Saint of the Day – 19 March – Blessed Marcel Callo (1921-1945) aged 23 – Layman, Martyr – born on 6 December 1921 in Rennes, Ille-et-Vilaine, France and died on 19 March 1945 in Mauthausen, Upper Austria, Austria of tuberculosis and dysentery. His body was buried in a mass grave outside the walls of the Concentration camp and his remains never recovered.. He was Beatified on 4 October 1987 by St Pope John Paul II. His memory is also honoured and remembered on 19 April in the Diocese of Linz, Austria.
Marcel Callo was born on 6 December 1921, in Rennes, France, being one of nine children. He was a happy child, who was known to be a leader and a perfectionist. He helped with his household chores and he helped take care of his younger siblings. After completing his primary studies, he became an apprentice to a printer around age 13.
He did not like associating with fellow workers who swore and told many improper stories. He preferred accompanying good Catholic friends who belonged to the JOC, Jeunesse Ouvriere Chretienne (Young Christian Worker). He had a good sense of humour and would like to wrestle, play football, ping pong, cards and bridge.
When Marcel was 20 he fell in love with Marguerite Derniaux. He did not degrade women like his fellow worker but instead had deep respect for women. He said, “I am not one to amuse myself with the heart of a lady, since my love is pure and noble. If I have waited until 20 years old to go out with a young lady, it is because I knew that I wanted to find real love. One must master his heart before he can give it to the one that is chosen for him by Christ.” It took him about one year to declare his love to Marguerite and an additional four months before they first kissed. After being engaged, they imposed a strict spiritual rule of life which included praying the same prayers and going to Mass and receiving the Eucharist as often as they could.
On 8 March 1943, the war (World War II) had gripped their city of Rennes. That day his sister, Madeleine was killed by one of the bombs.
He was conscripted to serve during the war and his original intention was to flee but realised that if he did so, those he left at home would be arrested. He was reluctant but agreed to serve and when conscripted said: “I’m leaving not as a worker but as a missionary in the service of my companions”. Callo departed on 19 March 1943 for his service and brought with him – which he kept at all times – his badges as both a scout and a member of the YCW. The Gestapo arrested Callo on 19 April 1944 due to his membership with the YCW which was perceived to be an outlawed and secret order.
Once there, he worked in a factory that produced bombs that would be used against his own countrymen. After three months or so of missing his family and missing Mass (there was no Catholic church in that town), Marcel became seriously depressed. He later found a room where Mass was offered on Sunday. This helped change his disposition. He reported that, “Finally Christ reacted. He made me to understand that the depression was not good. I had to keep busy with my friends and then joy and relief would come back to me.”
With his morale and hope restored, he cared for his deported friends. He organised a group of Christian workers who did activities together like play sports or cards. He also organised a theatrical group. He galvanised his friends despite him suffering from painful boils, headaches and infected teeth. For his French friends, he arranged a Mass to be celebrated in their native tongue. Eventually, his religious activities attracted unwanted attention from the German officials. The Germans arrested Marcel on 19 April 1944 saying that, “Monsieur is too much of a Catholic.”
The Germans interrogated Marcel. He admitted his Catholic activities and was imprisoned in Gotha. He secretly received the Eucharist while in prison and continued to pray and help his companions. He was considered dangerous to the Germans and was moved to a different prison at Mathausen. He suffered from various ailments such as bronchitis, malnutrition, dysentery, fever, swelling (due to the malnutrition and dehydration) and general weakness. He never complained. Despite his suffering, he encouraged his companions by saying, “It is in prayer that we find our strength.”
He died on the feast of St Joseph, 19 March 1945. The date was exactly two years from the day he left home. St Pope John Paul II Beatified Marcel Callo on 4 October 1987 as a Martyr murdered in hatred of the Faith. Colonel Tibodo – who saw thousands die in the camps witnessed that of Callo’s and said of it with emotion: “Marcel had the look of a saint.” Tibodo also testified for the beatification proceedings and said: “I have never seen in a dying man a look like this”.