The Heelers Diaries

the fantasy world of ireland's greatest living poet

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Location: Kilcullen (Phone 087 7790766), County Kildare, Ireland

Friday, December 23, 2011

a priest for ever

In Dachau concentration camp there were four thousand priests. They were beaten: they were chained: they were knocked down and kicked: they were starved. Battered and exhausted they were offered their freedom if they would deny Christ. In 1942 eight hundred died of hunger, and in that year one of those four thousand gave in. As he left a friend said to him: "You are a priest for all eternity." He answered: "But the hunger!" Yet even in that camp another came forward to take his place.
Karl Leisner, a deacon in the Munster diocese, was arrested at the end of 1939. In December 1940 he was sent to Dachau. This cheerful optimistic young man had always shown in his actions his burning love for God. One of his dearest friends was Saint Stephen, and like him, he was "full of faith and the Holy Ghost." As with Saint Stephen, persecution only increased his love: "I see heaven opening and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." In the camp he worked from morning to evening, to make this vision true. He gathered others round him and, playing a harmonium, taught them the Catholic Youth Movement songs. A priest wrote, "When I arrived at Dachau on the feast of the Name of Mary, 12 September 1941, Karl was the first to take an interest in me and put me in the way of things. He slipped five Marks into my hand so that I could buy what I needed, at the same time giving me his own piece of bread from his locker."
Karl became very ill with a highly dangerous form of tuberculosis. His greatest desire was to enter eternity a priest for eternity. The others discussed the possibilities of an ordination in that camp at Dachau, so that, where everything to do with Christ and His priests was despised and vilified, a new priest might be born. But Karl was dying and there was no Bishop.
Then, in September 1944, Gabriel Picquet, the French Bishop of Clermont Ferrant, was brought into Dachau as a prisoner. He joyfully agreed to perform a secret ordination, if the Bishop of Karl's diocese would give permission. A petition was sent to the Bishop of Munster in a letter addressed to Karl's parents. The camp thrilled to the answer: "I gladly give you my permission, on condition that the proper ritual is observed and that it can be certified as valid for the future."
They began to organise everything necessary for the ordination. Women acted as secret messengers between the local priest at Dachau and Cardinal Faulhaber at Munich. They brought back the "raw materials" for the prisoner priests to work upon, so that all the details were in order, pontificals, holy oil and so forth. One priest who was from Trier, worked on the mitre; a Benedictine cut a crozier out of oak wood, and carved upon it the episcopal arms with the inscription, "Victor in Vinculis;" the episcopal cross and ring were smithied in the armaments workshop by a Russian; all, of course, in the greatest secrecy for fear of the camp authorities.
The day chosen was Gaudete Sunday in Advent 1944. On the Saturday there was a secret rehearsal in the "chapel" - Room 1 of Block 26. The Bishop wore only a surplice and his mitre. Karl remained seated as he had not the strength to stand. It was the end of his six year retreat - six years learning the virtue of patience. It had indeed been a hard seminary.
The ordination itself was a very moving sight. Because of Karl's physical weakness, only his oldest friends amongst the prisoners had been invited. But there were also present the thirty theological students, so that when they were priests, they might have the memory of this day. The Bishop was wearing his pontifical robes with the trousers of his prison uniform showing underneath. Karl, pale and strained and shivering in his zebra uniform, was beside the altar. Next to him stood the thirty surviving priests from the Munster diocese. All the others stretched out their arms in common prayer. There was complete silence. "Veni sancte spiritus..." For the first time all realised the fullness of the truth that a priest's ordination is a baptism of blood for all eternity. The bound hands were anointed with holy oil so that they could bless the very men who had chained them, and offer sacrifice for those who despised them. "Men revile us and we answer with a blessing, persecute us and we make the best of it, speak ill of us and we fall to entreaty. We are still the world's refuse; everyone thinks himself well rid of us."
When it was all over, the newly ordained priest and the others embraced - his face radiant with thankfulness and joy. Then they went to breakfast, a real love feast provided from the gift parcels of some of the priests, who also served the Bishop and Karl. Both as a testimony and as a memorial of this unique occasion, a Carmelite brother had printed a beautifully designed certificate, which was signed by the Bishop and the senior priest in the Block.
The day of his ordination had been so terribly exhausting for Karl both in mind and body that it was two weeks before he had the strength to offer his first Mass. This he at last did on the feast of his friend Saint Stephen. That first Mass was also his last. By the time of his release on May 4th 1945, he was still alive it is true, but only just. He had to be taken at once to hospital.
The last weeks of his life, which he spent in the Planegg sanatorium in Upper Bavaria, showed how deeply he had grown in love, in happiness, and in his longing for eternity. There, after all those years, he was reunited to his parents and his brothers and sisters. He died in his mother's arms on Sunday August 12th. "I see heaven opening and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."
His body was taken to Cleeve in his home country. For the people on the Lower Rhine the day of his burial was like the day of his first Mass. The red roses of martyrdom and the green palms of victory were laid on the coffin which held his body wrapped in scarlet Mass vestments. Great crowds flocked to his funeral from every part of the Catholic Lower Rhineland - crowds so deeply moved at this showing of God's power that they could only bow down in silent adoration.

(From: Christ In Dachau, 1952 edition, published in England by the Newman Bookshop, Oxford; and in America by the Newman Press, Maryland. The book consists of translations of German language accounts written by concentration camp survivors. These accounts were taken from Seiger In Fesseln, published by Herder in Germany in 1947, and from Christus in KZ, published by Otto Muller, Salzburg, in 1946.)

Footnote: The British historian Michael Burleigh, himself no friend to the Catholic church, has pointed out that the Nazis when trying to destroy Catholicism, initially sought to foment public distrust for priests by claiming all priests were child abusers. To do this the Nazis recycled old accusations of child abuse, exaggerated current accusations, and invented new ones. I would suggest that in contemporary Ireland, media groups have behaved in a similar manner. Perhaps those who work for The Irish Times, Independent Newspapers, the broadcaster RTE, and The Daily Mail would deign to reflect on this. Remember. I haven't accused the Irish Times, Independent Newspapers, RTE, or the Daily Mail of telling a single lie. I have accused them of colluding in a project to destroy the Catholic church. I have accused them of manipulating the news to attain their own societal agendas. And I have accused them of ignoring 99.99 percent of the truth about sex abuse. The truth being that 99.99 percent of sex abuse cases do not occur at the hands of clerical or religious people. Here is the news. This is an age of massive sexual dysfunction. It is an age of massive sexual dysfunction not because people are Christian. It is an age of massive sexual dysfunction because vast numbers of people have been rendered sexually incontinent by a media engendered culture of atheistic hedonism. The truth the media don't want you to hear is that 99.99 percent of sex abuse cases occur in the family home behind closed doors. JH


Blogger Adrienne said...


...and they can't destroy the Church.

6:40 AM  
Blogger heelers said...

They can no more destroy the church than they can destroy God.
But persecute it they can.
And they do.

4:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Polemic subject...

An emotional story, the love of a few good men...There should be more, everywhere...

About the sexual incontinents,those are everywhere too...until the One up above gives them justice, and He shall not fail.

As for the good men, they shall not be forgotten.


10:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One more thing:

Those men, were not the only ones persecuted. The Purple Triangles were murdered just as cruelly, their families separated and dizimated, as there are hundreds of acounts just as moving, and just as sad.

They are still ill treated, still banished, and doors are slammed in their faces everyday, as they do their best to follow the Master's order and "preach the good news", before de end comes - Matthew 24:14. Very few are brave enough to face opposition.

I admire your fervour, and share mine with you, dear Heeler. .R.

10:43 PM  
Blogger heelers said...

You are my favourite letter of the alphabet. (I hope no other letters are reading this.)
As for Polemic.
It's my middle name.
I took it for my confirmation.
James Polemic Healy
(Confirmation = Catholic religious ceremony where we get an extra name!)

3:36 AM  

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