It is an honor to remember today, on the anniversary of the death in 1945 of the Jesuit, Alfred Delp, these three courageous priests whose lives are a testament to the goodness , strength and courage they displayed during a time of tremendous chaos and tragedy, World War II. The first is a canonized saint/martyr. The second has been beatified. The third was hung by the Nazis 74 years ago today: Father Alfred Delp.
The Papal Artifacts’ Collection is primarily dedicated to artifacts connected to the papacy. Individual popes, their biographies and multiple items belonging to them, including first and second class relics, make up the majority of this Collection. But that isn’t all it is.
Father Kunst has a deep devotion to the saints as can be readily seen in viewing the Saints & Blesseds section of this site. We invite you to visit Papal History/Saints & Blesseds to view the many canonized and beatified men and women who make up this section of the Collection.
St. Maximilian Kolbe
About the First Class Relic of St. Maximilian Kolbe, The Featured Image
How does one come to have a first class relic of a saint who died a martyr’s death in Auschwitz? Of all the relics in Father Kunst’s Collection, perhaps this one is the most incredible.
This is a first-class relic, in the form of hairs from his head and beard, preserved without his knowledge by two friars at Niepolkalanow who served as barbers in his friary between 1930 and 1941. Since his beatification in 1971, these relics have been distributed around the world for public veneration.
Second-class relics, such as his personal effects, clothing and liturgical vestments, are preserved in his monastery cell and in a chapel at Niepokalanow and may be viewed by the faithful who visit.
The Franciscan friar, Maximilian Mary Kolbe, died in the Auschwitz concentration camp on August 14, 1941. Two weeks earlier, a prisoner had gone missing. The commandant, Karl Fristsch, announced the penalty to the entire camp: ten men would die in the starvation bunker. As his name was called, Franciszek Gajowniczek cried out, “My wife, my children!” Father Maximilian stepped forward and offered to take his place. He and the other nine men were tossed naked into a concrete hole in Building 13.
The camp prisoners waited to hear the howls of anguish coming from the bunker. Instead, they heard feeble voices raised in prayer and hymns of praise. Maximilian was encouraging the men. A Pole assigned to serve at the bunker later told how at each inspection the priest was always in the middle of them, standing or kneeling in prayer. After two weeks, only Maximilian remained alive. When the SS men entered the cell, he offered his arm for their lethal injection.
One prisoner later said his death was “a shock filled with hope, bringing new life and strength…It was like a powerful shaft of light in the darkness of the camp.” Maximilian is a patron of families, for he gave his life for the father of a family. He is a patron of prisoners, for he gave hope to the condemned. —Lisa Lickona, The Magnificat Year of Mercy Companion, page 320 Maximillian Kolbe died 75 years ago today, August 14, 1941.
A Second Artifact
A Letter of Dismissal Signed by St. Maximilian Kolbe
Considered to Be Among the Rarer Autographs of the 20th Century
The artifact is a letter signed by Father Maximilian Kolbe. It concerns the dismissal of an employee and was signed on March 14, 1939.
The letter includes a redaction seal and is considered to be one of the rarer signatures in the 20th century.
“It is among the rarer autographs of 20th century personages, primarily due to the fact that Kolbe did not gain notoriety till decades after his death.” —Fr. Richard Kunst
The Papal Artifacts’ Collection is fortunate to have obtained, not only his First Class relic, but also, now, his signature.
Blessed Rupert Mayer
The artifact presented here is a holy card from the funeral of Father Rupert Mayer who died on November 1, 1945.
The Apostle of Munich
Blessed Rupert Mayer was a German Jesuit priest. He is best known for the apostolic endeavors he undertook in Munich between the First and Second World Wars. He is known as the Apostle of Munich. He was a powerful preacher and spoke out against the evils of Hitler and Nazism and touched many people through his work with the Men’s Congregation of Mary. Five to six thousand people come to pray at his tomb in St Michael’s Church, Munich each day. He was beatified on 3 May 1987 by Pope John Paul II.
Father Mayer was born on 23 January 1876. His family was involved in business. He had a brother and four sisters. He grew up in Stuttgart. He was a very talented violinist and horse rider in his youth. Rupert finished his secondary education in 1894. He wished to become a Jesuit but his father wanted him to be ordained first. His father suggested that if he still had the desire to become a Jesuit after he was ordained he could then enter the Society. Fr Mayer studied Philosophy at Fribourg, Switzerland and in Munich. He then undertook his theological studies at Tubingen. He was ordained a priest on 2 May 1899. Rupert Mayer entered the Jesuit novitiate at Feldkirch, Austria on 1 October 1900. From 1906 to 1911 he preached missions throughout Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands. In 1912 Fr Mayer was transferred to Munich to work with the poor.
At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 Fr Mayer volunteered to be a military chaplain. He was initially assigned to a military hospital; however, he wished to be closer to the soldiers and was sent to the fronts in France, Poland and Romania as chaplain to a division of soldiers. He was held in great esteem by both Catholic and non-Catholic soldiers because his courageous work manifested his love for them. When there was fighting at the front Fr Mayer would be found crawling along the ground from one soldier to the next talking to them, listening to them and administering the Sacraments to them. When he was warned that he was putting his own life in danger through such activities, he replied simply, “My life is in God’s hands”. In December 1915, Fr Mayer was awarded the Iron Cross for bravery in recognition of his work with the soldiers at the front.
As he was rushing to minister to some of the soldiers, Fr Mayer was seriously wounded by a grenade during heavy fighting in December 1916. As a result of the injuries, his leg had to be amputated. He returned to Munich to convalesce and was referred to as the “Limping Priest”.
Fr Mayer’s own physical suffering transformed him into to an even more understanding, kind and gentle priest.
After the First World War Fr Mayer continued to work with the poor of Munich through the charitable organisation, Caritas. He was known for his generosity to anyone who approached him as he adopted the following philosophy : “If out of the ten who ask for alms there are nine who are not in need of them, and if through fear of that happening, I refuse my help to one really needy person, this would cause me immense suffering. I would rather give to all ten and thus avoid the danger of being lacking in charity.”
Fr Mayer’s generosity in material things led people to approach him for help in spiritual matters. Fr Mayer helped people through the many hours he spent in the confessional and his courageous preaching. He encouraged men to join the Men’s Congregation of Mary (a sodality for men). Fr Mayer became the president of the Congregation in 1921 and more than doubled its membership to over 7000 men during this term of leadership. He was a popular priest because he totally gave of himself to the people, was generous and available but more importantly was able to relate to them in their surroundings and mix with people from all walks of life. An example of his generosity and his common touch was that he would celebrate Mass in the waiting room of Munich Railway Station at 3:10 a.m. and 3:45 a.m. on Sunday mornings so that people who wished to spend the day in the mountains could still meet their Sunday obligation.
After the First World War Fr Mayer also took a stand against Communism, National Socialism, and any writings that sowed hatred. He was prepared to denounce Adolf Hitler and Nazi propaganda pointing out the falsehoods being spread and stressing Catholic values. Fr Mayer particularly spoke out against the move to close church-affiliated schools. This lead to him being persecuted by the Nazis. In May 1937 Fr Mayer was banned by civil authorities from preaching but he refused to obey the order as he considered himself obliged to defend the Church and its values. Consequently he was arrested in June 1937. He was tried and sentenced to six months imprisonment and was forbidden to preach. The sentence was suspended. At this time, the Church authorities also forbade him to preach which was a great sacrifice for him. Soon the Prefect of Munich made the following remark, “The priests are all the same. Threaten them enough with arrest, rattle the keys of the concentration camp; they subside without further ado and shut up”. Fr Mayer could not let such a defamatory remark go unchallenged. He sought and was granted permission from his superiors to preach once again. Upon preaching, Fr Mayer was arrested and immediately put into Landsberg prison. He served five months imprisonment until he was released as a result of a general amnesty. Upon being released, he continued to work with small discussion groups in Munich which were conducted privately.
Despite this, he was arrested by the Gestapo in November 1939. Fr Mayer was deported to the Orianienburg-Sachsenhausen concentration camp. He lost much weight because of the deprivations and hardships. He wrote to his mother and said, “I am cut off from everything and everyone and I hear nothing any more about the world…I try to pray and offer everything in sacrifice. God does not ask anything else of me at the moment or he would have disposed things differently.”
In August 1940 Fr Mayer was moved to Ettal Abbey in Southern Bavaria and was placed under house arrest. His greatest suffering was his inability to minister to his people. He was also concerned that his silence may be construed by others as capitulation. However, he sought consolation during this time from the fact that Christ, too, had been persecuted. Though he could not help his people in any material way, he continued to help them through his prayer. In May 1945 he was released and returned to Munich. Once again he returned to his former apostolic work. On 1 November 1945 , he died whilst preaching at Mass.
Fr Mayer was an extraordinarily generous priest who through his limitless work and love for people was able to find Christ in each person. Rupert Mayer’s warmth, understanding and unconditional self-giving led each person he met to experience the love of Christ. Fr Mayer received his strength from the Lord and his favorite prayer was:
Lord, let happen whatever you will;
and as you will, so will I walk;
help me only to know your will!
Lord, whenever you will, then is the time;
today and always
Lord, whatever you will, I wish to accept,
and whatever you will for me is gain;
enough that I belong to you.
Lord, because you will it, it is right;
and because you will it, I have courage.
My heart rests safely in your hands!
Fr Rupert Mayer’s memorial is liturgically observed on November 3.
Father Alfred Delp, S. J.
Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest ordained in 1937, was hanged by the Nazis in February 19145, having been arrested the previous July on suspicion that he had been involved in the unsuccessful plot to kill Hitler on July 20, 1944. In fact, as even the court was forced to acknowledge, he had played no part in the attempt, although Delp was an active member of the Kreisau Circle, one of the small number of German anti-Nazi groups during the war. But his opposition to the Nazis, whom he regarded as a profound perversion of Christian and German values, was never in doubt. Since at least 1941, as rector of the church of St. Georg in Munich, Delp had been active in helping Jews to escape Germany. His faith never wavered during his imprisonment. The Gestapo offered to spare him if he would resign from the Jesuits. As Delp understood only too well, his refusal was his death warrant.
As of yet, there are no items connected to Father Delp in the Papal Artifacts’ Collection.