Titus Brandsma, Dutch priest, educator, journalist and modern mystic, has much to say to Twenty-first Century Christians. His joyful countenance in the face of chronic illness and finally, at the torturous hands of the Nazi’s, is a study in humankind’s sharing of its portion of the Cross of Christ. The frail, bookish-looking clergyman with the big cigar, labeled “That dangerous little friar” by his enemies, was able to perform heroic acts of suffering, followed by forgiveness, because his faith and trust in God was so firmly rooted in prayer. Unlike Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who made a deliberate commitment of her life as an atonement for sin, Father Brandsma did not seek martyrdom, yet when he was thoroughly convinced it was God’s Will, he was able to accept humiliation and even death.
Born Anno Brandsma, he completed high school studies with the Franciscans before entering the Carmelite monastery in Boxmeer in September of 1898, where he adopted his father’s name, Titus, as his religious name. During the early years as a Carmelite he showed interest in journalism and writing, two activities which would occupy much of his time later on in life. Titus professed his first vows as a Carmelite in October, 1899, was ordained on June 17, 1905, and after further studies at the Roman Gregorian University, graduated on October 25, 1909 with a doctorate in philosophy.
Fr. Titus’ entire priestly life was spent in education, although always with a keen pastoral sense of people’s needs. He joined the faculty of the newly founded Catholic University of Nijmegen in 1923, and served as Rector Magnificus, or President, of the University in 1932-33. After this time he resumed his teaching duties, and in 1935 made a lecture tour of the Carmelite foundations in the United States.
Just before this lecture tour, Archbishop De Jong of Utrecht appointed Fr. Titus as spiritual advisor to the staff members of the more than thirty Catholic newspapers in Holland; around the same time, the policies of Adolf Hitler, the new German Chancellor, began to be felt in Holland, and were openly criticized by Titus in his teaching and in the press. With the Nazi occupation of Holland on May 10, 1940 began the open persecution of the Jews and the active resistance of the Catholic hierarchy, who announced on January 26, 1941 that the sacraments were to be refused to Catholics known to be supporters of the National-Socialist movement.
While Titus’ involvement with this Catholic resistance to Nazi activity was becoming more blatant, it was the Church’s refusal to print Nazi propaganda in their newspapers that sealed his fate. Titus decided to deliver personally to each Catholic editor a letter from the bishops ordering them not to comply with a new law requiring them to print official Nazi publications. He visited fourteen editors before being arrested on January 19, 1942 at the Boxmeer monastery.
Fr. Titus was interned at Scheveningen and Amersfoort in Holland before being sent to Dachau, where he arrived on June 19, 1942. His constitution quickly deteriorated under the harsh regime, forcing him to enter the camp hospital in the third week of July. There he became the subject of biological experimentation, before being killed by lethal injection on July 26, 1942.
Titus Brandsma, OCarm. was declared Blessed by Pope John Paul, II on November 1985. Since then, the promotion of his cause for sainthood has been in progress. An Interprovincial Committee of Carmelites exists, here in the United States, to educate and inform the Church as to its progress.
FILM ON HIS LIFE