Blessed Franz Jaggerstatter, Pray for Us

Update:  oops!  I was tired and led astray by an email I got sent.  This actually did happen five years ago.  The story was be recirculated on the anniversary of his execution by the Nazis.  My apologies!

Today, the Holy Father confirmed that Franz Jaggerstatter, the humble Austrian farmer who defied the Nazis, is to be beatfied.  A brief summary of his witness:

As the Nazis organized Austria, Jägerstätter had to decide whether to allow himself to be drafted by the German army and thus collaborate with Nazism. Two seemingly good reasons were given to him, sometimes by spiritual advisers, why he should not resist. First, he was told, he had to consider his family. The other argument was that he had a responsibility to obey legitimate authorities. The political authorities were the ones liable to judgment for their decisions, not ordinary citizens. Jägerstätter rejected both arguments. In normal times, of course, obedience to authority may be required even when we disagree on certain policies. But the 1940s in Austria were not normal times: to obey for obedience’s sake would have been to do what Adolf Eichmann would later plead in his trial in Jerusalem — he was just following orders.

The consequences of Jägerstätter’s position were obvious: “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.” But he serenely decided that he could not allow himself to contribute to a regime that was immoral and anti-Catholic. Jägerstätter was sent to the prison in Linz-an-der-Donau, where Hitler and Eichmann had lived as children. According to the prison chaplain, 38 men were executed there, some for desertion, others for resistance similar to Jägerstätter’s (no others have been positively identified). His Way of the Cross would not be long. In May, he was transferred to a prison in Berlin. His parish priest, his wife and his lawyer all tried to change his mind. But it was useless. On Aug. 9, 1943, he accepted execution, even though he knew it would make no earthly difference to the Nazi death machine.

His light was Christ illuminating his conscience, his only weapon was the Gospel, he was a minister of Christ’s peace.  He was an exemplar of everything that Secular Franciscans are called to be.  And hereafter, no Catholic can claim that he was only obeying legitimate authority as an excuse for not confronting evil.

Blessed Franz, pray for us!

"HMMM. The most prominent person on the list of signatories is the schismatic Bishop Bernard ..."

Resolved: the Pope is not a ..."
"Of course he isn't a heretic. Pope Francis is acknowledging the pastoral realities surrounding divorce ..."

Resolved: the Pope is not a ..."
"I can't claim to have much knowledge about the theological specifics of divorce and remarriage, ..."

Resolved: the Pope is not a ..."
"Here we run into the tensions of trying to square evolution with the Genesis accounts ..."

Dominion, Stewardship and Smallpox

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Morning’s Minion

    I love Franz Jaegerstaetter, but didn’t this happen five years ago?

    • Rat-biter

      Something related to him did. Maybe that was the approval of a decree regarding the heroism of the virtues of the Servant of God F. J. – approval of a ddecree about them, would lead to his becoming Venerable.

  • rahrfk

    It’s encouraging to see a lay Catholic beatified!

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Yes, this is as important as his witness to non-violence.

      • Julia Smucker

        This is a quibble, but I think his witness to non-violence is far more important than the fact that he was a layperson. The communion of saints is not a contest between laity and clergy/religious, but one great cloud of witnesses to the Gospel, whatever their life’s vocation.

        Incidentally, my first thought was, “Yes! Jagerstatter – wait, hasn’t he already been beatified?” Thanks for the explanation, David. For a second there you almost got my hopes up that I was about to read news of his forthcoming canonization. Still hoping and praying that it will happen in my lifetime.

        • Smith

          Excellent point about the communion of saints.

        • turmarion

          I agree, Julia, but given how many obscure religious founders get beatified and canonized, and how clerics are often beatified or canonized before laymen who did more or less the same thing (e.g. while there are obvious dissimilarities, Fr. Maximilian Kolbe died under similar circumstances, and John Paul actually waived the requirement for a second miracle, IIRC), there’ the danger of sending a message that heroism is just for the clergy, not for everybody. His non-violence is more important, but I think that he was a layman is a very close second.

        • Rat-biter

          In principle, no, it’s not a contest. But in actuality, the Calendar is top-heavy with ecclesiastics, founders & religious, many of them very obscure – whereas the only laity seem to be royalty, religious, and tertiaries. St. Bernardette’s parents stand out because they are very unusual in being “ordinary people”. Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati is unusual in being a layman & a teenager.

          The Identikit Saint is a nun: probably a beatified Italian ecstatic & visionary who had horrifying visions of Purgatory. It goes almost without saying her remains have preserved incorrupt. If she belongs to the 19th century, she is almost certainly the foundress of some institute with a very long name.

          Her counterpart is probably French or Spanish, a priest, probably a Benedictine or a Jesuit, a miracle-worker & preacher, a tireless promoter of the Rosary, and alwways helped by visions or locutions when in any great perplexity. He is famous for his terrifying penances.

          And both of course are totally immune to the passions that torment members of the laity, who, not being holy, live “in the world”.

          There are several problems here, including: the under-representation of the laity in the Calendar; the denigration of the lay state as being of itself inferior to that of the religious & clergy; an attitude to the human body that is dangerously close at times to Manicheism; a concomitant suspicion of the natural world; and, perhaps as the cause of most of these, an inadequate belief in the ability of God to sanctify the laity as fully & richly as He can any priest or religious.

          There is a book largely devoted to the history and connection of this last question, which cries out to be read – it could not be more relevant to why the Calendar is so top-heavy. It is thoroughly readable, and a mine of detail. The title could be a little misleading – it is not about the Beatific Vision:

          Kenneth E. Kirk, The Vision of God: The Christian Doctrine of the Summum
          Bonum (London: Longmans, 1931).

          For the author:

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        Julia, what is a blog without quibbling? :-) But seriously, on a different level I do regard his status as a layman very important. The Church has always had a clericalist bent, as an review of the calendar of saints will reveal. I find it very powerful that not only was Blessed Franz a layman, but that he acted on a matter of conscience in opposition to his pastor and his bishop. This speaks directly and powerfully to the uniform witness of the communion of saints over and against a social reality that at times speaks otherwise.

  • Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

    It was five years ago, but yesterday was the anniversary of Franz’s death.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Thank you to you and MM for the correction. I should learn not to write a post a bed time! :-)

  • Kurt

    Wonderful post. With Blessed Franz we might also join in prayer to Blessed Nikolas Gross. He was a miner from the area near Essen, Germany. He was active in the Catholic mineworkers union, eventually becoming editor of its newspaper and then editor of the paper for the Catholic trade union federation. As leader of the Catholic Left in Germany, he was among the first to raise opposition to Hitler for both class and religious reasons. He used his editor position to rally working class Catholics against the Nazi advance. The Nazis dissolved the labor unions and banned his paper in 1938. In 1944 he was arrested by the Gestapo and martyred in 1945.

    There is also Father Fernando Huidobro Polanco. SJ. As Adam Hochschild wrote about him, he was a 34-year-old Jesuit who enthusiastically volunteered as a chaplain for Franco’s troops. But he was dismayed to see them routinely shooting all their prisoners. He sent protests to high-level army officers and finally wrote to Franco himself that “many are dying who do not deserve such a fate and who could mend their ways.” To Franco’s adjutant, he protested in despair that “we are falling back into barbarism. . . . I do not want the new regime to be born with blood on its hands.” He was wounded but then returned to the front, ever more vocal. In 1937, he was killed in battle, supposedly by shrapnel from one of the Republic’s Soviet artillery shells. Ten years later the Jesuits began the lengthy process to have him canonized as a saint. But in the course of the investigation, it came out that he’d been shot in the back by a soldier from his own unit, tired perhaps of the preaching of his chaplain.

    When it was discovered that Ven. Fernando had been killed by the Francoists and not by the Republicans, the Vatican shelved his cause.

    All holy martyers, pray for us!

    • Ivan Kauffman

      Thank you for this information. At the Michael Sattler House we are compiling a list of Christians through the centuries who gave their lives for social justice and service to the world, which we will commemorate each year. These names will be added. If you have further information you’d like to contribute please send it to us. Our website is Thanks again for sharing these lives with us. They are both inspiring examples of deep and orthodox faith combined with prophetic action–which is the greatest need of our time.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        Please consider the witness of St. Joseph Moscati, honored in Naples, Italy, as the doctor of the poor: He seems unknown outside of Naples but his life seems to have been one of humility and service, all the more so when one considers the pretensions and social standing of physicians in Italy at this time.

    • Rat-biter

      “When it was discovered that Ven. Fernando had been killed by the Francoists and not by the Republicans, the Vatican shelved his cause.”

      ## Why ? Because he didn’t count as a martyr in such circumstances (but if not, why not ?); or for some other reason (in which case, what ?) ? Surely holiness, if real, is not affected by such details ?

      • Kurt


        Your worst assumptions about this are probably correct.

        And please don’t call me Shirley.

  • Bill Wilson

    While Jagerstatter was bearing witness to Gospel values, Pius XII was keeping his mouth shut and his head low, the German hierarchy was supporting the Nazi regime, and Josef Ratzinger was doing the goose step and “sieg heiling” der Führer as a member of Hitler’s youth corps. What’s wrong with this picture?

    • Kurt

      Bill, I think that is unfair. Little Joey Ratzinger was from an anti-fascist family. As a schoolboy he was required to join the Hitler Youth, which he did and then quickly deserted, breaking the law of leaving without permission. That was a dangerous deed and far more courageous than most boys his age. I have some differences with the Pope today, but I’ve not forgotten that for the first half of his life (including his boyhood) he was a liberal.
      The Church in Germany also showed courage in a way that might not be appreciated by some of today’s conservative American Catholics. Politically, the Church in Germany worked through the Catholic Center Party (“Zentrum”). During the Weimer period, the Catholic Party, the Socialists and liberals stood together in a coalition to preserve the Republic against both the Nazis and the Communists. The parties of the government coalition had serious differences (i.e. the Socialist support for abortion rights). How well do you think we would do today forming a coalition supported by both the Catholic Church and a socialist abortion rights party to preserve the current elected government against the bigoted Right?

      Hitler only came to power when the Catholic-Socialist-Liberal coalition lost its majority in the Reichstag. The Conservatives could have thrown their lot with the coalition, but instead allied with the Nazis to form a minority government. An attempt was made to entice the Center Party. Only one Reichstag member on the Zentrum’s Right-Wing – Franz von Pappen, when with the Nazi-Conservative alliance and was immediately expelled from the Zentrum for doing so.

      I don’t think Pius XII was any great hero. But he should not be looked at through the lens of the present day. After Napoleon reduced the role of the papacy on the world stage, it simply wasn’t welcome as an international arbitrator of human rights. Pius XII was silent in the same way the International Red Cross was silent. It was the postwar Pius XII who invented the role of the papacy as an arbitrator of human rights.

      (I hope all of my friends here who think I am overly critical of the Church take note of this com!)

    • Rat-biter

      Agree entirely about the German hierarchy, but Pius XII was bitterly criticised in Poland for “speaking up”, by Polish Catholics. His complaints about the rape of Poland by the Nazis merely led to more trouble for Polish Catholics. AFAICS, he has no case to answer.

      The German bishops, OTOH… They collaborated, even during the War. The argument that one must not judge from hindsight does not apply to Catholic bishops – the details of Catholic teaching on the episcopate and the Church don’t allow it to. Even before the War, their protests against the wrongs done by the Reich had a lot to say about the wrongs suffered by the CC, but they said not a word in defence of Protestants, Jews, or anyone else. This compares very unfavourably with the attitude of Pastor Niemoller, or of the Confessing Church. The German bishops looked after the CC only – but: “even the heathen do as much”. Looking after one’s group is no big deal – looking after others, especially enemies, is a very big deal.

      A potential counter-objection: “It is unfair as well as unrealistic to expect those in circumstances more difficult than the comfort in which their armchair critics live, to act heroically.”

      Point taken. But, shouldn’t Christians display exactly that heroism ? This is why the young Ratzinger, & the German bishops, are so unimpressive: the ancient Church did not look kindly on Christians who gave way under persecution – it showed no sympathy for human weakness in such circumstances. The fact that Liberius of Rome gave way under great pressure, aaffter two years’ exile (355-357), and signed a credal formula that could be taken in an orthodox or an Arian sense, led to divisions in Rome, an antipope, a lot of trouble for Libeerius’ successor Damasus, & the first mention in lists of Roman bishops of a Roman bishop who was not a Saint. If that does not illustrate the difference in *ethos* between the ancient & the modern Church’s attitudes to weakness under pressure – what does ?

      The fourth century may seem rather distant, but the old *ethos* is still alive in some respects: it still applies to some sexual issues: people are required to disregard human weakness if they wish to avoid *sexual* mortal sins, which are no more mortal than the (unsexual) sin of apostasy. So why should the same *ethos* not apply to those living under the Hitler regime, just as did to bishops living under Arianism ? We honour the English Martyrs because they did not apostatise, despite torture and a horrible death – just as this martyr did not apostatise. That they, & he, & others, stood fast, when so many bishops did not, is a condemnation of those who did not. Ratzinger could have refused to join the Hitler Youth & the German Army. He joined both. Others of about his age were in the German resistance, & paid with their lives – why did he not have their courage ? Catholics are supposed to be stronger than this – but, apart from a few shining counter-examples, they are as compromising and weak as anyone else. Why ?