Priest, professor, rector, journalist, mystic, linguist, member of the Carmelite order, martyr of the 20th century: among the many titles that Titus Brandsma bears before his name, only one will prevail after May 15, that of saint. Pope Francis will canonize him with Charles de Foucauld and eight other “blessed”presenting Brandsma to the world as a spiritual role model, especially for those living under authoritarian rulers.
Brandsma was beatified in 1985 by Saint John Paul II, who defined him as a “martyr of freedom of expression”.
“A brave journalist, imprisoned and killed in a death camp for his relentless defense of the Catholic press, he remains the martyr of freedom of expression against the tyranny of the dictatorship”, declared John Paul II during a meeting with journalists in 1986. “Truth is the indissoluble ally of freedom of expression, and therefore the main factor of progress in all areas of human life,” he added.
Titus Brandsma was beatified in 1985 by Saint John Paul II, who defined him as a “martyr of freedom of expression”.
Titus Brandsma lived between 1881 and 1942, when he was killed by lethal injection at Dachau concentration camp in Germany, the first camp established by the Nazi regime. Born into a humble and devout Catholic family in a rural setting Curly, in the north of the Netherlands, he became a Carmelite priest and teacher. Brandsma was a renowned Dutch intellectual, an icon of resistance to Nazi occupation both in academia and in the press.
Arrested in January 1942, the Carmelite brother was only put to death six months later, on July 26 of the same year.
“Blessed Solitude,” Brandsma wrote in his prison diary. “I find myself in this cell as in my own house. So far, I have not been bored at all, on the contrary. I am alone, it is true, but the Lord is closer to me than ever.
“I want to cry out for joy because the Lord wanted me to discover it in all its fullness, without needing to be among people, or for them to come here. He is my only refuge. I am happy. I’ll stay here forever, if He so orders. Rarely have I felt so happy.
The prison diary became one of Brandsma’s best-known texts, but throughout his life he wrote a lot on the social and cultural life of the Netherlands, in particular its homeland Friesland, as well as spiritual reflections on Mary, the scapular, the Via Crucis and the lives of saints. As an academic, he specialized in the philosophy and history of mysticism.
He founded schools and taught at the Catholic University of Nijmegen, of which he was rector in 1932. Brandsma was also a fervent defender of the Esperanto language, whose promoters still admire him today.
“Blessed solitude,” wrote Titus Brandsma in his prison diary. “I find myself in this cell as in my own house. I am alone, it is true, but the Lord is closer to me than ever.
“Titus Brandsma had so many virtues, so many facets, but I single out charity as the most central,” said Fernando Millan Romeral, O.Carmel., director of the Institute of Spirituality of the Comillas University of Madrid and vice-postulator of the cause of canonization of Brandsma. “He expressed charity in everything he did.
“He is a Christian martyr because he realized that Nazism was a kind of ‘neo-paganism’, the idolatry of race, nationalism, power, arrogance. Faced with this model, he proposed the Christian model as the only truthful one,” said Father Millán America.
Totalitarianism was for Brandsma the most radical fruit of this “neo-paganism”. In his inaugural address as rector of the Catholic University of Nijmegen (now Radboud University) in 1932, he said: “Of the many questions I ask myself, none worries me more than the enigma why this man finds ways of development and feels proud of his accomplishments, turns away from God in such a remarkable way. Is it only the fault of those who act like this? Are we obligated to do anything to make God shine a brighter light on the world again?
As a professional journalist, Brandsma has published numerous articles. In 1909, he founded a newspaper with a circulation of 13,000 copies a day, Karmelrozen (“Roses of Carmel”), and took over the local newspaper in Oss in 1919. He was the spiritual father of many of his journalist colleagues. Many still remember him as one of their own.
Because of his public and private positions opposed to the expansion of Adolf Hitler’s regime in Europe, “Professor Brandsma” has long been under surveillance by the authorities. The final straw that led to his arrest was a letter he sent to school principals in August 1941.
“Of the many questions I ask myself, none worries me more than the enigma of why man, who finds ways of development and feels proud of his achievements, turns away from God in such a way outstanding.”
“That year, the Dutch bishops opposed the order to expel Jewish children from Catholic schools. As director of the Association of Catholic Schools, Fr. Titus spoke publicly decisively, with solid arguments,” Fr. Millán said.
The letter called the order for the forced expulsion of Jewish children a “gross injustice” and an “attack on the mission of the Church itself”.
“The Church, in fulfilling its mission, knows no distinction of sex, race or nation,” Brandsma wrote. Given this and other publications, the Nazi police arrested him in January 1942. Transferred a few times, he was finally taken to Dachau in June 1942. Sharing the fate of many of the 40,000 prisoners there , Father Titus was killed and his body cremated.
Testimonies from those who met Brandsma in prison were collected for the canonization process. Many have recounted his kindness, patience, and the spiritual support he offered to other prisoners, despite his fragile health. He was an impressive figure even for the nurse who executed him with a carbolic acid injection. The testimony of “Tizia” – a pseudonym used in the beatification process to refer to a camp nurse who acted as Titus Brandsma’s executioner – was essential in confirming the virtues of the new saint.
As Father Millán reports in his biography of Brandsma, the The Courage of Truth, Tizia, then a Nazi, daily “executes” prisoners in the infirmary, but feels uncomfortable in the presence of Father Titus. He was always kind to her, unlike the other prisoners who were hostile to him due to his role in the camp.
“In a world of muddled rhetoric, Father Titus Brandsma is a witness to the power of moral clarity.”
Once he gave her a wooden rosary, even though she was an atheist who “openly despised priests”. Not knowing what to do with the object, she kept it in her apron pocket. The day she injected Brandsma with the liquid that would end her life, she felt nervous and irritated. Some time later, she was moved when she found this rosary. In her testimony, Tizia, who has hidden her true identity for all these years, credits Titus Brandsma with abandoning Nazi ideology and converting to the Catholic faith.
The miracle that enabled his canonization was the healing of one of his colleagues, Michael Driscoll, O.Carm., who suffered from a severe form of skin cancer in 2020. On a YouTube video, he says he touched a relic of Brandsma’s Carmelite habit and asked for her intercession. “Father Titus never refused when he was asked for help by your people: in his name I call you with my needs,” he prayed.
Brandsma life and spirituality expert Dianne Traflet, associate dean of graduate studies and professor of pastoral theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary and Seton Hall University School of Theology, said America that “in a world of muddled rhetoric, Father Titus Brandsma is a witness to the power of moral clarity”.
She believes that her deep spiritual life has brought her “close to the Truth”. Brandsma “spoke the truth about the presence, power and love of God”.
Recalling his description of Nazism as “a sewer of lies,” she said, “He chose his words carefully and cautiously, but also with courage. »
During the beatification ceremony37 years ago, Saint John Paul II noted that as a follower of Christ, Brandsma was able to “not respond to hatred with hatred but with love”, which “is perhaps one of the greatest tests of a person’s moral powers”.
Dr Traflet believes that in a world of escalating violence, “Father Titus Brandsma reminds us of the need for spiritual strength, the power that comes from a disciplined interiority, as he spoke out against destruction with the courage to a spiritual builder”.
Another important legacy of Brandsma, Father Millán said, is the notion that mysticism is not an experience available only to spiritually superior or perfect individuals. “For him, spirituality is not reserved for a particular category of people,” he said. “Every believer is called to it, recognizing that it is a special gift and grace.”