “the uneasy or painful sensation caused by want of food as well as an exhausted condition caused by want of food.” While being homeless as an adult is a harsh test, to be homeless as a child is worse. Society’s striving to make it scarce or nonexistent is painfully incomplete. In this year’s presidential campaigns we hear rhetoric from candidates of the major parties about the safety and security of the American people and mainly in regard to terrorists who threaten bodily harm. But each night, including tonight, over 15 million American children go to bed hungry according to Feeding America. Where is the public and media outcry for their bodily safety and security? Proper nutrition is vital to the growth and development of children who are the country’s future. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, today there are 74 million children in the United States which is an all-time high. Yet 20% of these children are food-insecure and go to bed hungry at night. In a land of plenty, where more than 2 in 3 adult Americans are considered to be overweight or obese, food injustice is not confined to Christmastime but each day of the year.

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Parmigianino (Italy, Parma, 1503-1540), Madonna and Child, c. 1524-25, oil on panel, 23 1/4/ x 13 3/8 in. (59 x 34 cm). Galleria Doria, Rome.

Merry Christmas!

SOURCES: http://www.feedingamerica.org/…/child-hunger-fact-sheet.htm…;
http://www.aecf.org/…/the-changing-child-population-of-the…/;
http://www.niddk.nih.gov/…/overweight-obesity-statistics.as…
http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/adult/defining.html;
Definition of hunger – Oxford English Dictionary, 1971.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

 

God Cherishes Simplicity: a brief account of the life of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (French, 1873-1897).

Thérèse Martin at 8 years old in 1881.

Thérèse Martin at 8 years old in 1881. The Martin family had moved from Alençon to Lisieux to be with the Guerin relatives. Its larger portrait with her sister Céline is next to it.  school

By John P. Walsh

October 1 is the feast day of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (French, 1873-1897), one of only four women “doctors” in the Roman Catholic Church, and popularly known as The Little Flower of Jesus.  Her religious name is Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face and, with St. Francis of Assisi, she is one of today’s most popular saints. For a young Norman woman who died at 24 years old in an obscure convent in northern France that is a surprisingly solid list of titles and accolades. Yet when she died on September 30, 1897, the Carmelite nuns in her community at the Carmel in Lisieux didn’t think they had any accomplishments to cite for her obituary. Her sister Céline (1869-1959), a nun in the same convent as Thérèse, observed: “In general, even in the last years, she continued to lead a hidden life, the sublimity of which was known more to God than to the Sistersaround her.”1

Born Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin in 1873, she was the youngest of five sisters and lively and precocious. She lost her mother Zélie Martin (née Guérin, 1831-1877) to breast cancer as a four-year-old and the decade that followed – according to Thérèse’s journal (The Story of a Soul, begun in 1895) she faced the most “distressing” years of her life.Thérèse’s mother was the breadwinner in the Martin house and after she was gone Thérèse naturally turned for nurturing to her father Louis (1823-1894) and four older sisters, especially the second eldest, Pauline. For the rest of the 1870s and into the 1880s Thérèse was the high-spirited baby sister in a family home called Les Buissonnets in the French town of Lisieux.

Blessed Azélie-Marie

St. Azélie-Marie “Zélie” Martin née Guérin (1831 -1877). mother of Thérèse.

With her husband Louis, she will be canonized on October 18, 2015.

Louis Martin (1823 –1894), father of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.

St. Louis Martin (1823 –1894), father of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.

As three of Thérèse’s sisters left the family homestead to enter convents – two of them to a Carmelite convent (“Carmel”) in Lisieux and another later to a Visitation convent in Caen – it became the youngest sisters, Céline and Thérèse, who remained at home with their father. Although Louis adored Thérèse and called her his “little flower,” Thérèse was often headstrong and obstinate and considered it a big favor that she do household chores. Soon the young child began to have panic attacks. Though intelligent and educated, at ten years old Thérèse believed a statue of the Blessed Virgin in her bedroom that her late mother had given to her had smiled at her. While unusual, from that point forward, the girl’s nerves calmed. Yet these early tantrums left their mark on her reputation. These, along with some of her later writings in journals, letters, and poems, left the future saint a prey for others in her lifetime and after her death to be talked of as a person whose spirit was “immature” and “sentimental,” even “neurotic.”3  Doubtless some of Thérèse’s thoughts sound naïve yet she writes profoundly: “At times when I am reading certain spiritual treatises in which perfection is shown through a thousand obstacles…my poor little mind quickly tires; I close the learned book that is breaking my head and drying up my heart and I take up Holy Scripture. Then all seems luminous to me; a single word uncovers for my soul infinite horizons, perfection seems simple to me, I see it is sufficient to recognize one’s nothingness and to abandon oneself as a child into God’s arms.”4

Marie (1860-1940), the eldest Martin sister. After she entered the Carmel in Lisieux, she was called Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart.

Pauline (1861- 1951). Thérèse’s favorite sister. When she entered the Carmel in Lisieux her name was Mother Agnes of Jesus.

OK LEONIE

Léonie (1863-1941). Entered the Visitation Sisters in Caen and took the name Sister Françoise-Thérèse.

Céline (1869-1959) was four years older than Thérèse and closest in age. She entered the Carmel in Lisieux after Thérèse did and took the name Sister Geneviève of the Holy Face.

On April 9, 1888, a 15-year-old Thérèse entered the Carmel de Lisieux on Rue du Carmel, less than a one-half mile walk from Les Buissonnets. Younger than a typical postulant, exceptions had to be made. She received the habit after some delay (mostly because of her father’s declining health) in January 1890. Although her profession was also postponed, Thérèse’s spiritual life was deepening through her reading of another Carmelite, St. John of the Cross (1542-1591). In due time, despite difficulty in prayer and doubts about becoming a nun, Thérèse received the black veil in September 1890. In early 1891 an 18-year-old Thérèse was made a sacristan’s aide, a duty she carried into 1892 as her father lay slowly dying. During this time her reading and prayer transitioned to the Gospels and she began to write poems for which she had talent. Founded in 1838 as a “progressive” convent so that by the 1890’s the nuns were allowed to practice photography within its walls, the Carmel was also a working-class foundation comprised of daughters of shop-keepers and craftspeople brought up to expect a day’s work for a day’s wage. When Thérèse’s favorite sister Pauline was elected prioress in early 1893, Thérèse was appointed novice master (and remained a novice herself) and embarked on her second artistic avocation of picture painting. Scheduled to graduate from the novitiate in September 1893 it was postponed in part due to convent politics and the duty of doorkeeper’s aide was added to Thérèse’s tasks. In the spring of 1894 Thérèse began to experience chest pains and a hoarse throat that grew worse by summer. After her father died in July and Céline entered the Carmel six weeks later, Thérèse began to seriously formulate her “little way” of seeking holiness of life based on scripture passages and before the year was out Pauline (Mother Agnes Of Jesus) ordered her to begin to record her life story in a journal (The Story of a Soul) that the novice would compose in segments in her free time over the next two and one-half years left to her. Early in 1895 Thérèse voiced the first prediction of her death as her prayer life was working out an idea for what she would dedicate her life to. It would be a life with God whom she termed Merciful Love. She confided these developments to Céline so that by summer 1895 Thérèse could recommend the same devotion to more nuns in the community. Throughout the rest of that year Thérèse continued to compose poems (and give them as gifts on special occasions), write plays and paint pictures. Her spirit was characterized by humility. Thérèse writes: “How shall she prove her love since love is proved by works? Well, the little child will strew flowers, she will perfume the royal throne with their sweet scents, and she will sing in her silvery tones the canticle of Love.”(the emphases are Thérèse’s).

Therese at 3 years old

Taken in July 1876, Thérèse is 3 and a half years old. As a child she was often stubborn and headstrong.

ThereseCeline

Céline and Thérèse in 1881.

Therese Feb. 1886
Thérèse is 13 years old in this photograph taken in February 1886. That Christmas she made her first holy communion and her nervous childhood sensitivity ceased. About these events in December 1886 she wrote: “I felt love enter my soul, and the need to forget myself – and since then I have been happy.”
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Thérèse is 15 years old in this photograph taken in October 1887. At this time Thérèse was seeking permission from the bishop at Bayeux to enter Carmel (the convent). She finally entered on April 9, 1888.
Carmel Lisieux

Carmelite convent (Carmel) where Thérèse Martin entered at Lisieux in April 1888 in a recent photograph.

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Photograph of Carmel taken by Céline in September 1894. Thérèse stands on the steps, third from the right.

Therese 1889
Thérèse as a novice in Carmel in a detail of a photograph taken in January 1889. She was 16 years old and in the convent nine months.
Therese Carmel Jan 1889

Thérèse as a novice in January 1889 in a photograph taken by Fr. Gombault, bursar of the minor seminary.

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Thérèse in January 1889 in a photograph taken by Fr. Gombault.
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Late 1894.

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Thérèse (right) was one of five Martin sisters who became religious nuns. Taken in late 1894 or early 1895 by Céline.
Therese late 1894/95.

Detail of a photograph of Thérèse taken in late 1894 or early 1895. This image became the basis for an oval portrait painting done by Céline.

Therese oval portrait painting

This is the original oil oval portrait painting of Thérèse by Céline based on a photograph of Thérèse around Christmas 1894. Céline claimed that this image captured the real Thérèse. Photograph by the author.

St_-Therese-as-Joan-of-Arc
In a photograph taken by Céline between January 21st and March 25th, 1895 in the convent courtyard Thérèse is dressed as Joan of Arc for the part she played in her own play called “Joan of Arc Accomplishing Her Mission.”
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Photograph of Thérèse dressed as Joan of Arc taken by Céline between January 21 and March 25th, 1895.
Therese as Joan of Arc
Close up of a photograph taken by Céline of Thérèse dressed as Joan of Arc, 1895
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Thérèse dressed as Joan of Arc in a photograph by Céline, 1895.
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Community of 23 Carmelites in a photograph taken by Céline on Easter Monday, April 15th, 1895. First row left to right: Geneviève of the Holy Face (Celine). Second row left to right: Mother Agnès of Jesus (Pauline) and Thérèse of the Child Jesus.
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Easter Monday, April 15, 1895.

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Photograph taken by Céline for the feast of the Good Shepherd, April 27 or 28, 1895. Thérèse is at right between to white-veiled novices.

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After July 3, 1896, photograph taken by Céline.

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July 1896.

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Photograph taken by Céline July 1896.

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Detail in the garden July 1896.
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Photograph taken by Céline in early-mid November 1896 of her sisters and cousin showing the work of the sacristan. Thérèse stands at right.
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The second pose of three posed photographs taken by Céline in the sacristy courtyard on June 7th, 1897. Therese was just beginning to complete the last section of A Story of a Soul.

Circumstances, however, were growing more difficult for Thérèse. In 1896 a new prioress of Carmel confirmed Thérèse’s role in the novitiate where she could continue to teach her “little way” and work in the sacristy and the laundry room. In addition to finding it difficult to pray, in April 1896 she began to spit blood, a sure sign of the seriousness of her illness. The last eighteen months of her life proved a dark period for the vivacious five-foot three-inch Norman young woman. Her physical pain was often unrelenting and any dreams she had of becoming a foreign missionary to Vietnam were abandoned. However, the priest in charge of foreign missions, Father Adolphe Roulland (1870–1934) whom she met in July 1896 as he was on his way to China, asked her to be a “spiritual sister” to the mission priests. This charge meant not merely to pray for the priests but in her correspondence with them to “console and warn, encourage and praise, answer questions, offer corroboration, and instruct them in the meaning of her little way.”6

In 1896 Father Adolphe Roulland (1870-1934) of the Society of Foreign Missions asked the Carmel of Lisieux for a
In 1896 Father Adolphe Roulland (1870-1934) of the Society of Foreign Missions asked the Carmel of Lisieux for a “spiritual sister.”

In a letter from Thérèse to Fr. Roulland she wrote: “Reverend Father… I feel very unworthy to be associated in a special way with one of the missionaries of our adorable Jesus, but since obedience entrusts me with this sweet task, I am assured my heavenly Spouse will make up for my feeble merits (upon which I in no way rely), and that He will listen to the desires of my soul by rendering fruitful your apostolate. I shall be truly happy to work with you for the salvation of souls. It is for this purpose I became a Carmelite nun; being unable to be an active missionary,  I wanted to be one through love and penance just like Saint Teresa, my seraphic Mother….I beg you, Reverend Father, ask for me from Jesus, on the day He deigns for the first time to descend from heaven at your voice, ask Him to set me on fire with His Love so that I may enkindle it in hearts. For a long time I wanted to know an Apostle who would pronounce my name at the holy altar on the day of his first Mass….I wanted to prepare for him the sacred linens and the white host destined to veil the King of heaven…The God of Goodness has willed to realize my dream and to show me once again how pleased He is to grant the desires of souls who love Him alone.”7

The year 1897 was defined by Thérèse’s successive physical decline from tuberculosis as well as a personal joy expressed in her conversation and poems. It was on the feast day of St. Joseph, March 19, 1897, during a personal novena to St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552), that Thérèse asked St. Joseph to obtain from God the favor of “spending her heaven doing good on earth.” She also asked St. Francis Xavier for the same intercession.8

By April 1897 she was gravely ill and in May was relieved of all work duties and community prayer. She continued to write in her journal but left it unfinished, too weak to write. In August her suffering was so great she admitted to the temptation of suicide. After August 19 she was simply too physically weak to even any longer ingest the communion wafer and, on September 30, 1897, died in the convent infirmary. Thérèse was 24 years old. In her last hours she said: “Oh! It is pure suffering because there are no consolations. No, not one! O my God…Good Blessed Virgin, come to my aid! My God…have pity on me! I can’t take it anymore! I can’t take it anymore!…I am reduced…No, I would never have believed one could suffer so much…never! never!…I no longer believe in death for me…I believe in suffering…O I love Him. My God I love you…”These last words of the dying nun were reported by more than one witness.

Sick Thérèse one month before her death, August 30, 1897.

An infirm Thérèse on August 30, 1897, exactly one month before her death.

At the centenary of her death in 1997, St. Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) made Thérèse a “Doctor of the Church,” one of only thirty-three such species. By elevating Thérèse’s simple example of love, the Polish pope, himself called out from behind an Iron Curtain and who lived to see it fall, clarified what may constitute a Church Doctor’s character and purpose. St. Thérèse of Lisieux was beatified on April 29, 1923 and canonized on May 17, 1925 and is co-patron saint of church missions with St. Francis Xavier and co-patron saint of France with St. Jeanne d’Arc (1412-1431). She is also patron saint of AIDS sufferers, pilots, florists, bodily ills (especially tuberculosis), and loss of parents.

 

 

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Saint Thérèse of Lisieux’s obituary was printed in “Le Normand.” It reads: ““It is with a spirited feeling of sadness that we learned Thursday evening of the death at the Monastery of Our Lady of Mount Carmel of a young person who gave the most beautiful years of youth to a life of prayer and sacrifice. Miss Marie-Francoise-Thérèse Martin, renounced the world at fifteen years of age and consecrated herself to God as Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus. She departed after ten years of angelic life in the shadow of the cloister, and we have sweet confidence that death which put an end to long and cruel sufferings has come to take this youth in her bloom and already placed on her head the immortal crown, the goal of all our earthly aspirations. The funeral will be celebrated Monday morning at 9 o’clock in the Carmel chapel. Le Normand offers to the family of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus and to the Prioress and all the Carmelite sisters the tribute of its respectful condolences.”

ENDNOTES:

  1. St. Thérèse of Lisieux: her last conversations, translated by John Clarke O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C., 1977, pp. 18-19. Her complete obituary printed in Le Normand reads: “It is with a spirited feeling of sadness that we learned Thursday evening of the death at the Monastery of Our Lady of Mount Carmel of a young person who gave the most beautiful years of youth to a life of prayer and sacrifice. Miss Marie-Francoise-Thérèse Martin, renounced the world at fifteen years of age and consecrated herself to God as Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus.  She departed after ten years of angelic life in the shadow of the cloister, and we have sweet confidence that death which put an end to long and cruel sufferings has come to take this youth in her bloom and already placed on her head the immortal crown, the goal of all our earthly aspirations.  The funeral will be celebrated Monday morning at 9 o’clock in the Carmel chapel. Le Normand offers to the family of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus and to the Prioress and all the Carmelite sisters the tribute of its respectful condolences.”
  2. see Story of a Soul: the Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux,  translated by John Clarke O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C., 1996, pp. 51-67.
  3. The Hidden Face: A Study of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Ida Friederike Görres, London, 2003, p. 83.
  4. Letter from Thérèse to Father Roulland, LT 226, dated May 9, 1897, Letters of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Volume II, translated by John Clarke O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C., 1974, p. 1094.
  5.  Story of a Soul, p. 196. For this paragraph’s chronology see Letters of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Volume II, 1297-1329.
  6. Görres, p.189.
  7. Letter from Thérèse to Father Roulland, LT 189, dated June 23, 1896, Letters of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Volume II, translated by John Clarke O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C., 1974, pp. 956-957.
  8. see footnote 11 in Letters of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Volume II, p. 1074.
  9. Last conversations, pp. 204-205; 230; 243.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Story of a Soul: the Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux,  translated by John Clarke O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C., 1996;

Light of the Night: The Last Eighteen Months in the Life of Thérèse of Lisieux, Jean-François Six, University of Notre Dame Press, South Bend, Indiana, 1996;

St. Thérèse of Lisieux: her last conversations, translated by John Clarke O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C., 1977;

Letters of St. Thérèse of Lisieux,Volumes I and II, translated by John Clarke O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C., 1974;

The Hidden Face: A Study of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Ida Friederike Görres, London, 2003;

http://floscarmelivitisflorigera.blogspot.com/2010/06/praying-for-priests-with-st-therese.html.

http://www.archives-carmel-lisieux.fr/

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

Chicago’s Oldest German Parish (1852): St Michael Church in Old Town.

The Featured Image is St. Michael Church’s bell tower at 1633 N. Cleveland Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. In 1876 the church hoisted five new bells cast by McShane Company into the tower. Twelve years later, in 1888, the tower’s four-sided clock was put in place. The twenty-four-foot cross that sits atop the steeple weighs more than a ton.

By John P. Walsh

The story is told that if you can hear the five 2-to-6-ton bells peel from the 290-feet-tall tower of St. Michael Church you live in Chicago’s Old Town. Yet it depends on which way the wind is blowing.  St. Michael Church is one of Chicago’s oldest parishes and church buildings. It was founded by German Catholics in 1852. From their arrival in the 1830s and 1840s until World War I, German immigrants of all faiths made up Chicago’s most numerous nationality. They quickly migrated out of downtown Chicago the two miles or so north to North Avenue, a thoroughfare which became known as German Broadway. This Western and Eastern European community expanded to settle a four-mile square area that was called North Town. St. Michael Church was placed in the virtual center of North Town on land donated by successful German-born Chicago businessman-brewer Michael Diversey (1810-1869). Diversey had immigrated to the United States in the 1830s from Saarland in western Germany.

Michael Diversey St. Michael Church stands today on land donated for that purpose by successful German-American brewer Michael Diversey. It is named for that wealthy beer maker’s patron saint whose limestone figure stands in a high niche on the façade (see photograph below). Diversey’s so-called Chicago Brewery, first established in Chicago in 1839, grew to become one of the most extensive establishments of its kind in the West.

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The gabled three-portal main entrance harkens back to the cathedrals of Europe and was added to the façade in 1913 by a Chicago architect.

The church building is built of red brick with limestone trim in the Romanesque style. Construction started in 1866 and finished three years later. In 1871 the new building was destroyed along with the entire North Town neighborhood in the Great Chicago Fire. Only the church’s exterior walls remained. Using existing walls, the fire-gutted St. Michael Church was rebuilt and rededicated in 1873. Ashes from that famous conflagration are still present in the church basement.

St Michael Church, interior.

St Michael Church, interior.

In 1851 when St Michael was founded, Chicago’s population was around 30,000 making it the twenty-fourth largest city in the United States. Ten years later, in 1860, right before the outbreak of the American Civil War, Chicago’s population had almost quadrupled and now ranked in the country’s top ten largest cities. In that time the mainly Irish Catholic hierarchy in Chicago looked to religious orders to handle the tidal wave of non-English-speaking immigrants such as the Germans. At St. Michael Church that charge was entrusted in 1860 to the religious order of Redemptorists founded in Italy in 1748. The Redemptorists with their German congregation built the church in Chicago that is seen today. More than 160 years later, the Redemptorists continue to shepherd the parish.

 

 

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A mosaic of Saint Michael the Archangel in the floor at the entrance of the church. He is an angel whose title “Archangel” signifies he is the leader of all God’s angels. 

The mosaic of the patron angel in the floor starts the church’s 190-foot-long nave. It is one more image—others in stone, wood and paint—in the interior and exterior decoration of  St. Michael Church. The archangel is mentioned four times in the Bible: in the Book of Daniel, the Epistle of Jude, and the Book of Revelation. St. Michael the archangel is mentioned by name twice in the Book of Daniel where in the first instance he helps the prophet Daniel and in another he is linked to the “end times” of the world. In the Epistle of Jude St. Michael the archangel guards the tombs of Moses and Eve and combats Satan to protect these holy sites. In the Book of Revelation St. Michael and his angels do battle with the “dragon.” St. Michael the archangel is the patron saint of soldiers, police, and doctors.

 

The High Altar

The High (or main) Altar of the Angels in St. Michael Church dates from 1902.

The spacious, airy, and dramatic church sanctuary today looks basically as it did by 1902. That was the year the stained glass was installed along with the 56-foot-high carved wood retable of the High (or main) Altar of the Angels. There are five altars in St. Michael Church but the main altar is the most spectacular, drawing the eye forward and upward. Crowning this painted construct—which is so heavy that it required a new local foundation to be dug for it—is the figure of St. Michael described in the Book of Revelation. He is garbed in his panzer (“armor”) running rebellious angels out of heaven. Michael is flanked by the archangels Gabriel and Raphael. Also depicted are the nine choirs of angels and the saints Peter and Paul. Smaller human figures depict the four evangelists identified by their Christian symbols— specifically, the Winged Man (Matthew), Winged Lion (Mark), Winged Ox (Luke) and Eagle (John). The five altars were made by E. Hackner Company of La Crosse, Wisconsin, an early twentieth century designer, manufacturer and importer of artistic ecclesiastic furnishings. The motivation for the church’s extensive redecoration in 1902 was its Golden Jubilee as well as one expression of the parishioners’ decided prosperity by the later 1890s.

 

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The Annunciation window, Franz Mayer & Company of Munich, St. Michael Church. In 1869 the St. Michael Church building cost over $130,000 to build (approximately $2.25 million today). After the fire its repairs in 1872 cost an additional $40,000, plus unknown amounts of insurance money (about $700,000 today). Reconstruction did not include the stained glass windows which were installed in 1902. Please see my article and photographs for more historical details specifically on the stained glass in St. Michael church at https://johnpwalshblog.com/2016/05/10/angels-in-stained-glass-1902-complete-st-michael-church-in-old-town-chicago/

St. Michael Church, Old Town, Chicago.
CHRISTMAS WINDOW (detail), 1902, St. Michael Church, Chicago. Franz Mayer & Company, Munich, Germany. 

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Created and installed by Mayer & Company of Munich in 1902 for St. Michael Church’s Golden Jubilee, the tall and thin stained glass windows —the fourth set of windows to be installed into architect August Walbaum’s original design— depicted biblical and other scenes and drew on centuries of craft and technique. As with other American church building adaptations of earlier European architectural styles, the use of Romanesque rounded arches and corbels accentuated the use of Gothic-style glass in the Old Town Roman Catholic church.

Carved pulpit, St. Michael Church.
Carved pulpit, St. Michael Church.

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Ceiling mural over the central nave. 

The ceiling mural over the central nave includes symbolic depictions of the four evangelists. Its filigree evokes medieval illuminated manuscripts as well as perhaps one of the scenes from the Book of Genesis painted in the dome of The Basilica of St Mark in Venice in the fifteenth century.

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An early sixteenth century Swabian-style pieta in the church vestibule was made around 1913.

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The Sacred Heart side altar to the east side of the main altar honors Jesus’s apparition to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690).  The statues depict St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) and St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), both founders of religious orders.

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Another side altar honors Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help. This image was important to Saint Alphonsus and this specific icon was given to the Chicago Redemptorists in 1865 by Pope Pius IX (1792 – 1878). After the Great Fire, it had to be picked out of the charred embers and rubble. Having survived intact, it taken as a sign to rebuild and was later set into this nearly Indo-Chinese-style retable.

The history of St. Michael Church is a study in the rise of the German population to a dominant position in a new American city that was also rising. In less than 50 years Chicago developed out of an onion swamp into the second most populated city in the United States. Between 1874 until after World War I Chicago’s rapid emergence on the world stage was accompanied by Deutschtum (or “Germanness”) in its culture. While Deutschtum appeared to be invincible, the kaiser’s defeat in 1918 in Europe signaled the beginning of the end for German cultural dominance in Chicago and was virtually completely dismantled by World War II.

Sources: G. Lane and A. Kezys, Chicago Churches and Synogogues; P. d’A Jones and M.G. Holli, Ethnic Chicago; D.A. Pacyga and E. Skerrett, Chicago, City of Neighborhoods; D. McNamara, Heavenly City; St. Michael Church website.

Photographs taken February 13 and 17, 2013.