Dutch priest proposed as patron saint of journalists

Roman Paliukh

On Sunday, May 15, Pope Francis canonized 10 men and women. This is the first time in more than two and a half years. Among the candidates was a Dutch priest, Titus Brandsma. A few days before the canonization, more than 60 journalists published an open letter to the pontiff asking him to declare the saint the patron saint of journalism. Why did they want this?

Titus Brandsma was born on February 23, 1881, in the Netherlands, in the countryside of Egekloster, in the province of Friesland. He was raised in a simple peasant family. From an early age, the young man felt a call to consecrated life and in 1898 entered the Carmelite monastery, choosing the name of his father – Titus. He later studied in Rome, and in 1905 Brandsma was ordained a priest. After returning from Rome, he worked in the field of Catholic education. He was a professor of philosophy and theology, and later rector magnificus of the Catholic University of Nijmegen. In addition, the future saint traveled with lecture tours in the United States and Europe.

Despite his vocation to religious life, another hobby of Titus Brandsma was journalism. That is why Father Brandsma was appointed spiritual adviser to the staff of more than 30 Catholic newspapers in the Netherlands by the future Cardinal Johannes de Jong of Utrecht. In addition, he worked on a biography of the Carmelite St. Teresa of Avila, composed meditations on the Stations of the Cross, and wrote letters. The future saint considered the Catholic newspaper to be the leading instrument in proclaiming the truth of the faith: “Should the Catholic press abandon this idea of being a weapon of truth, its very existence would make no sense, either for us journalists or for the Church”.

During the 1930s, Father Titus watched in horror as Hitler consolidated his power in neighboring Germany. He harshly condemned Nazism, calling it a “black lie”. When the Germans took control of the Netherlands in May 1940, they sought not only to overcome the physical resistance of the population but also to incline as many citizens as possible to Nazism. As “National Catholic Register” writes, “the German authorities insisted that all newspapers, Catholic and secular, print pro-Nazi press releases and encouraged ordinary Dutch men and women to join Nazi groups”.

In 1941, the Catholic bishops of the Netherlands published a pastoral letter forbidding Catholics from cooperating with the Nazis in any way. In the line of duty, Titus Brandsma decided to visit Catholic newspapers to warn them not to accept any offers to advertise the Nazi Party in their newspapers, otherwise, it would mean that they could no longer call themselves Catholics. He knew he might be convicted, but he wasn’t scared. Father Titus managed to visit 14 editors, and then he was taken into custody on Jan. 19, 1942, at the Carmelite Priory in Nijmegen by the Germans. As the Gestapo prepared to take him away, he knelt before his superior and received his blessing.

An officer, Capt. Paul Hardegen, later asked Father Brandsma to express in writing why his countrymen scorned the Dutch Nazi party. “The Dutch,” the friar wrote, “have made great sacrifices out of love for God and possess an abiding faith in God whenever they have had to prove adherence to their religion. […] If it is necessary, we, the Dutch people, will give our lives for our religion.”

Father was sent to the German concentration camp Dachau, and on July 26, 1942, he was executed. Father Brandsma’s beatification cause opened in the Dutch Diocese of Den Bosch in 1952. It was the first process for a candidate killed by the Nazis.

The friar was beatified by Pope John Paul II on Nov. 3, 1985, as a martyr for the faith.

Today, after many years, Catholic journalists state in their letter: “We, Catholic journalists, recognize in Titus Brandsma a professional peer and fellow believer of considerable standing. Someone who shared the deeper mission that should drive journalism in modern times: a search for truth and veracity, the promotion of peace and dialogue between people”.