FEATURE image: Exterior of Sts. Volodymyr and Olha Church with its gold domes. The tradition-minded parish, founded in early 1970s, serves a busy urban community.
The huge mosaic over the main entrance memorializes the conversion of the Ukrainians to Christianity in 988 by St. Volodymyr of Kyiv or Vladimir of Kiev (957-1015). The mosaic was executed by Hordynsky, Makarenko, and Baransky. The church is built in the modern Byzantine style.
In addition to the colorful and bright mosaic, the upward angle and its perspective adds to the feeling of entering into a sacred space. Along with the archways and curve of the main golden dome, the eye focuses on the artwork’s bright figures.
Who are Sts. Volodymyr and Olha?Their little-known story – which is important to the Ukrainian people and pivotal to European history – is told in some detail immediately follows these photographs.
A beautiful outdoor garden with the residential streets of Ukrainian Village as its background is the setting for the larger-than-life-sized statue of Major Archbishop Josyf Slipyj (1892-1984). He was made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI in 1965 and is a “Confessor of the Faith.” The Founder of the parish, Slipyj blessed the new church building’s cornerstone. Supporting the Ukrainian state and refusing to convert to Russian Orthodoxy, he was continously imprisoned by the Soviet authorities from 1945 to 1963. Through the intervention of St. Pope John XXIII and U.S. President John F. Kennedy, Josyf Slipj was released by Nikita Khrushchev in early 1963 and participated in the Second Vatican Council.Josyf Slipyj died in Rome in 1984 and his cause for canonization as a saint of the Catholic Church has been introduced at the Vatican.
Parishioners praying and going to Communion at Sunday Mass.
With the artists’ skills, the bright colors and evocative forms of the artwork surround churchgoers as they move toward the altar at Communion during the Divine Liturgy.
The colorful and vibrant decorations that include paintings, carvings, vestments, books, stained glass, and more, are integral to the parish’s liturgy and life.
Two women sit before icons of Sts. Volodymyr and Olha and the Blessed Virgin.
Every nook and cranny of the church is decorated with colorful images from religious and Catholic Ukrainian history. The natural light streaking down from the main dome’s windows adds a heavenly glow.
Two female haloed saints in a modern art style are marked by their unique attire as one holds an unfurled scroll with words in Ukrainian. Christianity arrived into Ukraine by way of the Greco-Byzantine world over 1000 years ago.
A painting of the dormition of Mary is emphasized by, above, an icon of Mary and the child Jesus. Colors, forms, and subject matter are very high quality and soft and peaceful making them pleasant to look at and pray with.
The wood carvings and full-length portrait icons are gorgeous. The fresh flower arrangements further brighten the scene.
Visitors are joined by worshippers lighting candles and praying before a large icon of Mary and the child Jesus.
The main altar gate of carved wood with icons and gold curtain. The Last Supper in center above.
Residents and (below) a residence’s porch flower garden in Ukrainian Village near Sts. Volodymyr and Olha Church in Chicago.
Stained glass, paintings, banners, and chandelier blend together and provide a more complete picture of people and episodes of the faith. North wall and ceiling.
High above the sanctuary is a magnificent view of the main dome painted in bright colors with the figure of Christ Pantocrator. Christ gives his blessing as he holds an open book with the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet: alpha and omega. It signifies one of Christ as the Son of God’s titles in the New Testament: “I am the beginning and the end” (Revelation, 21:6, 22:13).
Ukrainian Village is a neighborhood first settled by Ukrainian immigrants in the 1890’s. It is about 4 miles to the northwest from downtown Chicago.
Who are Sts. Volodymyr and Olha?
St. Volodymyr is the apostle to proto-Russian and Russian Christianity. He was the great prince of Ukraine in Kiev. It was ruled by the Varangians, a barbarous Viking tribe from Scandinavia – and Volodymyr (or Vladimir) of Kiev was as barbarous as any of them.
In 988, when Volodymyr was about 31 years old, he was converted to Christianity. The missionaries came from the Byzantine world at Constantinople. The results were immediate: Ukraine was now in close contact with the Byzantine world to the south and its Christian church under the pope.
Volodymyr married the daughter of the Byzantine emperor, Basil II (957-1025). But it was Volodymyr’s personal embrace of the Christian faith that infused the Ukrainian people with their deep and abiding faith. Having received baptism, he set out to be a Christian and not corrupted by money and power that proved a serious temptation for many church and state leaders in the Dark Ages.
Volodymyr used his temporal powers to evangelize the people – his personal example his greatest asset to its success. Though he encouraged various activities and programs in the lives of the people – including the multi-faceted work of Greek missionaries – it was his sincere, transparent, and fundamental reform of his own life that by far had the greatest impact on the Ukrainian people. More than one thousand years after his rule, Volodymyr is still recalled as a generous, humble and devout soul.
As a Christian ruler Volodymyr had doubts about inflicting the death penalty. Though assured by his Byzantine church counselors that his Catholic faith allowed him to follow the law which allowed for it, Volodymyr corrected them and said that that sort of reasoning was not satisfactory to his faith.
Volodymyr, the great prince of Kiev, died a poor man – not only various from his origin but, again, that of many of the ecclesiastics now in the realm. Before his death, Volodymyr dispersed all his money and personal belongings to the poor and to his family and friends. St. Volodymyr’s feast day is July 15. He is patron of Ukrainian and Russian Catholics.
Saint Olha was the wife of the Kyivan Great Prince Igor. Igor signed a peace treaty with the Greeks in 944. The treaty of 944 was drawn up at Constantinople and allowed for Christianity in Ukraine. This toleration already indicates some sympathy for Christianity among the powerful in Kiev. Igor himself, however, in his official position did not embrace Christianity nor officially allow the presence of a structure of Church hierarchy. The treaty was drawn up to quietly allow co-existence of Christians in a pagan Viking culture.
Yet when the Byzantine emissaries arrived in Kyiv, pagan opposition had emerged from the Varangians. The Christians were thrown into abeyance and Igor was murdered in 945. Into this volatile situation the burden of government fell upon Igor’s widow — the Kyiv Great-Princess Olha, and her three-year-old son Svyatoslav (945-972). Her first act was to avenge Igor’s murder.
Olha belonged to one of the obscure ancient-Rus’ princely dynasties, whose Slavic line had intermarried with assimilating Varangian newcomers. Olha’s Varangian names includes Helga and Olga.
Though still a pagan, Olha’s revenge on the Varangians on behalf of her late husband was a victory for the realm’s Christians. Further, having weakened the influence of petty local princes in Rus’, Olha centralized the whole of state rule. She became a great builder of the civil life and culture of Kyivan Rus. Her centralization became an important network of the ethnic and cultural unification of the nation which, when Olha became a Christian, aided in the building of a network of churches. Her essential activities proved key in developing what is the modern Ukrainian national identity. At the same time, important trade with Poles, Swedes, Germans, and so forth, led to significantly expanding foreign connections. One noteworthy development was that wooden buildings were replaced with stone edifices.
Rus’ had become a great power. Only two European realms could compare with it in the tenth century – the Byzantine empire in the east, and the kingdom of Saxony in the west. Both these empires were Christianized and pointed the way to future greatness for Rus’. In 954 Great-princess Olha sailed to Constantinople. Though a display of Rus’ military might on the Black Sea, it was a spiritual mission. Olha’s might and the Byzantines’ wealth and beauty were mutually impressive.
Constantinople was the city of the Mother of God as dedicated by Constantine the Great in 330. Olha made the decision to become a Christian. She was baptized by Patriarch Theophylactus (917-956) with her godfather being the emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitos (905-959). She took the Christian name Helen for Constantine’s mother. Following the rite, the Patriarch said: “Blessed are you among the women of Rus’, for you have forsaken the darkness and have loved the Light. The Rus’ people shall bless you in all the future generations, from your grandson and great-grandson to your furthermost descendants.” Olha replied: “By your prayers, O Master, let me be preserved from the wiles of enemies”. It is precisely in this way, with a slightly bowed head, that Saint Olha is often depicted in religious artwork. During her state visit, and following her baptism, Great princess Olha of Rus’ was fêted throughout Constantinople
Saint Olha devoted herself to efforts of Christian evangelization among the pagans, and also church construction, including Saint Sophia Cathedral. Yet, many despised her new found Christianity and paganism became emboldened. They looked to the reign of Svyatoslav who angrily spurned his mother’s Christianity. Meanwhile Byzantine church and state leaders were not eager to promote Christianity in Rus’. In Olha’s lifetime, Kyiv favored paganism and had second thoughts about even accepting Christianity. By order of Svyatoslav, churches were destroyed and Christians murdered. Byzantine political interests found the church and state looking to undermine Olha’s influence and favored the Rus’ pagans.
Olha attempted to help Svyatoslav during a period of wartime, though Kyiv was a backwater to his imperial interests for the next 18 years. In the spring of 969 the Pechenegs besieged Kyiv and Olha headed the defense of the capital. Svyatoslav rode quickly to Kyiv, and routed the nomads. But the warrior prince wished to rule elsewhere than Kiev. Svyatoslav dreamed of uniting all Rus’, Bulgaria, Serbia, the near Black Sea region and Priazovia (Azov region), and extend his borders to Constantinople. Olha warned her son that his plans were bound to fail as the Byzantine Empire was united and strong.
On July 11, 969 Saint Olha died. In her final years, with the triumph of paganism, she had to secretly practice her faith. Before her death, she forbade the pagan celebration of the dead at her burial and was openly buried in accord with Orthodox ritual. A priest who accompanied her to Constantinople in 957 fulfilled her request.
Considered by Ukrainians the holy equal of Great Prince Volodymyr, St. Olha was invoked by St. Volodymyr on the day the people of Rus’ were baptized. Before his countrymen, St. Volodymr said of St. Olha: “The sons of Rus’ bless you, and also the generations of your descendants.”
Houses of Worship: An Identification Guide to the History and Styles of American Religious Architecture, Jeffrey Howe, Thunder Bay Press, San Diego, California, 2003.
AIA Guide to Chicago, 2nd Edition, Alice Sinkevitch, Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, 2004, p. 260.
The Saints: A Concise Biographical Dictionary, edited by John Coulson, Guild Press, New York, 1957, pp. 577; 760-761.
Chicago: City of Neighborhoods, Dominic A. Pacyga and Ellen Skerrett, Loyola University Press, Chicago, 1986, p. 193.
FEATURE image: Chicago. St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral.
At the western main entrance are the stars and stripes of the U.S. flag and the blue and yellow Ukraine flag. An avenue of trees lines the south side of the cathedral building. With its huge size and detailed architecture, St. Nicholas stands prominently on its 20 city lots. Worthmann & Steinbach was a Chicago-based architectural firm active in the first three decades of the 20th century. It was a partnership of German-born Henry W. Worthmann (1857-1946) and John G. Steinbach. The firm, with offices in Chicago and Oak Park, Illinois, designed many of the great Polish cathedrals in Chicago and for Eastern Catholic and Lutheran clients. Clement L. Pointek collaborated with Worthmann & Steinbach until he formed his own architectural firm with principal Joseph A. Slupkowski (1884-1951). The church interior was renovated in the wake of Vatican II liturgical reforms in the mid 1970s by Ukrainian-American architect Zenon Mazurkevich (1939-2018).
The huge yellow brick church building in Chicago’s tree-lined Ukrainian Village neighborhood is 155 feet long and 85 feet wide. Among its details, the building is renowned for its frescos and mosaics. St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral’s impressive design and footprint on the skyline of one of Chicago’s neighborhoods was built as a worthy emulation of the 11th century (former) St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine. The church on Chicago’s near West side was built by the firm of Worthmann and Steinbach which built many churches in Chicago in the 1910’s and 1920’s. In the mid1970s the church interior was completely renovated and restored by a Ukrainian artist. Ukrainian Catholics follow the Byzantine-Slavonic Eastern Rite and acknowledge the pope in Rome as their spiritual leader.
History of the Cathedral parish
St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic parish was founded in 1905 by a group of 51 Ukrainian working immigrants. These Ukrainians arrived on Chicago’s northside in the late 1890’s from western and Carpathian Ukraine. Irish, Germans and Poles were already well established in Chicago by this time and built churches. The Ukrainians not only arrived later, but also were committed to their eastern-rite, Greek Catholic origins. They actively looked to fend off incorporation into the Latin rite under a mostly Irish Catholic hierarchy in the Chicago diocese. To this effect, the parish board adopted a resolution stating: “[T]hat all property of said church which may hereafter be acquired be held in the name of its incorporated name but under no conditions shall said church or its priests or pastors be ever under the jurisdiction of bishop or bishops except those of the same faith and rite.”
By 1911 it became clear that a new, larger church was needed for the growing Ukrainian community. Twenty lots were purchased on Rice Street between Oakley and Leavitt for $12,000 and building began. In 1913, Bishop Soter Ortynsky blessed the cornerstone of the new church. This Ukrainian Catholic church parish community relocated out of its original site and ventured about one mile directly west to build their new church under Fr. Nicholas Strutynsky. Fr. Nicholas had recently arrived from Ukraine and remained at St. Nicholas parish until 1921.
In 1941, St. Nicholas parish was host to the Eucharistic Congress for Eastern Rites. Twenty years later, in 1961, St. Nicholas Parish became St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral when it became the seat of the Eparchy for much of the United States. Msgr. Jaroslaw Gabro, a native son of the parish, became the first bishop of the newly created Ukrainian Catholic eparchy.
Completed in 1915, the magnificent, Byzantine-Slavonic structure with thirteen onion domes representing Christ and His 12 apostles was erected. The first liturgy was celebrated on Christmas Day, January 7, 1915 (Julian calendar). A Ukrainian heritage school (Ridna Shkola) was also founded. By the early 1960s the school had over 1000 students. In 2022, St. Nicholas Elementary School has about 150 students.
When Bishop Gabro announced that churches in the eparchy would need to follow the Gregorian religious calendar that is used in the Latin west, some parishioners left St. Nicholas. In 1974 these parishioners, adhering to the ancient Julian religious calendar. erected Sts. Volodymyr and Olha Church three minutes away on foot across Chicago Avenue.
In 1980 Bishop Gabro who passed away was succeeded by Bishop Innocent Lotocky and a healing began between the estranged Ukrainian churches that continues today. In 1988, an ecumenical commemoration of the millennium of Christianity in Ukraine brought together Ukrainian churches in Chicagoland. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, a new wave of immigrants from Ukraine began arriving in Chicago and joined St. Nicholas Cathedral. In 1993 Bishop Innocent Lotocky retired and was succeeded by Bishop Michael Wiwchar. In 2003 Bishop Michael Wiwchar was succeeded by Bishop Richard Stephen Seminack.
The height of the cathedral building is appreciated looking up from its north side near its main entrance. Metal onion domes turned green by a century of oxidization cap the building’s 16 towers.
The architecture, supported by columns, is curvaceous and spectacularly colorful.
The gold and blue fresco above the altar includes a pair of depictions of the former 11th century St. Sofia Cathedral in Kyiv on whose design and appearance St. Nicholas Ukrainian Cathedral is inspired. Kyiv is the capital city of the Ukraine and its cathedral is one of the finest examples of East Russo-Byzantine architecture. Kyiv/Kiev, Ukraine became the first capital of proto-Russia in the mid9th century as Slavic lands were organized by Norsemen who, simultaneously, as the fierce Vikings were plundering through much of Europe as they transported their culture.
Before the 9th century was over, the first Christian missionaries had arrived from Constantinople to the south into Russia and Ukraine and many Slavs became Christian. From the 10th to 13th centuries Kyiv, like Moscow to its north centuries later, became the intellectual and religious center of the country, where there were established innumerable monasteries, churches, and convents.
The entirety of murals and ornamentation are permanently affixed on interior surfaces by being painted directly on them. The only icon that was not renovated at this time was the one at the rear of the sanctuary depicting Christ with his apostles and Mother Mary. It was kept from 1928.
Hanging from the center highest dome of the church is a 9-tiered golden chandelier with 480 brilliant lights. The chandelier was made in Greece and is one the largest such chandeliers in North America. The ceiling is in gold leaf and wall decorations depict Christ and the Virgin with Old and New Testament figures such as saints, prophets, and patriarchs, all in bright colors.
A propensity of brown and gold in a color scheme that works. The formidable dome is an integral aspect of the interior decoration.
Hanging from the highest dome, a stunning chandelier of 9 tiers and 480 lights crafted in Greece sets aglow the church interior. The artwork depicts the Pentecost (Acts 2: 1-13). The 12 apostles with Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, are seated in bright primary colors as they are gathered together to receive the Holy Spirit symbolized by a dove from Heaven. This event immediately followed the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus into Heaven.
The subject matter and detailed application of artwork in St. Nicholas Ukrainian Cathedral is derived from the mosaics in the 11th century former Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kyiv, Ukraine. Renovated between 1974 and 1977, the Interior of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral was led by Boris Makarenko (1925-2008), a specialist of Ukrainian Byzantine artwork.
Boris Makarenko was born in the Poltava region of Ukraine between Karkiv and Kyiv. With the outbreak of World War II, Ukraine was thrown into turmoil and Boris was drafted into the Soviet Army. He deserted with a group of friends and joined the Ukrainian Resistance. Boris fought his way across Europe and was eventually recruited into the British Army. Unable to return to his homeland, Boris immigrated in 1950 to the United States. He worked under the famed Ukrainian sculptor Mykola Mukhyn and eventually in a German-based firm where he learned and mastered the techniques of interior ecclesiastical art, restoration, and design. By the late 1950s, Makarenko founded his own studio in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Using classical methods, mosaics are created by utilizing pieces of smalti and gold whether the mosaics are on the exterior and or in the interior of the church building.
Typically, Italian smalti is poured thicker and cut into thinner pieces. Since they are cut from the inside of exposed molten glass they are more vibrant, consistent and reflective in colors. Italian smalti can provide a coarse or smooth surface depending on how they are laid into a working surface. To begin to understand the complexity and richness of the frescos and mosaic interior of St. Nicholas, the general rule is for each square foot of mosaic surface, about 600 pieces side to side are required. The amount of pieces for the cathedral are into the many tens of thousands.
The altar was built to face ad orientem, properly, “to the east.” This was the tradition and practice of the Catholic Church for nearly 2,000 years. The gold and decorations are outstanding.
Icons are visual symbols of eternal truth in the Christian Faith: the designs are based on archetypal images preserved and regenerated from the very beginnings of Christianity. Iconographers write icons in traditional media using egg yolk tempera and oil-based pigments. The predominance of the gold color that marks these interior paintings and decorations is gold leaf. Called “gilding,” the use of gold leaf pertains to iconography. plaster carvings, wood carvings, and metal.
Stained Glass by Munich Studio of Chicago
The colorful stained-glass is original to the 1915 church. They depict saints of the Catholic Church and were created by the Munich Studio of Chicago. The walls include tall, faceted windows displaying a hybrid of traditional and dalle-de-verre type glass techniques. Akin to mosaic, the latter stained-glass technique lends itself to abstract and highly stylized designs. The Munich Studio of Chicago was a major stained-glass studio in Chicago composed of skilled craftsmen and artists. In addition to the hagiography the windows depict, they also represent the artistic investment of the founding parishioners of St. Nicholas. While the term stained glass covers “colored, enameled, or painted glass”, Chicago’s pioneer “glass stainers” were primarily glass painters who used dark brown vitreous oxide and silver stain to paint designs on pieces of colored and/or opaque white glass. After the kiln firing the pieces were assembled like fragments of a puzzle and connected to each other with strips of malleable lead – called cames – which were fitted and soldered around each piece to create the full window.
The founder of The Munich Studio, Max Guler, was of middle-European extraction, as were the congregations of many of the churches who commissioned his firm for their windows. Guler came to Chicago about 1896 from the city of Munich, Germany where he had studied China painting. In 1898 his name appears in the Chicago city directory as an artist. Four years later the firm of Guler, Kugel and Holzchuh, presumably a small glass shop, is listed; and in 1903 the Chicago city directory first lists The Munich Studio, stained glass, 222 W. Madison, 5th f1r., with Guler as president. Catalog listings from 1910 to 1925 note thirty-two major church installations in Chicago and scores more elsewhere.
In 1913 the company moved from Madison Street to larger quarters at 300 West South Water Street (now Wacker Drive), and in 1923 to 111 West Austin Street (now Hubbard Street), at that time employing over 30 craftsmen, seven doing only glass painting. The Munich Studio imported most of its glass from France and Germany with domestically-made glass from firms in Indiana and West Virginia. As with European stained glass, they were painted with iron oxide and yellow stain and fired in ovens. The Munich Studio continued to prosper until 1930 when the Great Depression brought all building to a near standstill. Since it depended primarily upon the construction of new churches for its business, the economic downturn caused the company’s closing in 1932.
Mosaics of the Stations of the Cross were created by Boris Makarenko.
St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral’s regal appearance and design is inspired by the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kyiv. This includes its 13 domes, symbolic of Christ and his 12 apostles. The Chicago cathedral is also similar to the Kyiv model in that it has 5 major domes.
On the steps of the main entrance the facade of the cathedral includes a treasured mosaic depicting “Our Lady of Pochaev.” Above that is an icon of St. Nicholas the Wonder (or Miracle) Worker, the cathedral’s namesake.
Story of “Our Lady of Pochaev”
Ukraine had been Christianized for about 200 years when, in 1198, when St. Francis of Assisi was about 17 years old, a monk climbed Pochaiv mountain in western Ukraine in order to pray. A pillar of fire appeared to the monk and some nearby shepherds. When the flames subsided, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared. The apparition left her footprint out of which a spring of water flowed. This supernatural event led to many others so that the region became dedicated to Mary.
In 1559, Metropolitan Neophit sent to Anna Hoyska an icon of our Lady of Pochaev. The icon shows our Lady wearing a crown and holding the infant Jesus. She holds the end of her veil in the other hand. It is an icon where the cheek of the baby Jesus touches Mary’s face as the infant gives a blessing with his hand. At approximately 11×9 inches in size, the original icon is small. Made from red-pitched cypress, the artist and circumstances of its creation are unknown.
The icon immediately worked a miracle as Anna Hoyska’s blind brother regained his sight. Following her death, the icon was donated to a Basilian Monastery and eventually placed in the Church of the Dormition of the Blessed Mother. Monastery chronicles record numerous miracles during the icon’s stay at their Church.
In 1773, the icon was crowned by Pope Clement XIV. In 1831 Russian Czar Nicholas I expelled the Basilians and gave the monastery to Orthodox monks. In 2001, the icon was moved from Pochaev to The Cathedra of the Trinity of The Danilov Monastery in Moscow.
Who is St. Nicholas the Wonder Worker?
St. Nicholas of Myra (270-340) is one of the church’s most popular and revered saints. He was the bishop of the ancient Lycian town of Myra in the eastern Mediterranean which is today’s Demre in Turkey. St. Nicholas Church that exists today in Demre (Myra) was built around 520 A.D. It was built over the older church where St. Nicholas was bishop and which became the saint’s burial place. St. Nicholas’s corpse remained incorrupt and exuded a fragrant odor of myrrh. For centuries St. Nicholas’s relics were in the cathedral in Myra. In 1087 his relics were moved from Myra to Bari, Italy, where they are today. The sweet myrrh smell that exudes from the saint’s body is said to still take place in 2022. St. Nicholas is an important religious figure for Latin and Eastern Rite Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians. St. Nicholas, who is the historical inspiration for Santa Claus, is the patron saint of children and those in dire need. He is also patron saint of prisoners, the falsely accused and convicted, and travelers. Nicholas is patron saint of Greece, Apulia in Italy, Sicily, and the Lorraine in France. Many miracles have been attributed to St. Nicholas during his lifetime and after his death which caused him to be called “the Miracle or Wonder Worker” of Myra.
Holy Trinity Cathedral was built on a limited budget. It is a small building at 47 x 98 feet situated on an east-west axis. The main body of the church is square with extensions and an octagonal dome above. The picturesque country-church entrance has a metal and wood canopy whose design and ornamentation were created by the architect, Louis H. Sullivan (1856-1924). Dedicated in 1903, the church was designated a cathedral in 1923.
The parishioners that built this church were rural people who had emigrated from southern Russia near the Ukraine as well as the area of the Carpathian Mountains.
The Eastern Orthodox central plan creates an interior where the congregation stands in a square space topped by an octagonal dome. For Easter services and the like, the cathedral is filled to capacity with parishioners and others spilling out the front door with its decorative canopy onto the public sidewalk.
The stenciled artwork is not by Louis H. Sullivan.
Louis H. Sullivan designed the bell tower (above and below) with its ornamentation and eaves and soffits for Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village.
The walls of the church building are load-bearing brick covered with stucco. The bell tower and octagonal belfry, dome, and roof are made of wood with metal trim and latticework.
Louis H. Sullivan designed the portal canopy and its ornamentation such as the fretwork (above). He also designed the window frames (example below).
The church building was completed for around $27,000 in 1903 (approximately $1 million in 2022) with Sullivan donating half his commission to the church project.
Chicago Churches and Synagogues: An Architectural Pilgrimage, George Lane, S.J., and Algimantas Kezys, Loyola University Press, Chicago, 1981, p. 106-107.
Alice Sinkevitch, AIA Guide to Chicago, 2nd Edition, Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, 2004, p. 260.
FEATURE image: Detail of St. Anne and the child Virgin Mary Window, St. Francis Xavier Church, Wilmette, Illinois. The stained glass was designed by Henry Schmidt.
The building of an English Gothic-style church is usually associated with establishment mainline Protestants. Such was the attempt by Roman Catholics to fit in unobtrusively and harmonize with its well-maintained residential neighborhood in Wilmette, Illinois, a suburb on Chicago’s Northshore. Erected in 1939, it is a church built to be sophisticated and simple. 12/2018 11.6mb
Built by the firm of McCarthy, Smith & Eppig, St. Francis Xavier Church is built in the style of a sturdy country church. It is characterized by low walls, massive external buttresses, and a sloped, elongated roof. 6/2014 4.64mb
Interior of St. Francis Xavier Church from the altar looking towards the main entrance. McCarthy, Smith & Eppig was a design firm that worked extensively with Chicago Cardinal George Mundelein (1872-1939) in the 1930s. Lead architect, Joseph W. McCarthy (1884-1965), had been a young architect under Daniel Burnham (1846-1912), a major design force in Chicago. McCarthy later built, under his own name and with sundry firms, many churches and other ecclesial structures in the Chicago area in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. In 1939 McCarthy built both St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church and the more grandiose St. Joseph Catholic Church in Wilmette about one mile straight to the west. The design of St. Francis Xavier Church was handled mostly by the firm’s younger partners, David Smith and Arthur Eppig (1909-1982). The church building’s simple architecture with its fine details cost $200,000 to construct in the waning years of the Great Depression, or about $4 million in 2022 (see- https://www.dollartimes.com/inflation/). While the majority of McCarthy’s church buildings were built in Chicago and its environs some of his high-profile church projects included the cathedral church in Springfield, Illinois (1928) and parish church (1918) of what later became the bishop’s seat in Joliet, Illinois. 7/2014 5.85 mb
St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552), the Wilmette parish church’s patron and namesake, is depicted in a marble statue at the entrance of the sanctuary. Holding a crucifix, the priest is dressed in a black cassock draped by an alb and stole. St. Francis Xavier was a Basque Jesuit priest who ultimately became in the mid16th century the leading Roman Catholic missionary to the Far East. In his sheer audacity, St. Francis Xavier established a template of the Jesuit missionary and evangelizer – prayerful, prepared to go where the need is greatest, friendly, sincere, personally austere, hard-working, and joyful in the adventure of doing God’s will. St. Francis Xavier, along with St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897), was named co-patron of all foreign missions in 1927 by Pope Pius XI (reign, 1922-1939) (see – https://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius11/P11APOST.htm). Leaving by ship from Lisbon, Portugal, St. Francis Xavier was the first Jesuit missionary to India (in 1545) and, later, to Japan (in 1549). For the remainder of the 16th century, the Jesuit Order was the only Roman Catholic missionaries in Asia. The distances St. Francis Xavier traveled in the middle of the 16th century is remarkable. On his return trip to India from Japan – almost 6000 km by air from India – St. Francis Xavier’s ship, thrown off course in a sea storm, stopped at an island near Guangzhou, Guangdong, China. Once back in India, St. Francis Xavier was eager to return to China. After some delays, he reached Shangchuan Island just miles from the mainland. On December 3, 1552, as he waited for transport from the island into mainland China, 46-year-old St. Francis Xavier died from fever. He was buried on Shangchuan in quicklime. The chemical compound was used in burials so to consume the flesh to leave only the bones for easier transport of bodily remains. Yet, when the saint’s body was exhumed in February 1553 for transport to Portuguese Malacca, it was intact. Before year’s end, in December 1553, Xavier’s body was taken to Goa, the saint’s base for his Far East missionary work where it received a hero’s welcome. Today St. Francis Xavier is buried in Goa’s basilica. Reports of miracles were soon made in India, Japan and beyond. St. Francis Xavier was beatified in 1619 by Pope Paul V and canonized on March 12, 1622 by Pope Gregory XV. 6/2014 4.05 mb
Nave looking towards the main altar. There are no columns to obstruct the view to a marble altar with a crucifix above it. Originally the tabernacle was on the main altar below the crucifix. With Vatican II reforms, it was removed and set to the side (on right). The extra-wide altar rail with cross legs whose form served the function of a communicant “being at table with Christ” was also removed after 1962. Though St. Francis Xavier Church is traditional in its architecture, its design elements are imbued with a modern, chic, formally streamlined sensibility, which has helped make the sanctuary flexible and adaptable to change.The ceiling is constructed like an upside barque- evoking the ones used by the co-patron of foreign missions, St. Francis Xavier, on his extensive journeys by sea to and in the Far East. 6/2014 5.99 mb
There are 8 major stained-glass windows in St. Francis Xavier Church: four in the west wall and four in the east wall. Other, smaller stained-glass oculi and panels are scattered throughout the interior. These stained-glass windows were designed by Henry Schmidt, a parishioner. They are quite beautiful, scintillating in their pseudo-English Tudor style, illumined in usually soft eastern and tree-obscured western exposures, although their subject matter is somewhat chaotic and a hodge-podge in its traditional and idiosyncratic admixture of hagiography, scripture, and popular piety. One aspect of their enduring appeal is that the glass can be seen close up and at eye level.
ST. PETER WINDOW.
CENTER PANEL: Saint Peter, leader of the apostles, holds the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:19). Peter also holds a book, a representation that alludes to St. Peter’s New Testament writings (1 and 2 Peter) and sermons (Acts). Below is St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City in Rome with its famous dome. LEFT PANEL: Crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven by the Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). From the time of the Council of Ephesus in 431, the practice of depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary wearing a regal crown came into use in Christendom. RIGHT PANEL: The Assumption of Mary into Heaven is not mentioned in the New Testament though there are biblical texts used to point to the doctrine of Mary as Theotokos, or Mother of God, taken (“Assumed”) into heaven, body and soul at death. The imagery of going “up” to heaven is related to Jesus’ Ascension insofar as being figurative to express the spiritual. The phenomenon of Assumption is not unprecedented in the Bible. It occurred in the Old Testament with Moses and Elijah who were pivotally important Old Testament figures and who were present at Christ’s Transfiguration in the New Testament (Matt 17:1-9; Mk 9:2-10: Lk 9:28-36; and 2 Peter 1:16-21). Below the panels are identical angel figures. 6/2014 4.98 mb
ST. BONIFACE WINDOW.
CENTER PANEL: St. Boniface (675-754) is the St. Patrick of Germany. He was a bishop who lived during Europe’s Dark Ages. Boniface was responsible for organizing the church in western Germany and established the bishoprics of Cologne and Mainz. On direction by the pope, Boniface anointed Pepin the short (714-768) – the son of Charles Martel (c. 688-741) and father of Charlemagne (747-814) – as king of the Franks. This was the beginnings of the modern European states and Pepin’s coronation became the model for future royal coronations. LEFT PANEL: Jesus meets his mother is the fourth station of the cross. The Holy Face, below, is a devotion proclaimed by Pope Leo XIII in 1885. RIGHT PANEL: Jesus mocked and crowned with thorns (Luke 22:63-65 and John 19:2-3) is the sixth station of the cross and an important marker of the suffering of Jesus. 6/2014 3.93 mb
ST. PATRICK WINDOW.
CENTER PANEL: St. Patrick (418-493) is one of the patron saints of Ireland. The Emerald isle’s two other patron saints are St. Brigid (c. 451–525) and St. Columba (540-615). Whereas St. Joseph Church in Wilmette was established in 1847 for German-speaking immigrants, St. Francis Xavier Church had Irish roots. The depiction of Patrick as an archetypal Irishman — the bearded bishop dressed in green with miter and staff – emerged in the late 18th century. St. Patrick’s symbology includes a book – a reference to the Holy Scriptures as well as ancient writings accepted as authentically his: the Confessio and the Epistola to Coroticus, both in Latin. He holds a 3-leafed clover which legend says was used to teach the Irish people about the Holy Trinity. Below is the harp which is one of the oldest musical instruments in the world and Ireland’s national emblem. LEFT PANEL: The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of the Christian faith (1 Corinthians 15:17). His empty tomb is proof of Christ’s deity (John 5:26; Romans 1:4). By rising from the dead, Jesus Christ saved us from our sins (Romans 4:24–25; Hebrews 7:25), gave hope for our own future resurrection (John 14:19; 1 Corinthians 15:20–23), and provides believers with spiritual power today (Romans 6:3–4; Ephesians 1:19–21).The window depicts the resurrected Jesus holding the banner of victory over death as a Roman guard cowers in the dazzling light of a Risen Christ with an angel in attendance. Christ’s cruciform halo (elaborated in three parts) usually contains three Greek letters that in translation spell out “I Am Who Am,” a reference to Christ’s Divinity. Though all four gospels contain passages pertaining to the resurrection, none describe the moment of resurrection itself. RIGHT PANEL: The crucifixion of Jesus with his mother Mary and John the Apostle at the foot of the cross. Above Christ’s head are the letters INRI. It is an acronym for Jesus Nazarenus, rex Judæorum, the charge against jesus written in Latin by Pontius Pilate who condemned him to death. It translates as “Jesus (the) Nazarene, King of the Jews.” This title appears in the Passion narrative of John’s Gospel (19:19). Below each side panel are identical angel figures. 7/2014 7.58 mb
The altar design includes tall candlesticks and compact, detailed baldacchino. 6/2014 4.61 mb
A depiction of the crucifixion in basswood stands atop a rood beam at the ceiling line above the main altar. The scene includes the figure of a crucified Jesus, half-naked, wearing a crown of thorns, and the INRI inscription overhead. Three figures at the foot of the cross are (at left) his mother Mary and (at right) John, the Apostle. The bowed middle figure could represent the other named and unnamed women present at the crucifixion (John 19:25; Luke 23:27 and 49). The artwork is by Fritz Mullhauser. 12/2018 8.47 mb
MARY QUEEN OF HEAVEN WITH INFANT JESUS WINDOW.
CENTER PANEL: The Queen of Heaven who reigns in heaven from the right hand of her son, is depicted in her role as mother of Jesus Christ. Below is a crown hovering above what may be a heart-shaped letter ‘M” for Mary’s name or her sacred heart. LEFT PANEL: The Presentation of Jesus by Mary and Joseph in the Temple and the meeting with Simeon, the “just and devout” man of Jerusalem (Luke 2:25–35). The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is the fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. In Luke, 40 days after Jesus’s birth, his parents took the newborn to the Temple in Jerusalem to complete Mary’s ritual purification after childbirth, and to perform the redemption of the firstborn, as prescribed by Mosaic Law (Leviticus 12 and Exodus 13:12-15). RIGHT PANEL: The nativity of Jesus in Bethlehem (Luke 2: 1-7 and Matthew 1: 18-25) is the third joyful mystery of the rosary. Below each side panel are identical Angel figures. 12/2018 12.5 mb
ST. ANNE AND THE CHILD VIRGIN MARY WINDOW. CENTER PANEL: The child Mary with her mother, Saint Anne. Nothing is known for certain about the mother of the Virgin Mary. Early apocryphal writings provide information for stories about Mary’s parentage and early life that have resulted in a beautiful legendary tradition. LEFT PANEL: Depiction of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1: 39-45). Immediately following the Annunciation, Mary set out into the hill country to stay in the house of Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah for three months. Both women were miraculously pregnant at the time–Mary with Jesus by virgin birth and Elizabeth in her old age with John the Baptist. The scene depicts the moment when John the Baptist leaped with joy in Elizabeth’s womb upon hearing Mary’s voice (Luke 1:41). The Visitation is the second joyful mystery of the rosary. Below is an ark (or tabernacle). Luke structured his narrative passages of the Visitation on stories in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings about the ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament. The Catechism of the Catholic Church identifies Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant (2276): “Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person, the Ark of the Covenant, the place where the glory of the Lord dwells. She is ‘the dwelling of God . . . with men”. RIGHT PANEL: A depiction of the Annunciation to Mary by the angel Gabriel that she would bear the Son of God, Jesus Christ. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” The episode is marked by Mary’s joyful acceptance of God’s will – “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:26-38). This is the beginning of the Incarnation when the Son of God takes on His human nature. The Annunciation is the first joyful mystery of the rosary. Below, there are two different angel figures. 12/2018 16.24 mb
ST. JOSEPH WINDOW.
CENTER PANEL: St. Joseph was the foster father of Jesus and served as Jesus’ guardian and protector. His symbology includes his holding a carpenter’s square to show he was a carpenter (Mt 13:55). He also holds a white lily to symbolize his faithfulness and chastity to Mary (MT 1: 25) and his holiness and obedience to God (Mt 1:24; Mt 2:14,21,22). An angel figure Is below St. Joseph. LEFT PANEL: The Holy Family in Nazareth. Jesus was obedient to Mary and Joseph and “progressed steadily in wisdom, age and grace before God and men” (Lk 2:52). Since Jesus was instructed by St. Joseph in the carpenter trade, the child holds a small wooden cross on his knees. The flowering grass below may be simply decorative or could indicate the flowering staff of St. Joseph which symbolized that Joseph was especially chosen by God to be Mary’s husband. That imagery was drawn from the Old Testament when Aaron’s staff, placed before the Ten Commandments, sprouted with almond blossoms as a sign that he was chosen by God (Num 17:22-23). RIGHT PANEL: Mary and St. Joseph find the 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple with the doctors of the Law (Luke 2:41-52). The event is the fifth joyful mystery of the rosary. It is the only time in the New Testament Jesus makes a public appearance during his first 30 years of life prior to His baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist and the start of his public ministry (Matthew 3:3-17, Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-23; John 1:29-33). Below the scene are the tablets of the Ten Commandments with a symbol of the Trinity, including the sacred eye, hovering above. 12/2018 12.34 mb
ST. PAUL THE APOSTLE WINDOW (above in its east wall setting and below).
CENTER PANEL: St. Paul is depicted holding a sword, a common symbol for the Apostle to the Gentiles. Describing spiritual warfare in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes, “Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). Further, in the symbology of martyrs, those saints are traditionally depicted with the instrument of their death. Although Paul’s martyrdom is known (somewhere between 64 and 68 A. D.), its method and circumstances are not. Early Christian writers related that Paul was beheaded using a sword. LEFT PANEL: The Pentecost (Acts 2: 1-13) followed the Ascension where the 12 Apostles with Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ, gathered together and received the Holy Spirit symbolized by a dove from Heaven. RIGHT PANEL: the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven is mentioned several times in the New Testament though primarily in Luke and Acts (Luke 24:50-53, Acts 1: 6-12, John 3:13, John 6:62, John 20:17, Romans 8:34, Ephesians 1:19-20, Colossians 3:1, Philippians 2:9-11, 1 Timothy 3:16, and 1 Peter 3:21-22). The Ascension is an event where the Resurrected Christ physically departed from Earth by rising into Heaven which, following Judas’s betrayal, was witnessed by eleven of his apostles. Heaven incorporates the resurrected fleshly body of Christ as the divine humanity of Christ enters into the intimacy of the Father and becomes the perfect God-Man. 6/2014 4.28 mb
WINDOW DETAIL An angel figure graces one of the stained-glass windows in St. Francis Xavier Church. There are several different angel figures throughout the church’s stained glass panels.
THE GOOD SHEPHERD WINDOW
CENTER PANEL: Jesus called himself “the good shepherd” (John 10). In the Old Testament there is a prophecy about shepherds who are overseers for the sheep who are the people of God. Ezekiel also prophesies of another shepherd to come who is the Messiah of Israel. Jesus, by calling himself the good shepherd, is claiming to be the Messiah that the scriptures foretold. Christ’s cruciform halo (elaborated in three parts) usually contains three Greek letters that in translation spell out “ I Am Who Am,” a reference to Christ’s Divinity. Jesus holds the shepherd’s staff and has a lamb slung over his shoulders referring to the people of God he cares for. Below is a lamb in a bramble referring to Jesus as “the lamb of God” a title for Jesus found in the Gospel of John (1:29; 1:36). It also alludes to the Old Testament when God sent a ram caught in a bramble to change places with Isaac who God called to be sacrificed as a burnt offering (Genesis 22:13). This Old Testament story foretold the sacrifice of the Son of God at Calvary. LEFT PANEL: The scourging of Christ is the 4th station of the cross (John 19:1-3). It is part of the brutalities that Jesus endured in his Passion. Jesus was slapped, beaten, punctured by thorns, and whipped with a reed stick. Two of these instruments of torture are depicted below the pillar. Below that is an angel figure. RIGHT PANEL: Jesus is depicted in the garden of Gethsemane following the Last Supper where, knowing of Judas’s betrayal, Jesus prayed: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me. Yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). With his prayer, “an angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him” (Luke 22:43). At the foot of the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem all four Gospels relate that Jesus underwent an agony in the garden of Gethsemane where he was betrayed and arrested the night before his crucifixion. Below the scene is an angel figure. 12/2018 12.6 mb
Heavenly City: The Architectural Tradition of Catholic Chicago, Denis Robert McNamara, James Morris, Liturgy Training Publications, Chicago, Illinois, 2005, pp. 138-140 Chicago Churches and Synagogues: An Architectural Pilgrimage, George Lane, S.J., and Algimantas Kezys, Loyola University Press, Chicago, 1981. Saint Ignatius and His First Companions, Chas. Constantine Pise, P.J. Kenedy & Sons, New York, 1892, pp.105-151. The Saints: A Concise Biographical Dictionary, edited by John Coulson, Guild Press, New York, 1957. The New American Bible, Catholic Book Publishing Corp, New York, 1993. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Edition, Doubleday, New York, 1997.
“Giovanni, why don’t you sleep? Is it the Pope or the Holy Spirit who governs the church? It’s the Holy Spirit, no? Well, then, go to sleep, Giovanni!” Wit and Wisdom of Good Pope John, collected by Henri Fesquet.
One day John XXIII visited the Hospital of the Holy Spirit in Rome. Deeply stirred by the pope’s visit, the mother superior whose nuns administered the hospital, went up to introduce herself. “Most Holy Father,” she announced, “I am the Superior of the Holy Spirit!” “Well, I must say you’re lucky,” the pope said. “I’m only the Vicar of Jesus Christ!”Wit and Wisdom of Good Pope John, collected by Henri Fesquet.
Voglio essere buono, ad ogni costo, sempre, con tutti.(“I want to be good, at all costs, always, with everyone.”) Casa Natale di Papa Giovanni, Sotto Il Monte Giovanni XXIII (Bergamo).
Una croce mi ci vuole: Signore Gesù aiutami a portarla umilmente e degnamente(“A cross is needed for me: Lord Jesus, help me to carry it humbly and worthily.”) Casa Natale di Papa Giovanni, Sotto Il Monte Giovanni XXIII (Bergamo).
Non cade lacrima dai nostri occhi e non c’è sospiro del nostro cuore senza una riposta di Dio. (“There is no tear that falls from our eyes and no sigh of our heart without a response from God.”) Casa Natale di Papa Giovanni, Sotto Il Monte Giovanni XXIII (Bergamo).
Mi sento più che mai unito ai tanti e tanti che soffrono negli ospedali e nelle case, o sono angustiati in varie forme. (“I feel more than ever united with the many who suffer in hospitals and homes, or are distressed in various forms.”) Casa Natale di Papa Giovanni, Sotto Il Monte Giovanni XXIII (Bergamo).
Una gran medicina per i nostri mali è la buona coscienza, soprattutto l’abbandano nella Provvidenza di Dio. (“A great medicine for our ills is a good conscience, especially its abandonment to the Providence of God.”) Casa Natale di Papa Giovanni, Sotto Il Monte Giovanni XXIII (Bergamo).
Per la pace in famiglia tutto bisogna sacrificare e tutto conviene prendere dalla buona parte. (“For peace in the family everything must be sacrificed and everything should be taken from its good part.”) Casa Natale di Papa Giovanni, Sotto Il Monte Giovanni XXIII (Bergamo).
Figlioli, cercate più quello che unisce che ciò che divide… (“Little children, seek more what unites than what divides…”) Casa Natale di Papa Giovanni, Sotto Il Monte Giovanni XXIII (Bergamo).
Tutti ricordo e per tutti pregherò. (“I remember everyone and I will pray for everyone.”) Casa Natale di Papa Giovanni, Sotto Il Monte Giovanni XXIII (Bergamo).
John Henry Newman (1801-1890) was a theologian and poet who was first an Anglican priest and later a Roman Catholic priest and cardinal. In the 1830’s and until his conversion to Catholicism in 1845, Newman was a leading figure in the Oxford Movement. They were a group of Anglicans who looked to create a bridge between the Church of England and the Catholic Church by adopting many Catholic beliefs and liturgical rituals from before the English Reformation. Newman eventually came to believe for himself that these religious efforts proved insufficient and he left the Anglican Communion for the Catholic Church in 1845. Already an articulate and influential religious leader in Britain, Newman’s decision brought with it the burden of having upset his friends as well as being challenged by them and others for his changed religious opinions on polemical grounds. Newman, a longtime writer and speaker, responded after a while with his now-celebrated Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1865–1866), which served as a defense of his religious opinions after he quit his position as Anglican vicar at Oxford. Newman, a 19th-century master of English prose and poetry, had already published The Idea of a University (1852) and went on to publish Grammar of Assent (1870) as well as several poems, some of which were set to music or served as hymns. In 1879, at the age of 78 years old, Pope Leo XIII named Newman a cardinal for his work on behalf of the Catholic Church in England as well as his having co-founded the Catholic University of Ireland in 1854, which today as University College Dublin is Ireland’s largest institution of higher learning. On October 13, 2019, John Henry Newman was canonized a Catholic saint at the Vatican by Pope Francis. St. John Henry Newman became the first saint canonized from Britain since 1976. In remarks by Prince Charles who led the British delegation to the Vatican for Newman’s canonization, the Prince of Wales said: “In the age in which he [Newman] attains sainthood, his example is needed more than ever – for the manner in which, at his best, he could advocate without accusation, could disagree without disrespect and, perhaps most of all, could see differences as places of encounter rather than exclusion.” London-born Cardinal Newman died in England in 1890 at 89 years old. He founded the Oratory at Birmingham in 1848 and through his writings spoke to many about the issues of faith, education, and conscience.
A given opinion, as held by several individuals, even when of the most congenial views, is as distinct as are their faces. Oxford University sermons, 1843.
It is as absurd to argue men, as to torture them, into believing. Oxford University sermon, December 11, 1831.
From the age of fifteen, dogma has been the fundamental principle of my religion: I know of no other religion; I cannot enter into the idea of any other sort of religion; religion, as a mere sentiment, is to me a dream and a mockery. Apologia Pro Vita Sua, 1864.
I used to wish the Arabian Tales were true; my imagination ran on unknown influences, on magical powers, and talismans. I thought life might be a dream, or I an Angel, and all this world a deception, my fellow-angels by a playful device concealing themselves from me, and deceiving me from the semblance of a material world. Apologia Pro Vita Sua (Up to 1833).
I was brought up from a child to take great delight in reading the Bible; but I had formed no religious convictions till I was fifteen. Of course I had perfect knowledge of my Catechism. Apologia Pro Vita Sua (Up to 1833).
I read Joseph Milner’s Church History, and was nothing short of enamoured of the long extracts from St. Augustine and the other Fathers which I found there. I read them as being the religion of the primitive Christians.Apologia Pro Vita Sua (Part III).
I read Newton on the Prophecies, and in consequence became most firmly convinced that the Pope was the Antichrist predicted by Daniel, St. Paul and St. John. My imagination was stained by the effects of this doctrine up to the year 1843. Apologia Pro Vita Sua (Part III).
There are virtues indeed, which the world is not fitted to judge about or to uphold, such as faith, hope and charity; but it can judge about Truthfulness; it can judge about the natural virtues, and truthfulness is one of them. Natural virtues may also become supernatural; Truthfulness is such…Apologia Pro Vita Sua (Part II).
Catholics on the other hand shade and soften the awful antagonism between good and evil, which is one of their dogmas, by holding that there are different degrees of justification, that there is a great difference in point of gravity between sin and sin, that there is a possibility and the danger of falling away, and that there is no certain knowledge given to anyone that he is simply in a state of grace, and much less that he is to persevere to the end.Apologia Pro Vita Sua (Part III).
Let us seek the grace of a cheerful heart, an even temper, sweetness, gentleness, and brightness of mind, as well as walking in His light, and by His grace. Let us pray to Him to give us the ever-abundant, ever-springing love, which overpowers and sweeps away the vexations of life by its own richness and strength, and which above all unites us to Him, Who is the fountain and center of all mercy, loving kindness and joy. 17, Religious Joy (Sermon for Christmas Day), 1868.
Ex Umbris et Imaginibus in Veritatem! (From shadows and symbols into the truth!) Epitaph at Edgbaston.
Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom; Lead thou me on! The night is dark, and I am far from home; Lead thou me on! Keep thou my feet: I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me.The Pillar of the Cloud, 1833.
Lead, Kindly Light is a hymn with words written in 1833 by Saint John Henry Newman as a poem titled “The Pillar of the Cloud.” The impetus for the poem was that young Newman, traveling in Italy, became ill and found himself stranded in Palermo, Sicily, without any passage out for almost a month.
To occupy his time, the 32-year-old Newman visited the many churches in Palermo but only when they were dark, abandoned and silent. Newman, then still an Anglican, didn’t attend any services.
Newman finally got a ship to England that sailed direct for Marseilles yet, between Corsica and Sardinia, the ship lay idle for a week from lack of wind. It was just at that point in his far-flung journey that the words, Lead Kindly Light, articulated themselves in Newman’s mind as he ached to go home.
This is what the Church is said to want, not party men, but sensible, temperate, sober, well-judging persons, to guide it through the channel of no-meaning, between the Scylla and Charybdis of Aye and no. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Apologia Pro Vita Sua, “History of My Religious Opinions from 1839-1841” (1864).
Nature was a parable: Scripture was an allegory: pagan literature, philosophy, and mythology, properly understood, were but a preparation for the Gospel. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Apologia Pro Vita Sua, “History of My Religious Opinions from 1839-1841” (1864).
The Greek poets and sages were in a certain sense prophets; for “thoughts beyond their thought to those high bards were given.” St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Apologia Pro Vita Sua, “History of My Religious Opinions from 1839-1841” (1864).
Holy Church in her sacraments and her hierarchical appointments, will remain even to the end of the world. Her mysteries are but expressions in human language of truths to which the human mind is unequal. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Apologia Pro Vita Sua, “History of My Religious Opinions from 1839-1841” (1864).
We may not speak of [Jesus] as we speak of any individual man, acting from and governed by a human intelligence within Him, but He was God, acting not only as God, but now through the flesh also, when He would. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Parochial and Plain Sermons, volume 6.
[Prophetic tradition] permeates the Church like an atmosphere, irregular in shape from its very profusion and exuberance. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church (1837).
The more claim an idea has to be considered living, the more various will be its aspects; and the more social and political is its nature, the more complicated and subtle will be its issues. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.
And such mainly is the way in which all men, gifted or not gifted, commonly reason – not by rule, but by an inward faculty. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Fifteen Sermons preached before the University of Oxford.
If we insist upon being as sure as is conceivable, in every step of our course, we must be content to creep along the ground, and can never soar. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Fifteen Sermons preached before the University of Oxford.
If we are intended for great ends, we are called to great hazards; and, whereas we are given absolute certainty in nothing, we must in all things choose between doubt and inactivity. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Fifteen Sermons preached before the University of Oxford.
I am what I am, or I am nothing. I cannot think, reflect, or judge about my being, without starting from the very point which I am concluding…I cannot avoid being sufficient for myself, for I cannot make myself anything else, and to change me is to destroy me. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), The Grammar of Assent (1870).
A man who said “I cannot trust a cable, I must have an iron bar,” would, in certain given cases, be irrational and unreasonable: so too is a man who says I must have a rigid demonstration, not moral demonstration, of religious truth. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letters & Diaries, volume 21.
We differ in our sense and use of the word “certain.” I use it of minds, you of propositions. I fully grant the uncertainty of all conclusions in your sense of the word, but I maintain that minds may in my sense be certain of conclusions which are uncertain in yours. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letter to William Froude, April 29, 1879.
There is a great attempt to bring a new theory of Papal Infallibility, which would make it a mortal sin not to hold the Temporal Power necessary to the papacy. No one answers them and multitudes are being carried away. The pope gives ear to them and the consequence is there is a very extreme prejudice in the highest quarters at Rome against such as me. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letter to James Hope Scott, April 11, 1867.
Really and truly I am NOT a theologian. A theologian is one who has mastered theology…and a hundred things besides. And this I am not and never shall be. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letter to Maria Giberne, February 10, 1869.
To write theology is like dancing on the tight-rope some hundred feet above ground: it is hard to keep from falling, and the fall is great. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letter to Emily Bowles, April 16, 1866.
Cardinal Henry Edward Manning is not a theologian, the pope is not a theologian, and therefore theology has gone out of fashion. I don’t profess to be a theologian, but at all events I should have been able to show a side of the Catholic religion more theological, more exact, than theirs. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letter to Lord Blatchford, February 5, 1875.
There was true private judgment in the primitive and medieval schools. There are no schools now, no private judgment (in the religious sense of the phrase), no freedom of opinion. That is, no exercise of the intellect. This is a way of things which in God’s own time, will work its own cure of necessity. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letter to Emily Bowles, May 19, 1863.
This age of the Church is peculiar. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letter to Emily Bowles, May 19, 1863.
Everything is good which brings matters to a crisis. It is not the matter of the document, but the animus of its authors, and their mode of doing it, which is so trying. Will not the next century demand Popes who are no Italians? St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letter to William Monsell, January 12, 1865.
The Fathers made me a Catholic, and I am not going to kick down the ladder by which I ascended into the Church. It is a ladder quite as serviceable for that purpose now, as it was twenty years ago. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letter to Rev. E. B. Pusey, D.D.
We have come to a climax of tyranny. It is not good for a Pope to live 20 years. It is an anomaly and bears no good fruit; he becomes a god, has no one to contradict him, does not know facts, and does cruel things without meaning it. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letter to Lady Simeon, November 18, 1870.
There is no evil without its alleviation. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letter to Bishop David Moriarty, November 14, 1866.
To be at once infallible in religion and a despot in temporals is perhaps too great for mortal man. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letter to Mrs. William Frounde, January 2, 1871.
Truth is the guiding principle of theology and theological inquiries; devotion and edification, of worship; and of government, expedience. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), The Via Media of the Anglican Church Illustrated in Lectures, Letters and Tracts written between 1830 and 1841.
The instrument of theology is reasoning; of worship, our emotional nature; of rule, command and coercion. Further, as man is, reasoning tends to rationalism; devotion to superstition and enthusiasm; and power to ambition and tyranny. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), The Via Media of the Anglican Church Illustrated in Lectures, Letters and Tracts written between 1830 and 1841.
Now all of us are sinners, all of us have need to come to God as the Publican did; every one, if he does but search his heart, and watch his conduct, and try to do his duty, will find himself to be full of sins which provoke God’s wrath. I do not mean to say that all men are equally sinners; some are wilful sinners, and of them there is no hope, till they repent; others sin, but they try to avoid sinning, pray to God to make them better, and come to church to be made better; but all men are quite sinners enough to make it their duty to behave as the Publican. Every one ought to come into Church as the Publican did, to say in his heart, “Lord, I am not worthy to enter this sacred place; my only plea for coming is the merits of Jesus Christ my Saviour.” St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Sermon, Reverence in Worship, October 30, 1836 (PPS-8).
FEATURE image: Titus Brandsma, a Dutch educator, journalist and priest, had been appointed by the Catholic Bishops in Holland as their chief spokesman to defend the freedom of Catholic education and the press. The 60-year-old Carmelite was arrested in Holland by the Nazis in early 1942 and killed by lethal injection (carbolic acid) in Dachau concentration camp in Germany in July 1942. This is one of the last photos of Fr. Brandsma prior to his arrest. FOTO GPD/PR. Bob van Huet. Fair Use.
Special note: When this post was published in August 2019 Titus Brandsma was a declared Blessed of the Catholic Church, on his way to sainthood. On May 15, 2022, Pope Francis in the first canonization ceremony at the Vatican since 2019, declared 10 new saints. Among them was Titus Brandsma, O.Carm., who had been a prisoner of the Nazis and killed by them in Dachau concentration camp in 1942.Father Brandsma was a prolific writer published in scores of publications who vociferously and publicly opposed Nazi ideology since 1933 when Hitler came to power in Germany.
Blessed Titus Brandsma (1881-1942).
By John P. Walsh
August 14 is the Feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941). Fr. Kolbe died in a Nazi concentration camp (Auschwitz) after he traded places with another camp prisoner condemned to die who was a stranger. That camp prisoner, a husband and father, survived the war. He testified to Kolbe’s heroic and charitable action as a martyr during Kolbe’s canonization process in the Roman Catholic Church. Kolbe was pronounced a saint on October 10, 1982 by St. Pope John Paul II (1920-2005).
Another Catholic martyr out of the Nazi camps who is also much worth knowing is Blessed Titus Brandsma (1881-1942). Brandsma died in Dachau concentration camp, the Nazi’s first concentration camp. Opened in 1933 Dachau’s initial purpose was to imprison political opponents of the Third Reich. Kolbe was a Polish Franciscan and Brandsma was a Dutch Carmelite. In 1985 Fr. Brandsma was declared a Blessed of the Church by St. Pope John Paul II setting him too on the road to sainthood.
Blessed Titus Brandsma as a young Carmelite friar. He became an ordained priest.
Franciscan friar Fr. Maximilian Kolbe’s father was German and his mother was Polish. A journalist by trade he had dedicated his work to the Virgin Mary. Arrested in Poland on February 17, 1941 for sheltering Jews and anti-Nazi publishing, Kolbe was sent to Auschwitz on May 28, 1941. He died on August 14, 1941 after he traded places with another prisoner, a total stranger, who had been condemned to die in a retribution killing by the Nazis. In 1982 Kolbe was made a saint by St. Pope John Paul II.
Both Frs. Kolbe and Brandsma were dedicated journalists. Brandsma was a university founder and teacher as well as a modern art advocate. In 1921 he famously defended the artistic freedom of the leading Symbolist and Expressionist painter in Belgium, Albert Servaes (1883-1966). The artist, a committed Catholic, once said “I have had only two masters. The Gospels and nature.” Yet his new art work for the Stations of the Cross caused an uproar among some Catholics who were offended by the contemporary depictions of Christ’s Passion. Brandsma supported Servaes’ work for the church of the Discalced Carmelites in Luythagen, a suburb of Antwerp (they can be found today in the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Koningshoeven in Tilburg, Netherlands). Brandsma arranged for the new art to be accompanied by Brandsma’s own meditations on them and published together in a newly-founded Catholic cultural review called Opgang, This helped present and clarify the profound religious content of the art work which worked to inspire the Catholic Flemish people as well as placate irate Carmelite superiors in Rome.
Much has been said and written on Titus Brandsma since his death in 1942 in Dachau concentration camp. One major theme about Brandsma from those who crossed paths with him in his lifetime was that he was a man of positive vitality, charity and cheer.
Brandsma, born in February 1881 in Bolsward in Friesland, came from a religious family of Dutch farmers. Brandsma was educated in college by the Franciscans and, afterwards, in 1898, became a Carmelite novice in Boxmeer, south of Nijmegen near the German border. In 1905 he was ordained a priest and studied in Rome until 1910. When the 30-year-old Carmelite priest returned to Holland, he was made professor of philosophy and Church history in Oss, about halfway between ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Nijmegen. Later Fr. Brandsma served as the professor of philosophy in the newly-established Catholic University at Nijmegen, becoming its Rector Magnificus in 1932.
When the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1940, the Catholic bishops named Titus Brandsma as the spokesman for the freedom of Catholic education and the press. Since 1935 he was chaplain to the Union of Catholic Journalists, an episcopal appointment. Brandsma did his jobs seriously and effectively. Father Brandsma, who was a prolific writer published in scores of publications, had vociferously and publicly opposed Nazi ideology since 1933 when Hitler came to power in Germany. In July 1941 Brandsma authored a Pastoral Letter on behalf of the bishops that was read in all Catholic parishes. The letter officially condemned the Nazis’s anti-Semitic laws and Dutch Catholics were informed that they would be denied the sacraments if they supported the Nazi party.
Brandsma had been vehemently opposed to Nazi ideology from the time Hitler rose to power in Germany in 1933. By speaking out and writing against it many times before the Second World War, he was finally arrested and imprisoned by the Nazis in their infamous Dachau concentration camp where he died.
The Nazis hated Brandsma’s vehement and active long opposition to them. They finally arrested him and tried and condemned him as an “enemy of the state” in January 1942. Just seven months later, in July 1942, Titus Brandsma was dead. His death was caused by the terrible sufferings inflicted on him by the Nazis. At the very end, Brandsma, like other prisoners, was used as a guinea pig for Nazi “doctors.” To combat malaria affecting German soldiers, the Nazis experimented on prisoners, in this instance, involuntarily infecting them with malaria and then using exotic and dangerous drugs in an attempt at a cure. At that point in his captivity, Brandsma, already worthless to the Nazis since he couldn’t work—and whose convictions they could not beat or dehumanize out of him — became a dead man walking.
There were around 40 million Protestants and 20 million Catholics in Nazi Germany. A vast majority of Germans including Germany’s 20,000 Catholic priests lived under Hitler’s ideology and were not persecuted by the Nazis. The Nazis wanted all culture and thought to bend to their ideology and whoever spoke or acted against that imperative were imprisoned and often murdered. The first clergymen to arrive at Dachau were Polish priests sent there in 1939 for helping the Polish Resistance against the Nazi invasion. Many of these nearly 2,000 Polish priests suffered the same brutal treatment as did Titus Brandsma — a regimen of starvation, beatings, and involuntary medical experimentation. From 1933 to 1945, of the 3,000 clergymen who were inmates at Dachau—whether Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, or Muslim — about 1,100 perished. Nearly one-third of Dachau’s 200,000 prisoners (or 65,000) were Jews, many of them Germans and Austrians.
Titus Brandsma as a young Carmelite friar.
Titus Brandsma as a 30 year old Dutch Carmelite priest. Brandsma was a teacher, journalist, and modern religious art advocate.
Brandsma as a teacher in 1924.
Bradsma was university rector at Nijmegan in 1934. Hitler had rose to power in neighboring Germany the year before which Brandsma vehemently opposed for the rest of his life.
For weeks since his arrival into Dachau concentration camp just outside cheery Munich, Brandsma had been starved and savagely beaten regularly. His body depleted of strength, Brandsma became infected with camp plague. Refusing to go to the camp hospital called by camp prisoners “a hell within hell,” Brandsma was eventually admitted. Its doctors, having no mission to heal and restore their patients often used them, as they did Brandsma, for cruel medical experimentation. In the end, the camp doctor assigned to Brandsma’s case ordered that his patient, now dying of terminal renal failure, be given a lethal injection administered by a camp nurse. The woman, a lapsed Catholic and SS functionary, survived the war and, having at that time returned to her faith, testified to Brandsma’s cause of death that afternoon in the summer of 1942. She remembered his last moments and that he reached into his tattered pocket to give her his only personal possession. It was a crude rosary made and given to Brandsma by another Dutch prisoner who had been executed.
One of the last photographs of Titus Brandsma before his arrest and condemnation by the Nazis as an “enemy of the state.” Brandsma had been appointed by the Catholic Bishops in Holland as their chief spokesman to defend the freedom of Catholic education and the press. After Brandsma authored a Pastoral Letter on behalf of the bishops that was read in all Catholic parishes in July 1941 that officially condemned the Nazis’s anti-Semitic laws and informed Dutch Catholics that they would be denied the sacraments if they supported the Nazi party, the Nazis arrested the Carmelite friar. Brandsma spent most of the winter and spring of 1942 in Nazi jails in Holland and was taken to Dachau concentration camp on June 19, 1942 where he died on July 26, 1942.
A drawing of Titus Brandsma in Amersfoort prison in Holland in spring 1942. It was drawn by a fellow prisoner who himself was executed by the Nazis on May 6, 1942.
When the Nazis arrested Brandsma in Holland for his exercise of free speech, the journalist-priest marveled at his bad luck: “I’m 60 years old and I’m going to jail.” Confined in assorted jails of worsening condition all that winter and into spring he arrived at Dachau in June 1942. Brandsma worked to keep a positive, indeed charitable, attitude as far as possible within a hideously barbaric situation. When he went so far as to encourage other Catholic camp prisoners to include the Nazi guards in their prayers, the other prisoners violently demurred. Brandsma retorted: “I didn’t say you ought to pray for them all day long!”
Titus Brandsma’s signature with the abbreviation “O.Carm.” after it indicating his being part of the Carmelite Order.
Worn out by the violent maltreatment of the Nazi camp guards, and inhuman camp conditions, Brandsma fell ill and, deemed invaluable for work, became a guinea pig for camp medical experiments conducted by SS doctors. When Brandsma died in Nazi hands on July 26, 1942–a lethal injection of carbolic acid administered by a young Berlin-trained nurse assigned to Dachau under penalty of being shot for insubordination and who, over 40 years later, testified at Brandsma’s beatification process–his remains were taken by camp staff after three days and burned in the camp’s old furnaces.
By 1943 Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945) had ordered and installed new and bigger furnaces. They were used around the clock to dispose of prisoner remains until April 29, 1945 when Dachau was liberated by a large force of American soldiers. The Nazis scraped Brandsma’s ashes out of the furnace and disposed of them in the camp’s unmarked pit among thousands of other victims at Dachau. Inside this once-mass killing facility set within a leafy, banal German suburb that gives it its name, it is unknown the precise number of actual prisoner deaths that occurred here between 1933 and 1945, although 32,000 deaths are recorded.
Furnaces in the crematorium at Dachau. More than 31,000 prisoners died in Dachau concentration camp from 1933 to its liberation by American soldiers in 1945. The former concentration camp is situated in the middle of a leafy, banal German suburb of the same name.
At the Dachau Memorial Site, a Carmelite convent of contemplative nuns is one of the memorials close by. Built on the site of a gravel pit where prisoners were sent to work when punished for breaking camp rules, the convent’s entrance is through a former Dachau guard tower.
Always the writer, Titus Brandsma kept writing even in prison. These prison writings are a source for amazement and inspiration today. In the depth of his own terrible suffering at the hands of others, Titus Brandsma wrote: “In the depths of our being we come upon the activity of God by which he sustains us and we are led and guided by him. We have to go to its deepest source to rediscover ourselves in God.”
The author at Dachau concentration camp in July 1984. The sculpture memorial to Dachau prisoners from 1933 to 1945 by Yugoslav sculptor Nandor Glid (1924-1997) is just behind me. Glid was a Holocaust survivor who had been a forced laborer and partisan during the war and whose father and most of his family were murdered in Auschwitz.
My photograph of the entrance gate into the camp during a visit in July 1984.
Another of my photographs from Dachau in July 1984 — barbed wire, ditch, and a watch tower. The broad expanse of the prisoner barracks were dismantled leaving only their graveled footprint.
Brief newspaper announcement of the death of Blessed Fr. Titus Brandsma, Carmelite Order. Brandsma’s cause for sainthood continues to go forward today.
Oil painting by Steve Trizna of the stages of life of Blessed Fr. Titus Brandsma, O. Carm. Photograph by author.
FEATURE image: The Westwork of the Collegiate Church of St. Gertrude in Nivelles, Belgium, fronts an expansive historical building of the 11th century. Photograph by author, March 1992. Nivelles is an ancient settlement about 25 miles south-east of Brussels in Belgium’s French-speaking region of Wallonia.
St. Gertrude of Nivelles (c. 628-659) was the daughter of Blessed Pepin of Landen (c. 580-640) and Blessed Ita of Metz, O.S.B. (592-652) who founded Nivelles monastery. Gertrude was born about 45 miles north east of Nivelles in Landen, Belgium on the boundary of Wallonia in Flanders.
In the 7th century, the territory was part of the Austrasian Frankish kingdom and Pepin had established a personal presence there. Following Pepin’s death when Gertrude was about 12 years old, the bishop of Maastrict in today’s Netherlands encouraged Ita to transform Pepin’s royal villa into a monastery. Pepin and Ita’s daughter, Gertrude, become the monastery’s first abbess.
Ita joined her daughter in the monastery to live out their days in a life of work and prayer. In the distant past, older well-endowed individuals often retired to monasteries or convents. A modern corollary may be that some retirees today choose to establish themselves in church-sponsored retirement villages. Ita’s other daughter (Begga) also eventually became an abbess; another son (Bavo), a hermit. One final son (Grimoald) took his father’s place as Mayor of the Palace. (see – http://www.santiebeati.it/dettaglio/37900 and https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06533c.htm)
In addition to being the patron of cats and gardeners, St. Gertrude was an early medieval patron of travelers. From her birthplace of Landen to Nivelles, Belgium, it is a distance of around 40-45 miles, or a one or two-day journey on foot.
St. Gertrude was superior of the monastery her parents established and, though a young abbess, Gertrude was known for her wise rule. St. Gertrude died at a young age on account of her personal austerities and was venerated as a saint.
The impressive appearance of the westwork of the Collegial Church of St Gertrude in Nivelles is the result of a reconstruction finished in 1984 following severe damage it sustained during World War II by bombing from the German Luftwaffe (air force) in May 1940.
The church was built in the 11th century to serve as a Benedictine abbey of cloistered nuns whose first abbess was St. Gertrude of Nivelles. The community of nuns developed so that by the 15th century Nivelles became professionally staffed and was designated a collegiate church. The dramatic church building is classified a major European Heritage site and remains one of the finest examples of the pure Romanesque style in Belgium.
Its Romanesque crypt is one of the largest of its kind in Europe where tombs of the Merovingian (5th-7th centuries) and Carolingian (7th-9th centuries) periods have been found.
IMAGES OF ST.GERTRUDE, PATRONESS OF CATS, GARDENERS AND TRAVELLERS:
Another image of St. Gertrude of Nivelles. Her feast day is March 17—the same as Ireland’s St. Patrick.
In addition to being the patron saint of cats, St. Gertrude of Nivelles is also the patron saint of gardeners and travellers.
St. Gertrude de Nivelles, from the Hours of Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg (1490-1545), Archbishop and Elector of Mainz, c. 1522. Opaque water-based paint mounted on board by Flemish artist Simon Bening (c.1484-1561). Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
SOURCE: The Saints: A Concise Biographical Dictionary, edited by John Coulson, Guild Press, New York, 1957.
FEATURE image: Joan of Arc was condemned as a heretic by 37 judges sympathetic to her enemies in England. The next day, May 30, 1431, the 19-year-old French visionary and soldier was burned at the stake in the market place of Rouen, France. Illustrations by French artist, Octave Denis Victor Guillonnet (1872-1967), are in the Public Domain.
JOAN OF ARC (French, 1412-1431) is one of the best documented and most popular of medieval saints. The story of Jeanne La Pucelle, as she is known in France, has been beautifully depicted by artists and writers for centuries—as well as in films.
In France many of the places and sites associated with “the Maid” of 600 years ago are intact and can be visited today. Visiting the same buildings and places where Joan was in the late Middle Ages provides a concrete sense of her world.
There is a pile of literature about Joan. The fascination with her story started in her own century with her trial’s transcripts. Modern authors such as Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, and Vita Sackville-West have written their books about her. Each year there are new scholarly tracts and other nonfiction to add to the long list of books and articles. Within this immense educational and informational field, there are several ways to approach the subject of France’s warrior-maid, Joan of Arc – including a combination of art and literature.
One example is the artwork of Octave Denis Victor Guillonnet (1872-1967), a popular French illustrator.
Anyone interested in Joan of Arc first meets her when she is a humble peasant girl in the small village of Domrémy in eastern France.
Before Joan is a teenager, and for the rest of her life, Joan hears and is called by the heavenly voices of Saints Michael, Margaret, and Catherine of Alexandria.
Their explicit instruction is for the teenage girl to aid France as a warrior-maid.
Joan’s spiritual and military involvement started at a critical juncture in the king of France’s involvement in the Hundred Years’ War. The king of France was fighting against competing powers of England and Burgundy for control of France.
Joan’s military mission began in 1429 at 17 years old. Following fast and spectacular military successes, Joan led the dauphin to Reims Cathedral to be crownedas Charles VII (1401-1461), King of France, in 1429.
Joan’s military role ended abruptly with Joan’s capture on the battlefield.
Joan was held in prison for a ransom that her King never paid. There were attempts to rescue her but they failed.
Joan’s enemies put her on trial as a heretic. The result was that the Maid was infamously burned at the stake in Rouen, France, on May 30, 1431. Her condemnation by local Church officials sympathetic to England was overturned in 1456 by higher Church authorities which set justice aright in Joan’s case.
In May 1920, Joan was consecrated as a Catholic saint. There are miracles attributed to the Maid’s intercession.
Joan was 19 years old when she died. Her brief and successful military and political career—as well as her unshakable belief under incredible duress that she was on God’s errand — put France on the path to sovereignty and earned Joan of Arc a place as a co-patron of France today.
GLOSSARY by John P. Walsh.
Versailles – The Palace of Versailles (French: Château de Versailles), or simply Versailles is a royal castle in Versailles, west of Paris in the Île-de-France region that includes Paris and its environs. The Château is open today as a museum and is a very popular tourist attraction. For more visit: http://en.chateauversailles.fr/
Joan of Arc – Joan of Arc (French: Jeanne d’Arc) was born January 6, 1412 and died by execution (burned at the stake) in Rouen, France, on May 30, 1431. Nicknamed “The Maid of Orléans” (French: La Pucelle d’Orléans) Joan of Arc is considered a heroine of France for her role during the The Hundred Years War and is canonized Roman Catholic saint. She is one of several patrons of France today.
Domremy – (French: Domrémy, today Domrémy-la-Pucelle in reference to Joan of Arc.) Domremy is a small commune in the Vosges department in Grand Est in northeastern France. It is the birthplace of Joan of Arc. In 1429 Domrémy (and neighboring Greux) was exempted from taxes “forever” by King Charles VII which was the sole request made of the king by Joan of arc when Charles asked her how he could show her his appreciation for seeing him. Taxes were imposed again upon Domrémy and Greux during the French Revolution and the populations has had to pay taxes ever since.
Meuse – (French: la Meuse.) The Meuse is a major European river, originating in France and flowing through Belgium and the Netherlands and draining into the North Sea. It has a total length of 925 km (575 miles).
Rivulet of Three-Fountains – (French: Le ruisseau des Trois Fontaines.) In Jeanne’s time, the village of Domremy was divided by the Creek of Three Fountains, so named because of three sources that fed it. To the south of it (right bank) is the Barrois and to the north of it (left bank) is Champagne. The stream also separates Domremy and Greux. Champagne was part of the royal domain, and when Joan left her home to aid the “Dauphin” Charles at Chinon or went to Nancy to visit the Duke of Lorraine, she had to seek safe conduct.
The Duchy of Lorraine – (French: Lorraine) was a duchy or dukedom that today is included in the larger region of Lorraine in northeastern France. Its capital was Nancy.
Province of Chaumont – Chaumont is a small commune of France which historically was the seat of the Counts of Champagne.
Jacques d’Arc – also Jacquot d’Arc. (b. 1375/80-d. 1431). Father of the Maid, he was born about 1375 at Ceffonds, in the diocese of Troyes, according to the Traité sommaire of Charles du Lys published in 1612. It was about the time of his marriage that he established himself at Domrémy, for his wife Isabelle Romée was from Vouthon, a village about seven kilometers away. He seems to have enjoyed an honorable position in this countryside, whether he was rich, as some have implied, or not. In 1419 he was the purchaser of the Chateau de I’Ile, with its appurtenances, put up at auction that year. In a document of 1423 he is described as doyen or sergeant of the village. He therefore took rank between the mayor and the provost, and was in charge of collecting taxes, and exercised functions similar to those of the garde Champêtre which is a combination of forest ranger,game warden, and policeman in certain rural communes in France. The same year finds him among the seven notables who responded for the village in the matter of tribute imposed by the damoiseau of Commercy. In 1427 in an important trial held before Robert de Baudricourt, captain of Vaucouleurs, he was again acting as a delegate of his fellow citizens. We know that he opposed with all his power the mission of his daughter, whom he wished to marry off. However, he went to Reims for the coronation of the King, and the King and the municipality defrayed his expenses and gave him a horse for his return to Domrémy. He was ennobled in December, 1429. Jacques d’Arc died 1431, it is said, from sorrowing over his daughter’s end.
Castle of the Island – In front of Domremy, and connected by a bridge, the Castle of the Island was the possession of the Bourlemont family, the lords of Domremy. It was rented by the inhabitants in the time of Joan and served, at times, as a refuge for their cattle.
Brothers Jacques, Jean, and Pierre, and sister, Catherine – Jacquemin d’Arc (b. 1402 d. 1450). There is very little known about Jacquemin, other than he was born 1402 in Vaudeville-le-Haut, and died in 1450. He was married to Catherine Corviset who was born in 1405 and died in 1430. They were married at Domremy.
Jean d’Arc (b. 1409 d. 1447) fled with his sister Joan to Neufchâteau; accompanied her to France; and was lodged at the house of Jacques Boucher at Orléans. With his father, he was ennobled in December 1429. As provost of Vaucouleurs he worked for the rehabilitation of his sister; appeared at bodies in Rouen and Paris; and formed a commission to get evidence from their native district and produce witnesses. He was Bailly of Vermandois and captain of Chartres.
Pierre d’Arc (b. 1408 d. ?) went to seek his sister in France; fought along with her at Orléans; lived in the same house with her in that city; accompanied her to Reims; and was ennobled with the rest of the family. He was captured with Jeanne at Compiègne, but was eventually released. Pierre retired to the city of Orléans where he received many gifts – from the King, the city of Orléans, and a pension from Duke Charles, among them the Île aux Boeufs in 1443. The descendants of Pierre had in their possession three of Jeanne’s letters and a sword that she had worn. The letters were saved but the sword was lost during the the French revolution.
Catherine d’Arc (b. 1413 d. 1429). There is very little known about Catherine, other than she married Colin, the son of Greux’s mayor, and died very young in childbirth near the end of 1429.
Isabella Romée – Isabelle Romée (b. 1385 d. Dec. 8, 1458), known as Isabelle de Vouthon. Isabelle d’Arc and Ysabeau Romée, was the mother of Jeanne. She moved to Orléans in 1440 and received a pension from the city. She petitioned Pope Nicholas V to reopen the court case that had convicted Jeanne of heresy, and then, in her seventies, addressed the assembly delegation from the Holy See in Paris. On July 7, 1456 the appeals court overturned the conviction of Jeanne. Isabelle gave her daughter an upbringing in the Catholic religion and taught her the craft of spinning wool.
The First Biography of Joan of Arc, with the Chronicle Record of a Contemporary Account. Translated and Annotated by Rankin, Daniel S., Quintal, Claire. [Pittsburgh] University of Pittsburgh Press .
Joan of Arc by Herself and her Witnesses.Pernoud, Régine. Lanham, MD : Scarborough House,  Translation of: Jeanne d’Arc par elle-même et par ses témoins. Joan of Arc: Her Story. Pernoud, Régine. New York : St. Martin’s Press, 1998. Translation of: Jeanne d’Arc.
Joan of Arc. Lucie-Smith, EdwardNew York : Norton, 1977.
Joan of Arc. Twain, Mark, New York, Harper and Brothers [c.1924].
Joan of Arc. Boutet de Monvel, Louis Maurice (1850-1913), New York : Pierpont Morgan Library:Viking Press, 1980.
Joan of Arc : A Life Transfigured. Harrison, Kathryn, New York : Doubleday, 2014.
Joan of Arc : A History. Castor, Helen, New York, NY: HarperCollinsPublishers, .
The Beautiful Story of Joan of Arc The Martyr Maid of France, Lowe, Viola Ruth, illustrations by O.D.V. Guillonnet, 1923, multiple U.S. editions.
The Saints: A Concise Biographical Dictionary, edited by John Coulson, Guild Press, New York, 1957, pp. 577; 399-402.
FEATURE image: Detail of Franz Jägerstätter on a motorbike in St. Radegund, Austria, in 1940.
By John P. Walsh
October 26, 2017/updated July 15, 2021.
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 make 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 gathers 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’s message of hope by way of a single individual—and he encourages his TED auditors to be that individual— does not usually come without a price. What Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997) said on love the pope adapted to his or any message of hope: it cannot be done “unless it comes at your own expense.”
The power of the individual to be a cause of hope with potential to revolutionize even the nation is what Richard Attenborough (1923-2014) dramatizes from history in his 1983 Academy-Award-winning three-hour bio-pic film, Gandhi. In the setting of a segregated South Africa, young Indian lawyer Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948) played by Ben Kingsley is visited at his ashram by a 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 the individual conscience and the social morality which is directed to the attainment and conservation of the values represented by the state and nation is part of that which the young American journalist, dramatized 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 values and things is bound to be— at least philosophically and even theologically— complex and indefinite. Arguments and subtleties about these topics become rife when the circumstances call for it. 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.”
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 (1965)—he was anti-Nazi and refused to fight in their armed forces.
Blessed Franz Jägerstätter’s widow, Franziska (1914-2013), who was 94 years old in 2007, and his four daughters, Maria, Aloisia and Rosalia, and, from a previous relationship, Hildegard, 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. Despite suggestions for compliance and delay, Jägerstätter was called up a third and final time in March 1943 where he made clear to the Nazis his conscientious objection which led to his imprisonment, court martial trial, and execution in August 1943.
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 … “
Bishop Johannes Maria Gföllner (1867-1941), center, at a celebration in 1935.
What was seen to be his civic duty and the only action he could conceivably 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 avoid. 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 on April 10, 1938 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 that day and was the only one of St. Radegund’s 500 or so citizens to do so. It was also the last time that Franziska pressured Franz on a matter of his conscience by telling him to not skip the vote as he intended to do. It soon became clear that Franz’s anti-Nazi stance could cost him his life. Already people from every village were being taken off to concentration camps for the slightest infractions from absolute Nazi rule.
Mesmerized by the Nazi propaganda machine, Austrians knelt when Hitler entered Vienna, and Catholic churches were just more buildings mandated to fly the swastika flag, among other abusive measures and laws. When other Austrians would say, ‘Heil, Hitler,’ Franz would say, ‘Gröss-Gott!’ (“Praise God!”). Though never part of an organized resistance, Franz Jägerstätter was one of a handful of local denizens 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. One result of the denunciation was that the Gestapo began to monitor the accused’s phone calls, letters, and other communications.
When Jägerstätter witnessed immediate persecution of priests who spoke up against the Nazis (many were arrested and sometimes murdered) as well as learning the fate of euthanasia of the mentally ill, Jägerstätter quickly reasoned whether he should help that sort of regime to conquer the world. This outlook appeared to be shared by Pope Pius XII when, in a meeting with the German Foreign Minister in March 1940, he complained in writing about the persecution of the Church in Germany and Austria.
As 1941 turned into 1942 and then 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.”
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.” 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 on love, “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. Many of the individuals who, similar to Jägerstätter, acted on what they recognized as a Biblical call to social justice laid in obscure, premature graves because they, too, had been condemned to death as enemies of the state.
EXCERPTS FROM FRANZ JÄGERSTÄTTER’S WRITINGS IN 1940:
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.”
Austrian layman Blessed Franz Jägerstätter depicted in stained glass in St. Radegund with his beloved motorcycle. Jägerstätter said: “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 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 was accompanied to Linz by Franziska and brought eleven difficult questions to ask the bishop. “What Catholic,” Jägerstätter asked, “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?” With the Anschluss now three years in place, Jägerstätter met a new and more taciturn bishop. Jägerstätter asked: “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? 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.”
Bishop Fliesser did not resolve Jägerstätter’s questions but sought to remind him of his family responsibility. Jägerstätter bristled at the bishop’s advice on several issues including 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 try to see the bishop more fairly, some have claimed his cautious response was that he feared Jägerstätter could be a Nazi spy. Others claimed that such a pall of collective social dread had settled over the populace that the bishop could not understand or accept how one individual farmer could be so truly courageous. Jägerstätter appreciated the perilous situation that priests and bishops faced if they went against the Third Reich. As a Catholic, Jägerstätter was called to step into the breach so that “the Church would not stay silent in the face of what was happening…(for then) what difference would it make if no church were ever opened again?” Ultimately, at Jägerstätter’s Nazi trial in July 1943 that condemned him, Jägerstätter said: “The Bishop has not experienced the grace that has been granted to me.”
Franz Jägerstätter was born on May 20, 1907 between Salzburg and Braunau am Inn as the illegitimate child of Franz Bachmeier, a farmer’s son, and Rosalia Huber, a housemaid. Jägerstätter was 15 months younger than Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous German pastor, theologian, and anti-Nazi dissident, who was imprisoned and murdered by the Nazis for his nonconformity to the dictates of their politics. Little Franz was first cared for by his widowed grandmother, Elisabeth Huber, and attended a crowded one-room school in St. Radegund where, during World War I, there were episodes of widespread hunger and other disadvantages.
After Franz’s father was killed in World War I, Rosalia married prosperous farmer Heinrich Jägerstätter in 1917 who adopted the boy. After Franz’s formal education ended when he was 14 years old, he remained an avid lifelong 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 work earnings.
Franziska Schwaninger. From the village of Hochburg, Austria, about 8 miles from St. Radegund, she was from a religious family and considered becoming a nun in Ranshofen teaching kindergarten. Told by the nuns to come back in six months, Franziska met Franz Jägerstätter at a turning point in his life. The two light-hearted young people — “We were very jolly and laughed a lot,” she said — had a short engagement before they were married.
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” (brawler) 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 the “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. Supported by his wife’s deep faith, Franz, in addition to his farm work, became the sexton in the local church and started going to mass daily where he received communion. 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 grandmother Rosalia (Jägerstätter’s mother) who never liked Theresia Auer, Hildegard’s mother.
After their wedding Franz and Franziska 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. Bishop Gföllner of Linz ordered that the papal encyclical be read from the pulpit of every parish in pre-Anschluss Austria. The contents of the encyclical worked to add to newlywed Jägerstätter’s mistrust of the Nazi regime. It was around this time that Jägerstätter reported having a dream. In it a fine-looking train was traveling through the mountains and adults and children flocked to it with a majority of adults boarding it. Then, in the dream, someone took Jägerstätter’s hand and told him: “This train is going to hell.” As during the Fatima apparition on July 13, 1917, Jägerstätter had a vision of hell but also purgatory. Jägerstätter reported that “the suffering in purgatory (was) so great.” For Jägerstätter the dream image of the fine-looking moving train was Nazism.
Franziska Schwaninger (1913–2013) of Hochburg, Austria, married Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter on April 9, 1936, during Holy Week. After their wedding they set out to Rome, Italy, for their honeymoon and received Pius XI’s papal blessing.
The young Austrian farmer and husband was well aware of what he termed the constant “creeping up” of Nazism and it led him to make an extensive examination of their outlook and track record. Jägerstätter asked: “Is membership in the Nazi movement…a help or hindrance for us Catholics in achieving blessedness?” While Jägerstätter notes that money is flowing into Christian associations in Germany at a record pace, the simple farmer observes that in several instances it is of “no value” to the state which is reliant on its propaganda and military and police power. “So the Führer wants to constantly test his people to see who’s for or against him. In Germany, before Hitler took over, they used to say that Nazis were not allowed to take Communion. And how do things look now in this great German Reich? Some people go, so it seems, quite placidly up to the altar rail, even though they’re members of the Nazi Party, and have let their children join the Party, or are even training to become Nazi educators themselves. Has the Nazi Party, which has been murdering people in the most atrocious way for more than two years now, really changed its program, making it permissible or a matter of indifference for its members to take Communion? Or have the church leaders already given their decision or approval, so that it’s now allowed for Catholics to join a party which is hostile to the Church? Yes, sometimes it makes you want to just shout out. If you think it over a little, could it come as a surprise if even the most fair-minded were to go crazy in such a country? The way things look, we’re not going to see any bloody persecution of Christians here after all, as the Church now does almost everything the Nazi Party wants or orders.”
Though Jägerstätter accepted the prospect for himself of persecution and suffering for standing up to a murderous Nazi state, he sought to not “throw stones” at the church hierarchy since “after all, they are human.”
After many delays, Jägerstätter was finally called to active duty a third time on February 23, 1943. It was the day after the first leaders of the Munich-based White Rose Nazi resistance student movement Hans Scholl (1918-1943) and Sophie Scholl (1921-1943), who were brother and sister, 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 well-worn 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 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 when Bonhoeffer was moved to Gestapo headquarters in Berlin on Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse (today’s Niederkirchnerstrasse) where he stayed until February 1945. With Bonhoeffer’s execution by hanging at Flossenbürg 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 an Austrian Catholic priest (Franz Reinisch) had been executed as a conscientious objector citing reasons very much like Jägerstätter’s own. That single individual’s martyrdom, echoing Pope Francis’s TED talk, brought a message of hope to Jägerstätter’s plight. Jägerstätter was now clear that he could “change nothing in world affairs (but) at least be a sign that not everyone let themselves be carried away with the tide.”
Bonhoeffer wrote some of his best-known letters at Tegel and Franz also sent missives. In one letter to his wife Franziska, Jägerstätter 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.”
Franziska’s letters to Franz were equally a source of encouragement and reassurance for husband and wife. In a letter dated February 20, 1941, Franziska wrote to Franz: “It is a great comfort to me that you love praying so much, and so can maybe manage to bear everything patiently during this difficult time. From your letters I gather that, despite everything, you aren’t unhappy and often find time to go to church to find consolation and courage there.”
The sign Jägerstätter’s daughters hold reads: Lieber Vater komm bald! (Dear Father come [home] soon!). This photograph was sent to their father in Tegel prison and brought the 36-year-old husband and father to tears of joy.
About ten minutes by motor car from Tegal prison, the Reichskriegsgericht (“Reich Court-Martial”) filed almost 1,200 sentences of capital punishment for various forms of treason, spying, resistance (frauen und männer des widerstand) and conscientious objection (kriegsdienstverweigerer). In the period between August 1939 and February 7, 1945, nearly 90% of these death sentences were carried out. In the same building dealing with charges of treason were also proceedings associated with Hitler’s “Night and Fog” decree. That order of December 7, 1941 directed that any 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 that could ignore normal conventions and procedures for the prisoner’s humane treatment.
Accused by the Third Reich of undermining Wehrkraftzersetzung (“military morale”) —as had been passive resisters Hans and Sophie Scholl 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- an official judgment that punitively cut the person 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, that 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.”
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.
Though fourth century BCE Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato, and later, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) argued for state authority, they also warned of its risks and potential abuses so that, for Aquinas in his Summa Theologica there was the right to resist tyranny and, for Bellarmine, there was no intrinsic divine right of kings. However, the practice of conscientious objection was relatively rare in Western societies prior to World War II. Following the military defeat of Hitler the Catholic Church moved to vocalize a mission to be a moral advocate in terms of social justice. Throughout World War II individuals like Franz Jägerstätter but also Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Hans and Sophie Scholl, Alfred Delp, S.J. (1907-1945), Blessed Nikolaus Gross (1898-1945), Max Metzger (1887-1944), Eugen Bolz (1881-1945), Ernst Volkmann (1902-1941) 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. Despite this theology and the law, the obvious illegitimacy of the Nazi regime that led to the disobedience, refusal, and conscientious objection of individuals such as Jägerstätter, Bonhoeffer, the Scholls, etc., and who cited Biblical and philosophical truth and justice as greater than state authority and, often, the authority of politically-drenched church hierarchs – helped begin the formation of a greater religious sense for the situational dynamics of the individual’s conscience within the state. Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) proved sufficiently intrepid to try to get in front of this new spiritual juggernaut of social justice that had, even with church-state concordats in place, many martyrs’ spilled blood upon it in World War II. On February 18, 1946, the 69-year-old Pius XII appointed as new Cardinals three German bishops who had publicly opposed the Third Reich. Yet for the remainder of this pope’s time on the seat of Peter, the church’s goals and objectives for social justice remained mostly vague and ambiguous.
LEADING RESISTORS TO HITLER’S NAZI REGIME WHO WERE EXECUTED BY THE STATE PRIOR TO AND DURING WORLD WAR II.
HELMUTH JAMES GRAF VON MOLTKE (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/
For Jägerstätter, in regard to Hitler’s demand of virtually religious avowal to the Nazi state— including serving in or supporting Germany’s military expeditions based on their war ideology—these political pressures had reached the limits of the individual’s duty to obey even when faced with the demureness of a social majority or institutions: “Yet Christ also demands that we should make a public avowal of our faith, just as the Führer Adolf Hitler demands a public avowal from his fellow countrymen. God’s Commandments do indeed teach us that we should obey the secular authorities, even if they aren’t Christian, but only as long as they don’t order us to do anything wrong. For we must obey God even more than men.”
On August 9, 1943, Franz Jägerstätter was taken from Tegel to Brandenburg-Görden (or Brandenburg/Havel) prison in the Görden quarter of Brandenburg an der Havel less than 60 miles west of Berlin. Built with a capacity of 1,800, it sometimes held over 4,000 during Nazi rule.
In Franz Jägerstätter’s last letter written from Brandenburg-Görden prison where he was executed on August 9, 1943, the 36-year-old Austrian farmer, husband and father, conscientious objector, and soon martyr 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.”
Offered a New Testament by the prison chaplain, Jägerstätter, lifetime avid reader, sexton, secular Franciscan, and thoughtful and articulate conscientious objector whose biblical passages he had drunk deeply in the pursuit of his solitary self-sacrificial path, particularly in light of his sacramental marriage to Franzika in 1936, calmly refused. Jägerstätter told Fr. Albert Jochmann from Brandenberg: “I am completely bound now in inner union with the Lord, and any reading would only interrupt my communication with God.” The prisoner was then led out to the executioner’s guillotine and, along with 16 other prisoners with the same fate that day, beheaded. Under the Nazis. there were 1,800 people executed in Brandenburg, its murderous operation well-known by the townspeople.
That same evening, only hours after the scheduled 4 p.m. execution, Fr. Jochmann told a group of Austrian nuns that Franz Jägerstätter was the first and only saint he ever met. Jägerstätter’s remains, like the other victims of Nazi executions at Brandenburg, was cremated at the municipal crematorium. Placed in separate urns, the ashes were to be buried anonymously. But Fr. Jochmann and other priests asked cemetery staff to disclose specifically marked burial places that then allowed the nuns at the hospital to plant flowers that marked the graves. The nuns who brought back Franz Jägerstätter’s ashes to be buried in St. Radegund in 1946 were the same order of nuns which Franziska Jägerstätter had looked into joining at Ranshof as a single woman before she met her husband.
Franz Jägerstätter was martyred on the same day as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross or St. Edith Stein (1891-1943) who died in Auschwitz. 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 from the Nazis the official announcement of the execution of her husband, Franz Jägerstätter, together with his last letter.
Before receiving the official announcement and last letter, Franziska wrote back to the prison chaplains (Fathers Jochmann and Heinrich Kreutzberg) revealing some of her loving relationship with her now-late husband: “Have received your kind letter with the words of comfort, many thanks. I particularly thank you from the bottom of my heart for visiting my dear husband so often in prison. It must have made him very happy, to receive words of comfort from representatives of Christ even in his cell, and to even be able to receive the dear Lord Jesus in the Holy Communion, as he always did his best to follow the Commandments. So it will not have been too great a sin that he did not obey the state, and I hope that, with God’s help, he will surely have safely reached his eternal goal after all. I feel very sorry he’s gone, because I’ve lost a dear husband and a good father to my children, and I can also assure you that our marriage was one of the happiest in our parish – many people envied us. But the good Lord intended otherwise, and has loosed that loving bond. I already look forward to meeting again in Heaven, where no war can ever divide us again. I want to say again, with all my heart: may God reward you for all the good you have done my dear husband. With deepest respect and gratitude, Franziska Jägerstätter.”
FRANZ JÄGERSTÄTTER’S LEGACY TODAY.
In terms of Franz Jägerstätter ‘s legacy, a few cursory observations.
Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton (1915-1968) 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).
Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was influenced by the life of Franz Jägerstätter. Merton included a chapter on Jägerstätter in his popular 1968 book Faith and Violence.
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 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.” Jägerstätter who was a conscientious objector to the Nazi war effort, was not necessarily an absolute pacifist regarding just war. Gordon Zahn was a guiding light in the Catholic peace movement as a co-founder of Pax Christi USA. Pax Christi focuses on human rights and security, disarmament and demilitarization, a just world order and religion and peace. Its president Kevin Patrick Dowling, is a South African Redemptorist. See – http://www.paxchristi.net/about-us/why-pax-christi – retrieved July 7, 2021.
Gordon Zahn wrote A Solitary Witness: The Life and Death of Franz Jägerstätter in 1964. Zahn was a conscientious objector during World War II and a co-founder of Pax Christi, the Catholic Peace and Human Rights movement.
The Refusal (Der Fall) is a 94 minute-dramatized film about Franz Jägerstätter orginally released in West Germany in 1971.
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. The sympathetic portrayal of the conscientious objector was originally released in (West) Germany in 1971. Nearly 30 years after Jägerstätter’s execution, actual villagers who knew the film’s protagonist were interviewed.
One of the most recent projects on the life and legacy of Franz Jägerstätter is Terrence Malick’s 2019 biopic film A Hidden Life. The award-winning film stars August Diel and Valerie Pachner as Franz and Franziska Jägerstätter and this film’s evocative narrative makes it clear how the married couple journeyed together through the entirety of Franz’s conscientious objector resistance to Hitler and the Nazi war effort in imprisonment, ostracization by society, and death. The title—A Hidden Life —derives from the early 1870’s novel Middlemarch by George Eliot which, in turn, derives from Paul’s Letter to the Colossians (chapter 3; verse 3).
Jägerstätter’s individual witness helps give loving form and meaning to the whole of Creation itself —God’s creation —and unto God Himself who is often impugned by human beings for having abandoned humanity to evil and hopeless guilt. An early Nazi interrogator questions Jägerstätter’s specific circumstantial decision to resist injustice with a possible challenge by way of a larger context so for him to ponder his stubborn individual refusal to fight for the state authority, in this case, Hitler: “Are you alone wise? How do you know what is good or bad? You know better than I? Did heaven tell you this? Heard a voice? There’s a difference between the kind of suffering we can’t avoid and a suffering we choose. You’ve forgotten what the world looks like. The light. The sky. I didn’t make this world the way it is. And neither did you. We all have blood on our hands. No one is innocent. Crying, bloodshed, everywhere. He who created this world. He created evil. Conscience makes cowards of us all. Take care, my friend. The Antichrist is clever. He uses a man’s virtues to mislead him.”
A standard practice for Nazi operators of the camps, for instance, was to make sure that all its staff were certain to “have blood on our hands.”
While the Nazis emphasized the isolation and control of imprisonment they had over Jägerstätter —and one can view Jägerstätter with pity for this —the film makes increasingly clear as its narrative develops that the conscientious objector to an unjust project stands for himself and all others who, by one or another reason or cause, are not privileged to speak for themselves fully by standing up for what is right. When the prisoner’s defense attorney presents terms to go free that includes an oath of loyalty to Hitler, he tells Jägerstätter, “See here, I’m going to leave this paper with you. Keep it with you. Sign, and you’ll go free.” Jägerstätter, in the Nazi state’s shackles, replies, “But I am free.”
Jägerstätter expresses God’s creation as loving and meaningful despite the nay-sayers by freely accepting the required suffering and self-sacrifice based on his faith in the example and person of Jesus Christ to do it. From Tegel prison Jägerstätter writes, “I’ll write a few words, just as they come from my heart. Even though I’m writing them with bound hands, that’s still better than if my will were bound. These men have no friends. No loving hand to hold theirs. What are you here for? Treason. They’ve seen sorrow. Shame. Destruction. What strong hearts! When you give up the idea of surviving at any price, a new light floods in. Once, you were in a rush, always short of time. Now you have all you need. Once, you never forgave anyone. Judged people without mercy. Now you see your own weakness, so you can understand the weakness of others.”