Saint of the Day – 26 July – Blessed Titus Brandsma O.C.D. (1881-1942) Martyr of the Faith – Carmelite Religious Priest, Mystic, Philosopher, Lecturer, Writer, Editor, Preacher, Linguist, Social Activist – born Anno Sjoerd Brandsma on 23 February 1881 at Oegeklooster, Friesland, Netherlands and was martyred on 26 July 1942 by lethal injection in the concentration camp at Dachau, Bavaria, Germany. His executioner was a nurse who had been raised Catholic but left the Church. His body was cremated and no relics remain.
Bl Titus’ parents, who ran a small dairy farm, were devout and committed Catholics, a minority in a predominantly-Calvinist region. With the exception of one daughter, all of their children entered religious orders. As a young boy, Brandsma did his secondary studies in the town of Megen, at a Franciscan-run minor seminary for boys considering a priestly or religious vocation, commonly known as a “Seminary Minor.” He entered the novitiate of the Carmelite friars in Boxmeer on 17 September 1898, where he took the religious name Titus (in honour of his father) by which he is now known. He professed his first vows in October 1899 and was Ordained a priest in 190. Brandsma was knowledgeable in Carmelite mysticism and was awarded a doctorate of philosophy at Rome in 1909. He then taught in various schools in the Netherlands. From 1916 on, he initiated and led a project to translate the works of St Teresa of Ávila into Dutch.
One of the founders of the Catholic University of Nijmegen (now Radboud University), Brandsma became a professor of philosophy and the history of mysticism at the school in 1923. He later served as Rector Magnificus. He was noted for his constant availability to everyone, rather than for his scholarly work as a professor. Brandsma also worked as a journalist and was the ecclesiastical adviser to Catholic journalists by 1935. That same year he did a lecture tour of the United States, speaking at various institutions of his Order.
After the invasion of the Netherlands by the Third Reich in May 1940, it was Brandsma’s fight against the spread of Nazi ideology and for educational and press freedom that brought him to the attention of the Nazis. In January 1942 he undertook to deliver by hand a letter from the Conference of Dutch Bishops to the editors of Catholic newspapers in which the bishops ordered them not to print official Nazi documents, as was required under a new law by the German occupiers. He had visited 14 editors before being arrested on the 19th of that month at the Boxmeer monastery.
After being held prisoner in Scheveningen, Amersfoort and Cleves, Brandsma was transferred to the Dachau concentration camp, arriving there on 19 June. His health quickly gave way and he was transferred to the camp hospital. He died on 26 July 1942, from a lethal injection administered by a nurse of the Allgemeine SS, as part of their program of medical experimentation on the prisoners.
In 1921 Brandsma worked to resolve a controversy concerning Belgian artist Albert Servaes’ depiction of the Stations of the Cross. From this came his series of meditations on each of the 14 stations, though he never finished the 14th Station as he wrote them whilst in Dachau and was executed before completing them.
He was beatified in November 1985 by Pope John Paul II. His feast day is observed within the universal Church today and within the Carmelite Order on 27 July.
In 2005 Brandsma was chosen by the inhabitants of Nijmegen as the greatest citizen to have lived there. A memorial church now stands in the city dedicated to him.
Brandsma’s studies on mysticism was the basis for the establishment in 1968 of the Titus Brandsma Institute in Nijmegen, dedicated to the study of spirituality. It is a collaboration between the Dutch Carmelite friars and Radboud University Nijmegen. Brandsma was honoured by the city of Dachau with a street adjoining the former camp.