Saint Titus Brandsma
February 9, 1997
Brother John Raymond
Anno Sjoerd Brandsma was born in Friesland, Holland in 1881. His parents were very devout Catholics who attended daily Mass. He felt a call to the priesthood at an early age. His father allowed him to pursue his desire. At age eleven he entered a Franciscan minor seminary. During his six-year stay Anno was known for his intelligence as well as his sense of humor. His classmates nicknamed him "Shorty." Because of a severe intestinal disorder Anno's superiors decided the Franciscan life was too rigorous for his health. He was told to seek a less austere form of life so he joined the Carmelites in Boxmeer. (No offense to Carmelites!) Here he chose the religious name "Titus."
Titus began translating several of St. Teresa of Avila's works from Spanish into Dutch. In 1901 they were published under the title, "Selected Writings from the Works of St. Teresa." Titus seemed to have literary leanings. He encouraged his fellow students to write religious articles and helped to get them published. He developed an in-house magazine for the Carmelites which he eventually published for all Dutch Catholics. During this time his health still caused him problems. But in 1899 his superiors allowed him to make first vows. He began studies for the priesthood and was ordained in 1905. In 1909 he received a doctorate in philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He returned to the Netherlands to teach at the Carmelite seminary at Oss.
Fr. Titus kept up his literary interests, founding a journal of Carmelite spirituality. He organized a group of scholars to do more translations of St. Teresa's works. He became the editor of the local daily newspaper in 1919 and helped translate the "Imitation of Christ" into Frisian. Busy as he was he always had time for people. Many benefited from his charity. He listened patiently to all as billows of smoke rose from the cigars he liked to smoke.
Fr. Titus moved to Nijmegen, where the first Catholic University in the Netherlands was established as a professor of philosophy and mysticism. He became superior of a Carmelite student house near the University. Because he spoke four languages (Italian, Frisian, Dutch and English) Titus was a popular confessor. He organized the first pilgrimage in Frisia to the site of the martyrdom of St. Boniface. He was known as a skillful lobbyist with the government on behalf of the university.
In 1932 Fr. Titus was elected President of the University. After his term expired he continued apostolic endeavors which included writing and lecturing. In 1935 he was sent on a lecture tour to the United States where he spoke at various Carmelite friaries. He was remembered for his gentleness, humor and genuine goodness. Never having drunk much alcohol, still Titus surprised the Irish Carmelites here by being able to consume a considerable amount of Irish whiskey without showing the usual effects.
Adolph Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933. Fr. Titus, observing the spread of Nazism, spoke out against it as a "lie" and "pagan." In 1940 the German army moved into Holland. Objectors to the occupation were called traitors, organized religion was attacked and Jews victimized. The Dutch bishops spoke out against Nazism. Because of this the military governor of Holland intensified persecution of both Catholics and Jews. Titus was the spiritual director for the thirty Catholic newspapers in the country. The Nazis told the newspapers that they had to accept Nazi advertisement and press releases. Archbishop Be Jong summoned Titus to inform the Catholic journalists that the Church's response was "No." Given such a dangerous position Fr. Titus was allowed the freedom to turn down the assignment, but he still agreed to do it. As he travelled from city to city he was shadowed by the Gestapo. The police were informed of his mission and message. He was arrested on January 19, 1942 at the age of 60. During his seven weeks confinement in a cell Fr. Titus did much writing. He was then transferred to the brutal penal depot in Amersfoort. Here he was known to give up his meager meals to help other starving prisoners along with concern and care for the Jews. Guards prohibited any priest from giving spiritual counsel. Fr. Titus defied the ruling.
In April Fr. Titus was transferred to Dachau. Here his calmness and gentleness won him severe beatings from the guards. He was assigned to one of three barracks reserved for clergymen, where cruelty was the norm. His body, already suffering from untreated uremic poisoning and a severe foot infection could take no more. He was sent to the prison hospital. Here, instead of being helped, the prisoners were used for experimentation. On July 26, 1942, this Carmelite priest was injected with a deadly drug that, ten minutes later, took his life. To the end he radiated cheerful courage and exhorted all not to yield to hatred but to be patient. Fr. Brandsma was beatified by Pope John Paul II.
Private Novena Prayer
God our Father, your servant, Blessed Titus Brandsma, labored zealously in your vineyard and gave his life freely because of his faith in you. Through his intercession I ask for your mercy and help. Father Titus never refused when he was asked for help by your people. In his name, I come to you with my needs (mention request.)
Lord, help me always to imitate the great faith, generous love and burning zeal of Blessed Titus Brandsma. Glorify your servant as he strove to glorify you. Amen.
Mary, Mother of Carmel, pray for us.
Blessed Titus Brandsma, Carmelite martyr, plead for us.
(Novena taken from The Anthonian, Paterson, New Jersey.)