By Larry Peterson
Anno Sjoerd Brandsma was born in the Province of Friesland, located in the Netherlands in 1881. His father, Titus Brandsma, and his mom, Tjisje Postma, ran a small dairy farm and were devout Catholics, part of the minority in the strongly Calvinist region. They had six children; four daughters and two sons.
Titus and his wife worked very hard at encouraging their children to love the Lord and to honor their faith. Their dedication paid off. All, except one of the daughters, entered religious life. Three sisters became nuns, and Anno and his brother became priests.
The Brandsma brothers both wanted to become Franciscans. Anno’s brother entered the Franciscan minor seminary first. This is where boys, feeling the call to the priesthood, could begin their priestly journey. Those heeding that call were admitted here if they were between the ages of eleven to seventeen..
When Anno, nicknamed ‘Shorty,” developed intestinal health problems, his condition prevented him from becoming a Franciscan. Undeterred, he joined the Carmelite Order at Boxmeer, Netherlands, taking the name of Titus in honor of his father. He made his first vows in 1899 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1905.
Father Titus was a gifted academic. After his ordination, he was sent to Rome. Although suffering through several bouts of illness, he managed to earn his Doctorate in Divinity from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. The year was 1909, and he was 28 years old. Also, Father Tituss learned and spoke Italian, Frisian, Dutch, and English. He could also read Spanish. He translated the works of St Teresa of Avila from Spanish to Dutch and had them published.
Father Titus moved on and taught at the Carmelite Seminary at Oss, Netherlands. He became the editor of a local daily newspaper in 1919, and was easily recognizable as the “short priest with the cigar in his mouth.” He became a widely traveled orator, journalist, and author. In 1932 he was named Rector Magnificus of Catholic University in the Netherlands. To top it all off and even though occupied with so many responsibilities, he still managed to become one of the most popular confessors on campus. He also conducted a speaking tour throughout the United States in 1935.
Something else happened in 1935. Father Titus Brandsma came to the attention of the Nazis. He had started his anti-Nazi actions by writing against the anti-Jewish laws. He wrote that no Catholic publication could publish Nazi propaganda and still call itself Catholic. The attention paid to him by the Nazis dramatically increased.
The Gestapo was now following Father Titus continually. Wherever he went or whatever he did, the always aware Gestapo made their presence known. One day, Father “Shorty,” his ever-present cigar stuck between his teeth, was on a mission to deliver a letter from the Conference of Catholic Bishops to the editors of Catholic newspapers. The letter ordered these publications not to print official Nazi documents. (a new “law” passed by the Nazis demanded they do this) and Father Titus had delivered the letter to fourteen editors when the Gestapo arrested him. The date was January 19, 1942, at the Boxmeer monastery.
Father Titus was moved from prison to prison until finally, on June 19, 1942, he was imprisoned in Dachau. This was the Nazi’s first concentration camp, and it became known as the “priests barracks.” The reason for that was because over 2500 priests and religious were confined there.
Father’s health quickly deteriorated at Dachau. The lack of food, daily beatings, harsh, unimaginable, living conditions combined to break a person quickly. Within a few weeks of his arrival, he was so sick that he was transferred to the camp “hospital.” On July 26, 1942, a camp nurse was ordered to give him an injection of carbolic acid. Father Titus handed the woman his Rosary. He said to her, “What an unfortunate girl you are. I shall pray for you.”
The nurse did her “work,” and Father Titus Brandsma died a martyr for the faith. Forty-three years later, the same nurse was at Venerable Titus Brandsma’s beatification ceremony. She testified to this happening. She also said that his actions brought her back to the faith. Father Titus Brandsma was beatified by Pope St. John Paul II on November 3, 1985.
We should all note well that Blessed Titus is still busy working in the 21st century. His brother Carmelite, Father Michael Driscoll, has a special connection to Blessed Titus. In 2004 Father Driscoll was diagnosed with Stage 4 Melanoma*. He invoked Blessed Titus asking for his intercession The story of Father Driscoll’s miraculous recovery is at the following link.
Blessed Titus Brandsma, please pray for us all.
*(I know how deadly this cancer can be. My wife was diagnosed with Stage 4 Melanoma in April of 2002. She passed away on April 4, 2003).
copyright©L:arry Peterson 2020