The Heroic Ordination at Dachau – UPDATED

The Heroic Ordination at Dachau – UPDATED November 19, 2010

Deacon Greg brings us a look at a secret ordination that took place at Dachau:

Leisner was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and in Dachau his condition began to deteriorate. Fearing that the great dream of his life — to be a priest — would never be realized, he and the priests in his cellblock secretly sent a petition to a local cardinal (aided here, and in so many areas, by a heroic nun known as the “Angel of Dachau,” Sister Imma Mack.) The cardinal granted permission for a French bishop detained in the camp to perform the ordination, and asked Sister Imma to deliver a ritual book and chrism needed for the rite; Sister Imma was told to return these items, along with written documentation of the ordination, if they were able to celebrate it.

A number of prisoners, including some non-Catholics who worked in different work areas of the camp, made full sets of vestments for the bishop and Deacon Leisner. The ordination was celebrated in 1944 in secret, and the documentation was smuggled to Sister Imma, who then delivered it all to the cardinal. (The photograph here shows the newly ordained Fr. Leisner moments after his ordination. It is one of the few taken to capture this incredible event.) But Fr. Leisner’s health was so weak, he was only able to celebrate mass, again in secret, once. Shortly after the camp was liberated, he was sent to a hospital for the terminally ill, where he died in the summer of 1945. He was 30 years old.

You’ll want to read it all, and send it around.

It is fascinating to consider the sort of co-operation that had to exist among prisoners–Catholic and non-Catholic–for this ordination to have happened. At any moment, anyone involved was exposing himself (or herself) to life-threatening risk.

Sr. Imma Mack, then-candidate to the convent

But then again, these people were all resisting an unambiguous evil, living in a place–and an era–where relativism did not have such primacy over our reason, as it does now.

No one living in a Nazi prison camp had difficult discerning good from evil. The “luxury” of being confused on something so basic only comes in times of “relative” peace and prosperity, when the focus is on things much less urgent than merely staying alive for another day, and we feel free to ponder our personal moralities to the nth degree.

I am inspired by this story–by Fr. Karl Leisner, and by Sister Imma Mack (who died in 2006, and of whom more may be read here [pdf])–but especially by all of the anonymous heroes who did what they could to enable this ordination, an act of unqualified good, unqualified hope and trust, to occur in a place of such desolation, because they understood that a Culture of Life was the only thing worth supporting, when faced with a Culture of Death.

Blessed Karl Leisner, pray for us

Excerpted from Sr. Imma Mack’s Why I Love Azaleas (pdf)

During the first week of Advent [1944] Father Schonwalder told me that he had a very important assignment for me from Father Pies. Then he handed me two unsealed letters from him. One was addressed to Cardinal Faulhaber, and the other to Johannes Zawackie, a Jesuit brother. I myself was to read them first before passing them on to the addresses, so that I would know precisely what they contained. Then Father Schonwalder told me that Karl Leisner, a deacon who had been imprisoned in the Dauchau Concentration Camp for a long time already, was seriously ill in the infirmary [. . .]

A French bishop had recently been put into the priest’s block. Father Pies, together with Karl Leisner and Bishop Gabriel Piguet, had considered the possibility of the bishop ordaining the terminally ill deacon in the camp chapel. Various things would be needed, however, and the details were given in two letters. Father Pies had told him that I, accompanied by Brother Johannes, was to deliver the letter to the Cardinal in person. I was to orally confirm Father Pies’ written request for the approval of Karl Leisner’s ordination, and Brother Johannes could support my statement. I was to bring the written permission to Dachau the next week.

As we approach our own first week of Advent, in a world that is very different from Sr. Imma Mack’s but still roiling in amidst this eternal, supernatural fight between light and darkness, let us remember these heroes, and consider our own offerings.

Deacon Bill gives us more, including this bit of video (subtitled)

Matt from sends along this story of Chaplain CDR Dennis Rocheford. I don’t think anyone would argue that we should pray more than we do for our priests, or for those who are thinking about the priesthood.

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