Category Archives: christian

An American story about an Irish priest, a brave girl, and the KKK

Father James Coyle                                                     en.wikipedia.org

By Larry Peterson

Each and every one of us is an individual work of art, crafted by God for Himself. Why would He do that? He does it because He is Love and wants to share Himself with us. We all are truly special in His eyes. He loves us all, individually and without reservation.

 

He will forgive each and every one of us for anything we might do to offend Him. All we have to do is admit it and ask Him for his forgiveness. However, that great interloper called “Pride”, oftentimes places for many, immovable roadblocks to humility, everyone’s needed ally on their path to Love.

 

What follows is an “American” story about a Catholic priest and a member of the Ku Klux Klan. It is about love and hatred in America. This is not about the present day. This happened in Birmingham, Alabama in the year 1921.

 

Father James Edwin Coyle had been born and raised in Ireland and, at the age of 23, was ordained a priest in Rome. The year was  1896.  That same year he was dispatched to the Diocese of Mobile, Alabama to begin his ministry. Father Coyle served eight years in Mobile. While there he also became a charter member of Mobile Council 666 of the Knights of Columbus.

 

Birmingham was rapidly growing and was turning into one of the primary steel-making centers in America. Thousands were flooding into the area and Bishop Patrick Allen assigned Father Coyle to be pastor of the Cathedral of St. Paul in Birmingham. This was in 1904.

 

In 1915, inspired by the silent film, “Birth of a Nation” , the second generation of the Ku Klux Klan rose up (the link can explain the first and third generations). These folks were not only anti-black they also hated Roman Catholics, Jews, organized labor and foreigners. They started the use of the “burning cross” as their symbol. By the mid-1920s, there were over 4 million klansmen nationwide.

 

Father Coyle was a passionate priest who loved his faith deeply and this love was infectious. He taught and inspired his parishioners about the beauty and importance of the Mass and Holy Eucharist and he held a deep devotion to Our Blessed Mother.

 

The parish grew as Catholics gravitated to the Irish shepherd in their midst. He became the chaplain for the Birmingham Council 635 of the Knights of Columbus and his presence there brought in more members from the growing Catholic community.

 

As the Catholic population in Alabama grew, virtual hysteria on the part of the Ku Klux Klan began to permeate daily life. The Klan was spreading rumors and innuendo about Catholics kidnapping protestant women and children and keeping them imprisoned in convents, monasteries and Catholic hospitals. The Klan even spread the narrative that the Knights of Columbus was the military arm of the Pope and that they were stockpiling weapons for the upcoming insurrection.

 

One of the leading Catholic-haters of the day was a klansman by the name of  Edwin Stephenson. Stephenson lived about a block or two away from St. Paul’s Church. His daughter, Ruth, at about the age of 12, had become fascinated by the comings and goings of the Catholics at St. Paul’s every day. One day she walked down to the church and  Father Coyle was outside. They began to talk. Her father saw talking to the priest and, screaming at his child, demanded she go home immediately. Then he had a few choice words to say to Father Coyle. He then went home and beat his daughter.

 

Young Ruth was undeterred and over the next several years even managed to secretly take instruction from the nuns at the Convent of Mercy. She was baptized a Catholic on April 10,1921. She was 18 years old. When her parents found out their wedding gift to her was the worst beating she had ever received.

 

On August 11, 1921, Ruth Stephenson, of legal age, was seeking full emancipation from her parents. She did this by marrying Pedro Gussman, a former handyman who had worked at the Stephenson house several years earlier. The priest that performed the wedding was a reluctant Father James Coyle.

Later that afternoon, Mr. Stephenson loaded up his rifle and began walking to St. Paul’s Church. He had just found out that it was Father Coyle who had performed the wedding. His heart was not filled with love. Rather, with hatred spilling from his eyes, he walked up onto the porch of St. Paul’s where Father Coyle was sitting down reading and shot the priest three times. The final bullet went right through Father Coyle’s head. He died in less than an hour.

 

Stephenson turned himself in and was charged with Father Coyle’s murder. The KKK paid for the defense, the judge was a Klansman and the lawyer who defended Stephenson was Hugo Black, the future U. S. Supreme Court Justice. Although not a Klan member at the time of trial, Black did become a member afterward. The verdict took only a few hours to come in. It was “Not Guilty”.

 

Father James Edwin Coyle was a Catholic priest who loved his God, his Faith, and his Church. He was hated and murdered because of it. May he forever rest in peace.

 

copyright©Larry Peterson 2017

St. Madeleine Sophie Barat; The Preemie Who Grew Up to Change the World

By Larry Peterson

It was December 12, 1779 and Madame Fouffe Barat was seven months pregnant with her third child. She had been sleeping comfortably when screams and the smell of smoke awoke her. She sat up and saw the flames outside her window. They were coming from her neighbor’s house.  The sudden trauma of what was happening caused the frightened woman to begin early labor. Consequently, her daughter, Madeline Sophie Barat, was born two months premature. The fire did not touch the Barat home.

Baby Madeline was so tiny and frail they were sure she would die, so they had her baptized as soon as the church opened that morning. They asked a woman on her way to Mass, Louise-Sophie Cedor, and Madeline’s older brother, Louis, age 11, to stand in as godparents. And so it was that baby Madeline did not die that morning. Rather, she began a life that would ultimately bring thousands upon thousands to Jesus Christ.

Madeline’s family had been in in the Burgundy area for generations. Her dad was a wine-cooper (someone who made wooden barrels for wine), and the family was well provided for. He was a respected craftsman practicing a trade that was highly regarded with much history behind it.

Madeline’s brother, Louis, had a brilliant mind and by the age of nine had decided to become a priest. His parents believed in their boy and hired a tutor to help him study at home. When he was 16, he was able to begin his studies for the priesthood. However, he was too young to be ordained so he returned home to bide his time until he was 21 and could return to the seminary.

Madeline was still a young child, and Louis decided to educate her. His lessons for his little sister included Latin, Greek, history, science, and math. Madeline was receiving an education that most young girls of that time could only have dreamed about. However, the onset of the French Revolution in 1789, changed everything. When the Pope condemned the new French Constitution, Louis rejected his loyalty oath to the “state.” He was arrested in and spent three years in prison. Only through the intervention of a close friend was he able to get out of jail and evade the guillotine.

Louis, now an ordained priest, moved to Paris and took Madeline with him. By the time Madeline was 18 years old she had received an education from her brilliant brother that far surpassed anything she might have obtained anywhere else. Since she and Louis had to live in a “safe house,” she also learned to work with her hands. She became an excellent embroideress and seamstress to help support them. But God’s ever watchful eye had been on Madeline since her birth. Bigger things would need her attention.

Madeline had originally planned to join the Carmelites. But the trauma of the French Revolution led her in a different direction. She decided she wanted to make known the “love of God as made known in the Heart of Christ.” She also wanted to direct her attention to all young women, rich and poor alike.

Highly educated, determined yet filled with great humility, Madeline Sophie Barat founded the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The women joining her new order would be trained to teach young women the faith as taught by Holy Mother Church. The year was 1800 and Madeline was only 20 years old. She became Mother Madeline and by the age of 23 was elevated to the position of Superior General of the order, a position she would hold for the next 65 years.

Mother Madeline’s natural leadership skills and her affinity for all people would be the catalyst for the rapid growth of the order and success of the schools.  Mother Madeline and her fledgling order of nuns began growing and spreading rapidly. Madeline’s quest was for the restoration of Christian life in France, and she believed it could be accomplished through the education of young women.

The Society of the Sacred Heart had opened their first school in Amiens in northern France in 1801. There followed a school for the poor of the town, and further growth happened much quicker than ever expected. Before long the order was doing work within all of Europe. As the order and the schools it ran expanded, Mother Madeline grew also. She was transformed by all the different women joining her Society and her natural way with folks became pronounced. She even inspired those having only brief encounters with her.

In 1826 Mother Madeline received papal approval of her order. The order grew to 105 houses in many countries. St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, (who had joined the order in 1804) and four of her followers brought the Society to the United States in 1818. Today there are several thousand members spread out through 41 countries around the world. Their mission remains the same; “to reveal the love of God to the world through the Sacred Heart of His Son.”

Mother Madeline Sofie Barat died in Paris, France on May 25, 1865. She was 85 years old. St. Madeline was quoted as saying, “Be humble, be simple, bring joy to others.” St. Madeline practiced what she preached.

Madeline Sofie Barat was beatified by Pope St. Pius X in 1908 and canonized a saint by Pope Pius XI in 1925.

St. Madeline Barat, please pray for us.

©LaryPeterson 2018

Dementia and Medication Distribution–a Daily Challenge for the Caregiver

Small pill organizer

By Larry Peterson

In America, one in ten people over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s Disease. (Alzheimer’s Disease is only one of many types of dementia. There are also other types, such as Vascular Dementia or Lewy Body Dementia and many others). Please note: There is no “magic” pill that can cure Alzheimer’s Disease.

Since I was the caregiver for my wife, Marty, who had this insidious illness, I thought I could share some of my experience in dealing with the medication factor. It was a challenge, to say the least, because the meds were being constantly adjusted and oftentimes changed to something different.

Medicine distribution by the caregiver could be the most critical factor in a person’s quality of life. Medications are powerful and, if used as directed, cannot only prolong the patient’s life but can also help maintain a better quality of life for a longer period of time. Please note: There is no “magic pill” that cures Alzheimer’s Disease.

My first tip is, and I believe this may be the best tip I can give anyone: You called a plumber when you had a broken water pipe so now you have called a doctor for a damaged loved one. You need their expertise and you should expect crisp, clear answers to any questions you may have. Whether or not the patient is your spouse, child, parent, grandparent or old Aunt Lucille, never be afraid to ask a question.

Alzheimer’s Disease presents in three general stages; early stage (mild), middle-stage (moderate), and late-stage (severe). During the early stages, the patient will still be able to interact with you about the medications they are receiving. However, as time goes by, invariably these meds will change and increase in dosages. In addition, the patient will start to lose the ability to understand what is going on. That is when your responsibility begins moving into high gear especially when it comes to med distribution.

Marty suffered from several illnesses. Besides Alzheimer’s Disease, she was recovering from cancer, (Lymphoma),  had A-Fib (Atrial Fibrillation is a leading cause of strokes) and a severely broken ankle. This required the involvement of not only her primary care doctor but also an oncologist, a cardiologist, and an orthopedist. They had all prescribed different meds.

The first time you are presented with a bag of various medications it can be an intimidating experience. You look in the bag and see a bunch of vials and a packet of paperwork. The paperwork includes individual explanations and descriptions of each of the meds in the bag. Take a breath, stand each vial on the table or counter and match each one to its corresponding paperwork.

Next step is to make a list of every one of the meds, the dosage of each, and how many times a day it is supposed to be given. (FYI–the letter X denotes times per day so a 3X means three times a day). I entered my list into a word.doc format and stored it on my computer. This way it was easy to update as doses and meds were changed by the doctors. I also printed copies out and always had one with me when visiting one of the doctors or making a visit to the hospital.

The next thing you MUST do for yourself is to purchase a pill box organizer. These are (in my opinion–indispensable). Since I had to distribute meds 4X a day I purchased an organizer that had four rows of seven-day pockets with snap-lock lids. I also had an organizer that had two rows of seven pockets which I used for vitamin supplements.

Once a week, usually on a Saturday evening, I would clear the table and spread the medicine vials out. After several weeks I began to know exactly where everything was supposed to go. For example; Furosemide (a water pill aka Lasix) could only be given on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, Coumadin (a blood thinner, was given in doses of  6mg  4X a week and 7.5 mg 3X a week). The pillbox organizer made it quite simple to separate these meds properly into their designated days.

Once the pill box organizer was filled I was ready for the week ahead. When Sunday morning came the routine started all over. I just had to open the Sunday morning box and take out those pills and give them to my patient. Then it was off to Mass.

©Copyright 2017 Larry Peterson

The Priest asked, "He must be heavy?" The Boy answered, "No Father, He ain't heavy, He's my Brother." *

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

By Larry Peterson

It was somewhere near Omaha, Nebraska and the year was 1918.  A young, Catholic priest was walking down the dirt road near the boy’s orphanage he had recently opened. The priest came upon two boys, one carrying the other on his back. The priest stopped and said to the boy doing the carrying, “Well now lad, he must be heavy.”

The boy, hunched over from the weight of the younger boy on his back, answered, “No Father, he ain’t heavy. He’s my brother.”

Father Edward Joseph Flanagan, the priest from County Roscommon, Ireland, soon to become an American citizen, smiled and said, “Follow me boys and welcome. You’re safe here.”

The priest  had surely followed an unintended, circuitous route to find himself in Nebraska. It is believed that he entered the world prematurely. The story goes that during the first days of baby Edward’s life (he was the eighth of eleven children) his grandpa, Patrick, clutched his tiny grandson close to his chest. Then he sat by the hearth for hours on end with his big, calloused hands enfolded around the tiny baby’s body.  The warmth, prayers and love that engulfed the child brought him through and he survived.

Father Flanagan with kids at Boys Town  fatherflanagan.org
Edward came to America in 1904. He had graduated college in Ireland and was able to enter Mt. St Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, MD. Here he received his BA degree in 1906 and his MA degree in 1908. From there he headed to Dunwoodie (just north of NYC, bordering Yonkers) and entered St. Joseph’s Seminary (often referred to simply as Dunwoodie).

Double pneumonia complicated by weak lungs from his premature birth, forced Edward to leave Dunwoodie in his first year. He moved to Omaha, Nebraska, to be with his brother, Father Patrick Flanagan and his sister, Nellie. They helped him back to full health and then it was off to Italy for more study. His next stop would be Innsbruck, Austria where he was ordained a priest in 1912. After his ordination  he was assigned back to Omaha.

Ironically, Father Flanagan wound up at St. Philomena’s Parish. St. Philomena, the patroness of babies and youth, may have been sending a subtle message from above as to where the young priest’s life would be heading. It was a only a few years later that Father Flanagan opened up a home for homeless boys in Omaha.

Bishop Jeremiah Harty; Bishop of Omaha, after being pestered by the spunky and tenacious priest, finally relented and gave permission to Father Flanagan to open a home for boys. On December 12, 1917 (The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe) he moved five boys into his first boy’s home. It was called “The City of Little Men”. By June of 1918, there were 32 boys and by Christmas there were over 100 boys. By the spring of 1919 the capacity of 150 was reached and bigger facilities were in order.

On May 18, 1921, Father Flanagan secured the deed to Overlook Farm located about ten miles outside Omaha. He managed to get five buildings erected for “his” boys, and on October 22, 1921, they moved in. The Mother Superior of the Notre Dame Sisters with a well trained group of teachers set up a curriculum so all the boys could begin school at their own level. The name, Overlook Farm, was changed. The new name was The Incorporated Village of Boys Town.

As the years rolled by Boys Town grew and, under the watchful, caring and loving eyes of Father Flanagan became the new model for orphanages. Father had deep devotion to Our Lady and prayed the rosary every day. He encouraged every boy to pray but said, “Every boy should pray; how he prays is up to him.”

Father Flanagan did not subscribe to the traditional reform schools with their harsh rules and severe discipline. Under his guidance and leadership the Boys Town community grew and prospered. It had its own boy-mayor, a chapel, school, a gymnasium and other amenities for boys aged 10 thru 16. Here, youngsters could learn a trade and receive an education. Father Flanagan’s best known quote might be this one: “There is no such thing as a bad boy”.

In 1938, MGM introduced the movie, Boys Town , starring Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney. It was a smash hit. Tracy won an Oscar for Best Actor and the world learned of the Irish priest and all about “his” boys. Father Flanagan gained worldwide recognition and was named a Domestic Prelate by Pope Pius XI and assigned the title,  Right Reverend Monsignor. After World War II, President Truman sent him as an emissary to Europe and Japan to advise officials about methods of dealing with all the war’s orphaned and homeless children.

Today, Boys Town stretches across America as one of the largest non-profit child care agencies in the USA. Over 2 million people have had their lives impacted through Boys Town. The Boys Town Research Hospital has received more than 8 million calls since it opened in 1977.

On St. Patrick’s Day, 2012, Right Reverend Monsignor Edward Joseph Flanagan was given the title, “Servant of God” and his cause for canonization was forwarded to Rome. Upon  Vatican approval  he will be declared “Venerable” Edward Flanagan.

Servant of God, Edward Flanagan, please pray for us.

*Edited version published in Aleteia on February 17, 2017

                           ©Copyright 2017 Larry Peterson All rights Reserved

Deacon Roger & Helena Cartier–A Catholic Love Story for Us All to Honor

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

By Larry Peterson

St. John Paul II said, “Marriage is an act of will that signifies and involves a mutual gift, which unites the spouses and binds them to their eventual souls, with whom they make up a sole family – a domestic church.”
The sainted Holy Father was referring to people like Roger and Helena Cartier when he made that statement. That is because this couple did, in fact, create a domestic church when they took their marriage vows so long ago. These two people, this man and woman, are a Catholic love-story not only for today but for all time. That is because they made the ultimate commitment to each other, emptied themselves for each other and never looked back.
 Secularism has convinced many the world over that marriage is what “you” want it to be, with whomever you want to be with. It also proclaims those of the Judeo-Christian faith have NO love in their cold hardened hearts. This secularistic atmosphere has cut deeply into the very fabric of our society and wounded it severely. That fabric is the family. And the family is the very nucleus of a nation.
Spread across the landscape of our society are many well-springs of marriage and family. These homes have one predominant thing in common. God is the essence and focal point of their lives. Roger and Helena are the patriarch and matriarch of one of those families.
 Roger is a retired letter-carrier. He is also an ordained Deacon in the Catholic Church. This past February 12, Roger and Helena celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary. Roger will be 91 years old in June and Helena trails him by a few years.
The Deacon is a World War II veteran. He got into the post office after he and Helena were married. A few years after that he became quite active in the Knights of Columbus. He rose to the position of District Deputy  giving him oversight of many K of C councils in the Connecticut area. Then his good friend, Father Kuzdal, suggested to Roger that he should apply to the Permanent Diaconate. Roger was horrified. He believed he was highly “unqualified” to do this.
What Roger and Helena did not realize at the time was that God had chosen both of them. Just as Mary Magdalene was there to help the apostles, Helena would be there to help her husband in a ministry that required ordination into the Sacrament of Holy Orders. They had embraced themselves with each other’s love and wrapped their Catholicity around it creating the “domestic church” that St. John Paul II spoke of. God wanted the two of them because without each other, this would never have worked.
Deacon Roger told me how close he was to leaving the diaconate program. All the other candidates were college graduates, seemingly well versed in scripture and well spoken. He was sure he had no business being in such “lofty” company. He went to Father Kuzdal and voiced his concerns. Father looked at him and said, “Roger, you have a quality these other fellas do not have. You are a natural listener. You have a gift. You do belong here.”
The final confirmation came from his partner in love and life, Helena. She agreed with Father Kuzdal and in 1986, L. Roger Cartier became Deacon L. Roger Cartier. He was ordained in the Diocese of Norwich, CT and remained there for a year. Then it was on to Pinellas County, Fl where he served until his recent retirement from ministry.
Deacon Roger assisted quietly and efficiently over the years always being there when needed. He was the spiritual director of The Legion of Mary, the spiritual director of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, he was always Santa Claus at the Christmas parties, he visited the school frequently, talking to the kids about “being Catholic”.
He was always available for Stations of the Cross, or Benediction and novenas. Roger visited the funeral homes when folks passed, did internments at the cemetery and always spent time with the families. He was a constant fixture at the local hospital and nursing homes. He also presided over weddings, (mine included), and performed Baptisms.
The one thing that was most noticeable (at least to me) was the “one on one” conversations he always seemed to be having with someone. This is where Father Kuzdal, so many years earlier, had profiled Roger Cartier perfectly. The man was a “listener”. People sought him out specifically for that reason. And they still do.
Deacon Roger and his Helena have three daughters, nine grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. They are truly a “domestic church” within our midst. As for me, it is my honor and privilege to know them. As for all those who do not, comfort in the fact that people like Roger and Helena are always among us. Goodness does exist and it holds in its arms many a “domestic church”.
“The union of man and woman in marriage [is] a unique, natural, fundamental and beautiful good for persons, communities, and whole societies.”
Pope Francis: Rome, Italy, November 17th, 2014
                          ©Copyright Larry Peterson 2017 All Rights Reserved

“Ad Orientem”—the Symbolism is Truly Beautiful

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

By Larry Peterson

Long ago, in a Church somewhat different, I was an altar boy (it was pre Vatican II and we never used the term altar server). It was a time when the Mass was said in Latin and the priest always faced “ad orientem”. (This actually means “toward the east” but, since so many churches do not have their altars facing east, it also refers to the priest offering the Holy Sacrifice with his back to the people.

Ad Orientem (Solemn High Latin Mass)  http://southernorderspage
The reason for this symbolism is profound and beautiful.  The sun rises in the east and we are coming out of the darkness to see the sun. The priest, who will stand in the shoes of Christ during the Consecration, is facing the newly risen sun, ergo, God. At that moment, the priest, upon elevating the consecrated host toward the EAST, is actually Jesus saying to God, “This is MY body which will be given for you. Then the consecrated wine is also elevated to the Father.”

When offering Mass “ad orientem” the priest has no distractions that are facing him. The congregation behind him is, in effect, present at the Last Supper. The altar boy would ring the bells to bring attention to this miraculous moment taking place before our very eyes. The people have just witnessed the most profound mystery of our faith and it all took place in only a few minutes.

And there we kneel, the faithful, some watching and adoring the Body and Blood of Christ while many others are looking around, fidgeting, checking their watches, yawning, skimming through the church bulletin they should have read when they got home, not having a clue as to what is going on at the Mass they are attending. But that’s okay because at least they made it to Mass and are not home “sleeping in”. What has just happened is beyond description and the very answer to life itself. Yet it all presents to many as a grand paradox.

A friend of mine, his name is Jeff, was injured in an accident years ago. He has a pronounced limp and uses a cane. Every week he comes to Sunday Mass and sits in the exact same seat. Every Sunday, without fail, he gets up at the beginning of the Consecration and slowly limps off to the bathroom. He always comes back after the wine is consecrated. He receives Holy Communion and, at a slightly accelerated pace, leaves Church before communion is even finished being distributed.  There are several others who, without fail, come every Sunday and miss the Consecration. They must not have a clue as to what is going on yet there they are, week after week.

Of course we all just had are influx of the C & E Catholics for Christmas. Although not “packed”, my church was definitely crowded. Interestingly, most every person at Mass received Holy Communion. Am I getting paradoxical yet? Is this why we have the phrase, “cafeteria Catholics” in our 21st century Catholic jargon?

Back in 1966, when Pope Benedict XVI was still Joseph Ratzinger, he said, “Is it actually that important to see the priest in the face or is it not truly healing to think that he is also another Christian like all the others and that he is turning with them towards God and to say with everyone ‘Our Father’?”

Pope Benedict XVI showed his love of ‘ad orientem’ 50 years ago. On October 12, 2016, (while meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, he reiterated his preferences in a reflection letterpublished in L’osservatore Romano: In the liturgy’s orientation to the East, we see that Christians, together with the Lord, want to progress toward the salvation of creation in its entirety. Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, is at the same time also the “sun” that illumines the world. Faith is also always directed toward the totality of creation. Therefore, Patriarch Bartholomew fulfills an essential aspect of his priestly mission precisely with his commitment to creation.”

                                      ©Copyright 2017 Larry Peterson

Executed for Refusing to Say “Yes”*

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME 

By Larry Peterson


The pages of Catholic/Christian history are filled with countless names of those who came from virtual anonymity and proceeded to leave an indelible mark in our lives. St. Teresa of Calcutta is a prime example. Many have also reached the eternal heights of spiritual greatness but are not so well known. Meet Franz Jagerstatter.

Blessed Franz Jagerstatter    wikipedia commons

Franz was born in Austria in 1907. His father was killed in World War I and when Franz was around eight years old, his mom married Heinrich Jagerstatter who adopted young Franz, giving him his name. 


Franz received a basic education in the local schools and excelled in reading and writing. He learned religion from his maternal grandmother and would read the Bible and other religious works. He managed to develop a faith which nestled itself securely into his soul. As Franz grew older and wiser his faith grew right along with him.

In 1933, Franz, inherited his adopted father’s farm. He then met Franziska Schwaninger, a deeply religious Catholic woman, and they fell in love. They were married Holy Thursday, 1936, and after the ceremony proceeded on a pilgrimage to Rome. This is also when Franz’s spiritual life became his primary focus in all things.

Now possessing a deeply imbedded faith and love of Jesus, he soon was serving as a sexton at his local parish. He and Franziska would have three daughters and he began to live his life true to his faith and to Jesus Christ. He would no longer deviate from things that were “not right”. Some perceived him as “overly pious”.

He stopped going to taverns because, as a defender of truth, he was always getting into arguments about Nazism and wanted to avoid that. He stopped accepting donations he received as the church sexton and gave the money to the needy even though he and his growing family were poor too. Even though some folks mocked him, he was determined to do “what was right”.

In 1938, German soldiers began moving into Austria. Immediately, they began implementing the Nazification of the once peaceful nation. The “Anschluss”, which was the creation of a German-Austrian State, was put to a vote in Franz’s village and he was the only one in his town to vote “no”. The authorities rejected his vote and claimed the vote was unanimous. However, Franz was now under watch by the Nazis.

It did not matter to Franz. He knew he must do the right thing and remained openly anti-Nazi. He joined the Third Order of St. Francis and began serving as a sacristan at the local parish. He managed to get several exemptions from military service. Time was not to be Franz’s friend.

In 1940, when he was 33, Franz was conscripted into the German army. He finished basic training but managed to stay out of the active service because he qualified for an exemption given to farmers. Back home he began to evaluate the morality of war and even discussed the subject with his bishop. His bishop did not encourage Franz.

And so it was that on February 23, 1943, Franz Jagerstatter was called to active duty. He and Franziska now had three daughters, the oldest only six. Franz stood strong and refused to fight for the godless, Third Reich. He declared himself a “conscientious objector” and offered to serve as a paramedic. He was ignored. A priest from his town came to talk him into serving but he refused. He was immediately put in prison.

Against all advice to stop resisting, Franz persisted in his opposition to the Nazis. He was told by his spiritual advisors that he had an obligation to his family to protect his life. He was told that he was required morally to obey the “legitimate” authorities. A friend told him, “Just say yes. You don’t even have to shoot straight. But take the oath.” Franz rejected all arguments. Atheistic Nazism could not be supported. He was determined to do the “right thing”.

Franz wrote, “Everyone tells me, of course, that I should not do what I am doing because of the danger of death. I believe it is better to sacrifice one’s life right away than to place oneself in the grave danger of committing sin and then dying.”

Franz Jagerstatter held fast to his principles. On July 6, 1943, he was tried and sentenced to death. On August 9, 1943, he was executed by guillotine at Brandenburg-Gorden prison. He was 36 years old.
Franz Jagerstatter led an obscure life and his death was no different. But a priest by the name of Father Jochmann spoke to Franz right before his execution. He said later that Franz was the only saint he had ever met.

In 1964 the American sociologist, Gordon Zahn, wrote a book about Franz Jagerstatter  titled, In Solitary Witness.  That was followed by the renowned Trappist,Thomas Merton, writing a chapter about Franz in one his books, Faith & Violence.

Eventually, Franz story weaved its way to the Vatican and came before Pope Benedict XVI. In June of 2007, the Holy Father issued an apostolic exhortation declaring Franz a martyr. On October 27, 2007, Franz Jagerstatter was beatified by Cardinal Jose Martins in Linz, Austria.

 Franz believed that Jesus wanted him to do the “right thing”.  He even gave his life to do it. He is known as the patron of “conscientious objectors”.

Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, please pray for us.
*This article appeared in Aleteia on October 19, 2016

                                        ©Larry Peterson 2016 All Rights reserved