He’s not an official Catholic saint yet, but in October the Church beatified Nazi resister Franz Jagerstatter at the cathedral in Linz, Austria—thus taking the second of three steps toward official canonization or sainthood.
As writer and activist Jeanie Wylie said, “We smile to think of the saints of God in all times who have listened in the night and done whatever they could to show us the love of God.” In this liturgical season where we are steeped in images of Christ putting on our humanness and as we prepare for the slow cavalcade of Lent, I’m drawn to Jagerstatter’s story, to what happened when he “listened in the night.”
Franz Jagerstatter, born in 1907, lived in St. Radegund, Austria, only a few miles from Hitler’s birthplace in Braunau. Jagerstatter’s parents were too poor for a marriage ceremony. At age 27 Franz considered entering a Catholic monastery as a lay brother, but was advised against it by his parish priest who thought Franz should take over the family farm and care for his mother.
In 1936, Franz married Franziska Schwaninger and, by all accounts, his life changed dramatically for the better. In reflecting on their marriage, Franziska recalled, “We helped one another go forward in faith.” Franz himself said, “I could never have imagined that being married could be so wonderful.”
In 1938, Nazi Germany “unified” Austria. The German-controlled Austrian Nazi Party held a rigged plebiscite to approve the unification. It passed with 99.73 percent support. The public humiliation and arrest of Jews began almost immediately. Hitler commented on the annexation of Austria, “Not as tyrants have we come, but as liberators.”