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Heroic Layman Killed by Nazis Declared a Martyr

From Catholic News Agency:

Vatican City, Jul 8, 2016 / 01:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday Pope Francis moved eight martyrs a step further on the path to sainthood, one of whom is Josef Mayr-Nusser, an Italian layman killed for refusing to swear an oath to Hitler during the Second World War.

The Pope’s recognition of Mayr-Nusser as a martyr was announced July 8 following an audience with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Born Dec. 27, 1910 in the northern Italian city of Bolzano, Mayr-Nusser grew up on a farm and was instilled with Christian values by his parents from a young age.

Since his family was poor and his older brother Jakob was in seminary studying for the priesthood, Mayr-Nusser didn’t study himself, but worked on the farm and later as the clerk for the Eccel company in Bolzano.

He dedicated much of his free time to reading, including many religious works. Among his favorites were the works of Frederic Ozanam, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Thomas More, and the life of St. Vincent de Paul.

At the age of 22 he joined the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, an international Catholic volunteer organization dedicated to serving the poor and disadvantaged, in an effort to imitate the charity of the saint.

Mayr-Nusser was also involved in Catholic Action, and became head its division in the Diocese of Trent in 1934. In 1937 he became president of the Bolzano branch of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, spending a large amount of his time visiting the poor and providing them with both material and spiritual support.

When World War II flared up in Europe in 1939, Mayr-Nusser wasted no time in joining the anti-Nazi movement “Andreas Hofer Bund.”

However, a few years later civil war also broke out in Italy following the 1943 ousting of Benito Mussolini from power, which led to the German occupation of the northern half of the country.

The Nazi regime had established the “Schutzstaffel,” or “protective squadron.” The regime called not only on local men from Nazi Germany to join the squad, but they also took volunteers and conscripted men from both occupied and non-occupied territories.

Mayr-Nusser was among those conscripted from northern Italy, and so in 1944 was enrolled in an SS unit, forcing him to leave his wife and newborn son for training in Prussia.

However, when it came time for the SS members to swear an oath to Hitler, Mayr-Nusser refused.

According to a fellow comrade, he was “pensive and worried,” but told the general with a “strong voice” that “I cannot take an oath to Hitler in the name of God. I cannot do it because my faith and conscience do not allow it.”

Although his friends and tried to convince him to retract his statement and take the oath, Mayr-Nusser refused, believing that Nazi ideals could in no way be reconciled with Christian ethics and values.

As a result he was jailed while he awaited trial. In 1945 he was sentenced to death for treason, and was ordered to march to the Dachau concentration camp, where he was to be shot by firing squad.
However, he fell ill with dysentery along the way and died Feb. 24, 1945, before reaching the camp. When his body was discovered on the train, he had both a Bible and a rosary with him.

Mayr-Nusser’s cause for martyrdom was launched by the Diocese of Bolzano and was approved in 2005, allowing him to receive the title “Servant of God.” Now, Pope Francis’ recognition of his martyrdom has paved the way for his beatification.

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Saints Stories, Uncategorized

The Tough Nun Nurse Who Stood Up to the Nazis

Bl. Maria Restituta Kafka (1894-1943)
Feast: March 30
Beatified: June 21, 1998

We know the Nazis’ wickedness cowed many into silence, but not everyone. Take, for instance, Bl. Maria Restituta.

Born Helen Kafka, she was from a family of Czech extraction, and she grew up in Vienna. After leaving school at 15, Helen tried her hand at various jobs before settling on a nursing career with the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity.

After several months, Helen asked her parents to join the order. When they refused, she ran away from home. Ultimately, her parents relented, and so the congregation accepted her. Helen took the name Restituta after an early martyr who had been beheaded and made her final vows at age 23 in 1918. (One source says that one of the meanings of “Restituta” is “obese.” Given her keen sense of humor, maybe she also chose the name as a joke? We can only speculate.)

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Her hospital’s best surgeon was difficult. Nobody wanted to work with him … except Sr. Restituta, and within a short time, she was running his operating room. Eventually, she became a world-class surgical nurse.

Sister was tough. People called her “Sr. Resolute” because of her stubbornness. Mostly, however, Restituta was easy-going and funny. After work, she’d visit the local pub and order goulash and “a pint of the usual.”

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Given her very vocal opposition to the Nazis, she was also brave. After Restituta hung a crucifix in every room of her hospital’s new wing, the Nazis ordered them taken down. She refused. The crucifixes stayed.

However, when the Gestapo found anti-Nazi propaganda on her, she was arrested and later sentenced to death for treason.

30 - Bl. Maria Restituta Kafka, martyr, mug shot

Sister’s mug shot

Bl. Restituta spent her remaining days ministering to other prisoners. As she approached the guillotine wearing a paper shirt and weighing just half her previous weight, her last words were, “I have lived for Christ; I want to die for Christ.”

She was the only “German” religious living in “Greater Germany” martyred during the Second World War. St. Edith Stein and her sister were living in the Netherlands before their deportation to Auschwitz.)

Fearing that Catholic Christians would promote her as a martyr, the Nazis did not hand over her body. Rather they buried it in a mass grave.

In the Basilica of St. Bartholomew on the Tiber in Rome is a chapel dedicated to 20th century martyrs. The crucifix that hung from Bl. Restituta’s belt is kept there as a relic.

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Saints Stories, Uncategorized

It’s Not Cheesy to Like this Blessed from Münster

Bl. Clemens August von Galen
Memorial: March 22

We’re all familiar with saints who were martyred by the Nazis. Some such as St. Edith Stein were martyred because of Jewish ancestry. Some – St. Maximilian Kolbe, Bl. Marcel Callo – because they were “too” Catholic. And some – Bls. Otto Neurerer, Franz Jägerstatter, Jacob Gapp, SM – because their actions or lives stood somehow in the way of the Nazi state machinery.

But there is at least one man who stood up to the Nazis, openly denounced them, defied them, and yet did not undergo martyrdom.

His name is Bl. Clemens August Cardinal von Galen, “the Lion of Münster.”

Born March 16, 1878, he was a count, the eleventh of 13 children born to Elisabeth von Spee and Ferdinand Heribert Graf (i.e., Count) von Galen. At first he was homeschooled. Due to then-Chancellor Otto von Bismarck’s Kulturkampf, the Jesuits had been outlawed in Westphalia, Prussia (despite its being a majority Catholic state, Westphalia was in Prussia, the heart of the Kulturkampf), and by the time von Galen was a boy, they had still not been legalized. So in 1890, his parents sent his brother and him to school at the Jesuit school in Feldkirch, Austria.

During his first year there, the headmaster wrote his mother, “The main difficulty lies … in Clemens’ complete infallibility. Nothing will bring him to admit that he is wrong; it is always his professors and prefects [who are in error].”

Since Prussia would not recognize a Jesuit education, he had to come home in 1894 and finish his education at a public school. In his senior yearbook, his classmates wrote Clemens was “A man who doesn’t make love [i.e., chase girls] or go drinking; he does not like worldly ways of thinking.”

After graduation in 1896, he entered the Catholic University of Fribourg. A Dominican school, it was here that he became familiar with St. Thomas Aquinas’ works. Then during their first winter break, he and his brother made a pilgrimage to Rome, where they met Leo XIII. It was following this that he decided to enter the clergy.

In 1903, he entered the Münster seminary, and he received holy orders in May 1904.

In 1906, he went to Berlin, where he served as a priest until 1929. It was the period of the post-World War I Weimar Republic, and he was unhappy with its idolization of individualism, its loose social mores (of which Berlin was the epicenter), and the opportunity for societal chaos sown by Germany’s then-nascent socialism and democracy. He believed that democracy put competition for votes above the common good and that the masses could be easily be swayed by politicians’ promises.

Both socialism and Catholicism claimed to speak for the common man. Socialism, however, did so in ways that were often at odds with the gospel, so along with Leo XIII and St. Pius X, he opposed it and labored to keep the people from falling into believing it held the answers for society’s ills. It was not an easy task.

Compounding the situation facing him, Berlin’s population grew from roughly 900,000 in the late 1800s to 4 million by the end of World War I.

And so von Galen worked like mad to serve his parish, visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, helping to get the poor good jobs, and confronting employers who took advantage of their workers. Imagine being confronted by a 6’7” giant with an imposing facial expression.

He wore a very simple cassock, did not take in popular amusements, and had no real vices. All in all, he was an exemplary priest.

During the latter part of his time in Berlin, he served as pastor of St. Matthias Church. This is when he met the papal nuncio, then-Archbishop Eugenio Pacelli. The two understood each other well, so well that the future Pope knew he could mercilessly tease his friend.

One day, Count von Galen warmly greeted the nuncio and said to him, “Your Excellency, leave your work at home and let us enjoy this sunny spring day.”

Pacelli replied, “I cannot afford to. Otherwise I might be like the pastor of St. Matthias and be humiliated by getting stuck [and forgetting what I was saying] during a sermon.” (This had actually happened to von Galen.)

In 1929, he received a transfer to St. Lambert Church in Münster, Germany. Here as in Berlin he worked for his people but also against the trendy forces of secularism. He even wrote a book in 1932 titled, The “Plague of Secularism” [or Laicity] and its Manifestations. (If you know German and want to read the book, its German title is Die “Pest des Laizismus” und ihre Erscheinungsformen.)

The next year, Pius XI appointed him bishop of Münster. Because of his political conservatism and what some saw as his often overbearing public persona, his choice was not universally popular. Indeed the papal nuncio Archbishop Cesare Orsenigo protested against his nomination. (Then again, considering Orsenigo’s later record of coddling the Nazis, maybe this is to von Galen’s credit?)

With others, the hardworking pastor of souls was much beloved. Even they, however, acknowledged, “The Holy Spirit will have to work a lot.”

In any event, he became for his people the very icon of the Good Shepherd.

Like many of his fellow Germans, including the Nazis, he found the Treaty of Versailles punitive and thus unjust.

Unlike the Nazis, he condemned race baiting and demonization of the Jews for the nation’s problems.

Hitler took power on January 30, 1933. Von Galen began criticizing the Nazis the next year (he had been consecrated bishop on October 28, 1933), showing he took seriously his episcopal motto: Nec Laudibus, Nec Timore (loosely translated: “Neither the praise nor the fear of men will make me deviate from God’s ways”).

Specifically it was one day shy of a year later—January 29, 1934—that he released a pastoral letter condemning the Nazis’ belief on the superiority of the so-called Arian race. He edited a book of essays excoriating the National Socialists’ main philosopher Alfred Rosenberg. In 1936, he gave a sermon in the cathedral at Xanten denouncing the imprisonment and even killing of Christians. (This preceded Kristallnacht, which took place in 1938.)

Because of his outspokenness, Pius XI invited him to Rome in 1937 to consult with him on the German situation. It was there that he, along with now-Cardinal Pacelli and four other of his nation’s bishops that von Galen had a hand in writing Pius’s anti-Nazi encyclical Mit brennender Sorge (“With Burning Concern”). To this day it is the only one ever written in German. (The link takes you to the English translation.)

Bl. Clemens exhorted Catholic parents to insist on a Catholic education in the schools for their children. Whereas such an education was eliminated in other parts of the nation, von Galen succeeded in keeping it in place in schools within the diocese.

The Reich’s local minister of schools wanted religious instruction coupled with talk about the “demoralizing power” of “the people of Israel.” Von Galen rebuffed him.

When the Nazis took crucifixes down off of classroom walls, Bl. Clemens protests resulted in public demonstrations against the regime.

Then in 1941, he gave a series of three sermons. He had wanted the German episcopal conference to stand in unison against the state, but none of his brother bishops had the courage. Therefore he decided to go it alone.

The first sermon criticized arrests of certain Jesuits as being purely politically motivated.

He publicly criticized the Gestapo for arresting people in the middle of the night and not giving those arrested trials.

“The Gestapo, he argued, reduced even the most decent and loyal citizens to fear of ending up in a cellar prison or a concentration camp.”

In the second, given a week later, July 20, 1941, he condemned confiscation of Church property by the Gestapo. He argued that the police state was doing more damage to Germany than Allied bombs

In the third, given August 3, he denounced in the most vocal terms possible the euthanization of those with mental or physical deformities. The chaplain at Marienthal children’s home for the mentally retarded had told him of their removal, their murder, and cremation with their ashes scattered in remote places throughout the Reich.

He also condemned forced sterilization and concentration camps.

Regarding the taking of human life, he said “the right to life, to inviolability, and to freedom is an indispensable part of any moral social order, [and any government that punishes without court proceedings]” undermines its own authority and respect for its sovereignty within the conscience of its citizens.”

“These are people, our brothers and sisters; maybe their life is unproductive, but productivity is not a justification for killing.”

The Attorney General had said these people were being killed because they were no longer productive and that their being liquidated was no different than scrapping an old machine or putting to sleep a horse whose limbs had been broken.

Von Galen retorted, “No, I will not take this comparison to its conclusion, so fearful is [this sense that doing wrong is justified] and its clarity! This is not about machines. It is not a horse or a cow … No, these are people, our neighbors, our brothers and sisters! Poor people, sick people, unproductive people, [for the sake of argument]! But [because of that] they have lost the right to life? Have you, have I only the right to live so long as we are productive, so long as we are recognized by others as productive?”

His denunciations (and those of Protestant Bishop Theophil Wurm of Württemberg) raised awareness of what the government was doing to the mentally challenged. As a result, public opposition was stoked, and it was furious.

His sermon was reproduced and tens of thousands of copies distributed throughout the nation. This surprised his episcopal peers who thought him of limited intellectual capacity and attributed his eloquence to the Holy Spirit.

His work prompted Ven. Pius XII (Pacelli had become Pope in 1939) to write him, “For us it is always a comfort when we become aware of the open and courageous words of a German bishop … you, venerable brother, [by contrast] are the last, we need to mention this specifically.”

His prophetic voice may also have goaded the German episcopate into action. Or maybe it was that by then the Nazis’ crimes had become so difficult to ignore that even the most timid could no longer remain silent.

Regardless in September 1943, Germany’s bishops released a pastoral letter. They wrote, “Killing is bad in itself, even if it is allegedly committed in the public interest.”

Von Galen became so popular by raising awareness and giving voice to the opposition that existed within Nazi Germany that the regime dare not arrest him. It wanted to. In official reports he was said to have a “staatsabträgliche Gesinnung” (a mind deleterious to the state), which was a death sentence for most people. He knew officials wanted him arrested as early as 1936, as evidenced by instructions he wrote on what to do if he was “disabled.”

But while they didn’t arrest him, they did arrest and deport 24 diocesan and 18 religious priests, 10 of whom died as martyrs. It greatly distressed His Lordship that his children were sacrificed as a substitution for him.

We should note that the Nazi’s reluctance in imprisoning the bishop didn’t mean the regime had no plans for him. Had they won the war, Bl. Clemens would have been hung.

Hitler said, “The fact that I remain silent in public over Church affairs is not in the least misunderstood by the sly foxes of the Catholic Church, and I am quite sure that a man like Bishop von Galen knows full well that after the war, I shall extract retribution to the last penny.”

However Hitler lost the war, and following cessation of hostilities, von Galen changed the target of his protests to the Allies. He complained of Russians raping German women and about Allied and British troops entering his fellow citizens’ home and acting with impunity based on “the false view that all Germans are criminals and deserve the most severe punishment, including death and extermination!”

He told reporters in front of the British, “Just as I fought against Nazi injustices, I will fight any injustice, no matter where it comes from.”

And indeed, on July 1, 1945, he protested British behavior in a sermon that was copied and distributed throughout Germany. They told him to renounce his words. You can probably guess his response.

By the time Ven. Pius made him a cardinal on February 5, 1946, he had become a worldwide celebrity. Thus when the Pope placed the red hat on his head, the applause in St. Peter’s Basilica was thunderous and lasted for several minutes.

Before he returned to Germany, Cardinal von Galen visited German POWs at camps in Taranto and Bari, Italy, and during his talks to prisoners, he seemed to prophecy his death. He told them, “My time is almost over, and when I’m up there, just speak to me.”

Upon his arrival at Münster, huge crowds met him. In a speech given before the bombed out hull of his cathedral, he told the people that it was only the consent and attitude of the faithful allowed him to fight. With his voice cracking, however, he also lamented that he had been denied the crown of martyrdom.

He died of a ruptured appendix days after returning from Rome. His last words were, “Yes, yes, as God wills it. May God reward you. God protect the dear fatherland. Go on working for Him… Oh, You dear Savior!”

It is interesting to note that Cardinal von Galen’s episcopate began nine months after Hitler came to power and ended ten months after the Third Reich’s demise. Some believe this was providential.

At his core, Bl. Clemens was a believer who placed himself always at the feet of God, and it was this foundation that explains his fearless witness before men. He prayed each day before the Blessed Sacrament. He made pilgrimages to the shrine of Our Lady at Telgte to beg her protection from the “malignant foe.” He regularly attended the sacrament of reconciliation with great duty and devotion and attention.

As one Italian writer has put it, today we may not suffer from the tyranny of a dictator and his party. But we do labor under the tyranny of a society that veritably commands us to say “yes” to whatever is fashionable, whatever is deemed the current conventional wisdom, even if that means we say “no” to God.

For this sort of tyranny, Bl. Clemens serves as a model of charitable yet firm Christian frankness, and he gives us an icon of great faith and devotion from which we can draw strength.

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Saints Stories, Uncategorized

The Nerdy-Looking Martyr

Bl. Marcel Callo
Memorial: March 19

Saints come in all shapes and sizes. They even come looking like the quintessential nerd.

Case in point? Bl. Marcel Callo, a Frenchman who lost his life doing slave labor at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.

Bl. Marcel was born December 6, 1921, as one of nine children in Rennes, which is in Brittany, northwestern France. His father was a failed farmer turned chemical factory worker. His mother served in the home.

After leaving school at age 13 to help his family pay the bills, Marcel became an apprentice printer. When his mother asked him why he did not enter the seminary like his brother, Marcel told her, “I do not feel called to the priesthood; I think I do more good by remaining in the world.”

And he did do good. Despite how one might judge his somewhat nerdy looks, he was a terrific leader. He had a great sense of humor, and while he wasn’t an athlete (he did play sports, though), he was very good at ping pong and cards. He liked going to the movies and dances.

Once he scandalized some adults by organizing a group outing to the cinema on All Soul’s Day. Despite his elders’ complaints, the group went. Afterward these youth not only showed up for Mass that day, they arrived early.

A friend later said, “We thought that in order to be a good Christian, all you had to do was your morning and evening prayer and go to Sunday Mass—not much else. Since Marcel taught me, I no longer just ‘attend’ Mass, I try to participate, coming not with ‘empty hands,’ but with something to offer from my life.”

Marcel was an altar server and a Boy Scout, and he was devout from a young age. In fact another group he joined was the Eucharistic Crusade, whose motto was, “Pray, receive Holy Communion, offer yourself up, and be an apostle.”

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Marcel as a Boy Scout.

In fact Callo was so devout and took his faith so seriously, he wouldn’t hang out with his fellow workers at the print shop. Why? Because they cussed and said inappropriate things about women.

One day he came home and complained about the bawdy talk. His mother taught him that the way to fight them was not with words but with a short prayer of consecration to the Blessed Mother: “Dear Mother, remember that I belong to you. Watch over and protect me as your very own possession.”

Thereafter whenever there was a break, Callo would find an unfrequented part of the shop and kneel on the ground to pray this prayer.

To help with his efforts to be a Christian in the workplace, Marcel joined an organization that is prominent just about everywhere but North America, the Young Christian Workers. Founded by the late Belgian prelate and Servant of God Joseph Cardinal Cardjin, the YCW’s members, said Cardjin, had “a divine mission from God, second only to that of the priest, to bring the whole world to Christ.”

Callo realized that separating himself from his poorly formed companions might keep him pure. It wouldn’t, however, bring them “to Christ.”

Therefore he studied the Church’s social teaching so he could discuss the questions of the day from a Catholic perspective. He also resolved to be the hardest and best worker of the group. Soon his coworkers saw this and that he always respectfully stood up for himself and his beliefs and usually had good arguments.

“Marcel quickly understood that the ideal of the [YCW] was to help workers understand the dignity of their work, which they believed to be scorned, and to make them aware that they were all children of God. This required apostles who were proud to belong to Christ, who were pure, joyful, and triumphant. Some evenings, the discussions were acrimonious. Marcel, who had an uncompromising nature, knew his first head-on conflicts—nevertheless, his comportment commanded respect. Sometimes, when their words or wrongdoings shocked him, he did not hesitate to express his anger, without however losing respect for his opponents. Little by little, he learned to master his outbursts, and after saying all he had to in defense of the truth quickly found peace again.”

Marcel was by no means perfect. According to one source, “His main fault was without question stubbornness, but he recognized his faults. At school, he was reprimanded for his uneven work—yet, all in all, his teachers found him hard working …”

“We are often poor instruments in the hands of God because we have bad habits, bad inclinations,” he wrote. “Sin dampens our spiritual life, lowers us, and keeps us from being activists, from dedicating ourselves. It is in the measure that we put on Christ that we will work for the good of the community. Every day I must be a little more conformed to Christ.”

Before the Nazis invaded France in 1940, there was a steady stream of Eastern European refugees. Marcel and his YCW friends would go to the train station to give these struggling people assistance.

One of his partners in such endeavors, Marguerite Derniaux, he asked to be his partner in life. She said yes. She was the first girl he had ever dated. He had waited until he was 20 to start looking for a wife because as he later told a friend, “I knew I had to wait for real love. I had to perfect my heart before I could offer it to the one whom Christ had chosen for me.”

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Marcel and Marguerite

Because of the war, however, the two never married. They did attend Mass and receive the Eucharist together on a frequent basis, though, and they prayed for their future family.

When the Germans were conquering France, they bombed Rennes, including the building in which Marcel’s younger sister Madeleine was working. To his grieving parents he said, “If God has taken Madeleine from us, it is because He judged her ready for Heaven. Later, would she have had the same dispositions? Might she not have been lost? Providence knows better than us what must be done.”

On March 19, 1943, the Germans conscripted him for forced labor. For over a week, he debated whether to go or do like many young men of the time and head for the bush to join the French Resistance (the French word for the “bush” is maquis, and the Resistance was called “le Maquis” because they were guerrilla fighters who waged war from the bush). Realizing, though, that if he didn’t go, the Germans would exact revenge on his family, he reported at the appointed time.

At the train station, his fiancée told him he would die a martyr, to which he incredulously replied, “I could never deserve such an honor.”

The Germans sent him to Zella-Mehlis is a town in the Schmalkalden-Meiningen district, in the state of Thuringia, Germany. It was the site of the Walther Arms and J.G. Anschutz weapons factories. There he labored in a sweltering plant on his feet for 10 hours each day. After work, however, he helped coordinate Masses for his fellow conscripts, retreats, and other meetings. Soon he became head of the YCW in Zella-Mehlis.

A year and a month later to the day of his leaving Rennes, the Gestapo arrested him for his apostolate amongst his fellow prisoners. The arresting officer said his incarceration was because “Monsieur is too much a Catholic.”

The young man took his rosary, shook his friend Joel’s hand, and asked him, “Write to my parents and my fiancée and tell them I’ve been arrested.”

The context is this: The infamous war criminal and SS General Ernst Kaltenbrunner had signed a document titled, “Activity of French Catholic Action among the French civilian workers in the Reich.” It created in the Reich Main Security Office the “antikatholischen Dezernat” (anti-Catholic Department) as part of the Gestapo section dedicated to eradicating “politschen Katholizismus” (political Catholicism) and anyone seen as promoting it, regardless of nationality. This is largely what started the concentrated persecution of Catholics and the subsequent martyrdoms across German-occupied Europe.

Part of what triggered this was an effort by the French bishops. After the Germans started conscripting French labor, the Church deployed priests to minister to these men. As such in 1943, they secretly sent 26 priest to Germany posing as conscripted workers. Supporting them in this were members of the YCW, people such as Bl. Marcel.

In fact, when Marcel had left in 1943, he said, “I’m leaving not as a worker but as a missionary in the service of my companions—there is so much to do to make Christ known,” although it wasn’t until November 1943 that former Carmelite seminarian Jean Tinturier recruited him in Germany for this purpose (Tinturier would later be arrested for his “work for Catholic Action amongst the French, while serving compulsory labor, as a danger to the German people;” he died at Mauthausen three days before Marcel)

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Jean Tinturier

It was around the same time as he been approached by Tinturier that Callo got to go to Mass, something he had not been able to readily do since leaving home. Up to this point, he had progressively grown more and more depressed and was losing weight.

He wrote Marguerite, “The two months after my arrival were painful and hard. I had no interest in anything. I had become insensitive, I felt I was going slowly … But suddenly Christ made ​​me react. He made ​​me realize what I was doing was not proper. He told me not to give in to despair. He told me to take care of my friends, and the joy of life came back to me.”

This was necessary because as Callo’s cellmate in Gotha Fernand Morin recounted, “Many young people—cut off from their usual habits, their families, in the middle of this forced exile—found themselves disoriented, and soon their lower instincts emerged. The YCW, Boy Scouts, seminarians and of course priests responded quickly and got them regrouped …”

He described Callo as a lively, jovial sort, who was warm and always writing his family and fiancée on whatever scraps of paper he could find.

“He lived on the memory of his fiancée,” says one source, “about whom he spoke often, which forestalled some of his fellow workers’ bawdy talk. He only needed to arrive on the scene for the tone to change, for simply his presence inspired respect.”

In addition to times of prayer and spiritual reflection, Marcel also organized card games, theater presentations, and sports.

That Marcel achieved all of this in the labor camp is remarkable. Making his efforts even more impressive is that he suffered from boils, stomach pains, skin burns, infected teeth, and headaches.

Emmanuel Cardinal Suhard, archbishop of Paris somehow heard of his efforts and wrote, “Thank you for the good that you are doing among your fellow workers. I bless your labors and pray for you.”

The Gestapo received the Kaltenbrunner document on December 3, 1943, beginning the persecution of the no-longer-secret priests and their YCW cooperators. The wave of persecution reached its peak in spring 1944. While some of the activists got sent back to France, the majority—including Marcel—got placed in concentration camps.

On October 7, Callo first got sent to Gotha. There by God’s providence he and his companions were all housed in a single barracks they called “The Upper Room.” The guards called it “The Church,” because an Evangelical pastor had once been imprisoned there and had preached to his fellow inmates. With them was a priest with a missal. Another man had a rosary. Another had woven a cross made of flowers. (It has survived to this day. In 2005, Fernand, his roommate at Gotha, donated it to the French Church.)

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The flower cross that survived the War.

Here he wrote his brother, “Fortunately, [Jesus] is a Friend, who never deserts me for an instant. He supports and consoles me. With Him, you can bear everything, even those terrible hours so filled with torment. How grateful I am to Christ. He has marked out the path for me, and now I am walking in it…. This painful separation will enable me to understand life a bit better—it is in suffering that we become better.”

On July 16, he received Communion. It had been 88 days since his previous reception. He did not know it would be the last time. He wrote in his secret diary, “Communion. Great joy.”

Then Marcel was moved to Flossenburg. Finally on October 20, the Germans took him to the Gusen I and Gusen II satellites of the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, about 25 miles away from Linz.

Early in its history, Mauthausen had morphed from a mere prison for run of the mill convicts into an “extermination by labor” camp, designed for the Nazis’ political and ideological enemies. The Germans in the Reich Main Security Office nicknamed it Knochenmühle – the bone-grinder (literally bone-mill). Its purpose was to force men to labor for 12 hours each day. In Marcel’s case, he labored in B8 Bergkristall, the code name for an underground aircraft factory for the mass production of Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighters.

After a few months the inmates would become “Muselmänner,” that is, too sick to work. If not already dead, they might be left to die in the infirmary, killed by lethal injection, or placed inside a gas chamber that could hold 120 people.

Marcel died on March 19, 1945, from various diseases. He had become one of Muselmänner, having contracted tuberculosis, a painful skin condition, and dysentery. He actually did quite well, in a certain respect. The average inmate coming into Mauthausen at this time survived only three months. He had survived roughly five.

His fellow inmate, French Resistance officer Col. Albert Tibodo says that on the day Marcel died, he had crawled to the pit that served as a toilet to relieve himself yet again … and fell in. Tibodo pulled him out.

Knowing the 23-year-old was dying, the colonel later recounted, “Then I saw that he was not a normal boy … he had only one look. His eyes were seeing something else … His eyes expressed the deep conviction that he was going to happiness … “

At Callo’s beatification inquest, Tibodo declared that this look “was an act of Faith and Hope in a better life. Never have I seen on another dying man—and I have seen thousands—a look like his. He had the look of a saint. It was a revelation for me.”

One report says that for some reason he was not cremated but buried in a mass grave. In any event, his remains have never been found.

Interestingly it was not the French bishops who proposed his beatification but those of German and Austria as a means of reconciliation and promoting Franco-Germanic peace.

His beatification took place on October 4, 1987, in St. Peter’s square. During his homily, Pope St. John Paul II told the congregation, “To all of us, laypeople, monks, priests, and bishops, [Marcel Callo] points out the universal call for holiness: that holiness and youth of spirit, of which our old western world stands in such great need, that it may proclaim the Gospel ‘in season and out of season’” (2 Tim 4: 2).

He continued, “Marcel did not achieve evangelical perfection at once. Although he was talented and full of good will, he had to engage in a long struggle with the spirit of the world, with himself, and with the weight of people and things. But he was fully open to the workings of grace and allowed God to lead him by degrees—to the very point of martyrdom. His love of Christ achieved maturity amid trials…. Having achieved eternal joy with God, Marcel Callo is living proof that the Christian faith does not remove earth from heaven. We prepare for heaven here, on earth, in justice and love. When we love, we are ‘blessed.’”

A quick note about Marguerite. She never married. She became a postal clerk and died in 1997.

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News About Saints

Pope Names Members to Stepinac Commission

Croatian prelate and martyr Bl. Alojzije Cardinal Stepinac is a controversial figure, putting it mildly. He is accused of cooperating with the pro-Nazi Ustaše government during World War II and of being hostile to the Jews and Eastern Orthodox. Given the concerns, Pope Francis has called for a commission to study whether his cause for canonization should proceed. He recently named the Catholic members. You can read more here.

For what it’s worth, Louis Brier, late president of the American Association of Jews, said at the time of Stepinac’s show trial that “This great man [Stepinac] was tried as a collaborator of Nazism. We protest this slander. He has always been a sincere friend of Jews and was not hiding this even in times of cruel persecution under the regime of Hitler and his followers. He was the greatest defender of the persecuted Jews.”

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