Friday, June 3, 2016


I have recently read two books by (or about) a Jesuit. Having been trained by these amazing men in college I have a special affinity for them, though in many cases of late they have gotten a bad rap!

Several years ago we read the  Prison Writings of Alfred Delp, SJ.  and while it made a deep impression, I did nothing at the time to explore this man’s life.

The Jesuits are a religious order, officially founded in 1540 and currently numbering over 18,000 priests, brothers, and men in formation. While they are active in a wide variety of ministries throughout the world, they are perhaps best known for their spirituality and for their schools (there are 28 Jesuit colleges and universities and 60 Jesuit high schools in the USA).

I am grateful for the significant part the Jesuits played in my own formation.  At the top of all our papers we wrote  UIOGD -  “That in all things God may be glorified”. I am grateful for the witness they bore (and still bear) to a spirituality that is attentive to the deep movements of our hearts, the movements that draw us ever forward along our pilgrimage toward God. My academic and spiritual adviser in college  (Alban J. Dachauer, S.J.) was a great promoter of the devotion to the Sacred Heart and wrote the definitive book on the encyclical “Haurietas Aquas”.

Recently we had a Jesuit novice here on his “journey” in formation. If he is any indication of the caliber of young men joining today, the order is in good shape!

ALFRED DELP, S.J. was a youth leader, intellectual, and a dedicated resister to the Nazi regime who was taken prisoner and eventually executed by the Nazis. In With Bound Hands, the author Mary Frances Coady covers his  imprisonment and execution. Father Delp's smuggled writings and prayers to friends and family mark a man transformed by the crucible of suffering, and provide a sober view of the depths of human cruelty as well as the struggle to endure. This book assures us that the most unimaginable evil will not prevail, if we have faith. 

Father Delp was born in 1907 to an unmarried Catholic mother and a Protestant father (they married shortly thereafter). He was raised as a Protestant, receiving Lutheran confirmation in 1921. After a quarrel with his Lutheran pastor, the headstrong teenager sought refuge with the local Catholic priest, who prepared him for first Communion and Confirmation in the Catholic Church. He entered the Society of Jesus, the year following at age eighteen.

Delp Family

Father Delp's fierce independence, his overdeveloped critical faculties, and his indifference to the opinions and feelings of others soon caused difficulties with peers and superiors that would accompany him throughout his short life. Following ordination to the priesthood in 1937, Father Delp received permission from his superiors to pursue a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Munich. When the Nazi authorities refused him admission, he was assigned to the editorial staff of the respected Jesuit monthly Stimmen der Zeit. In April, 1941, the Nazis suppressed the journal, and Father Delp moved to a suburban parish where, among his other activities, he became "an address" for Jews fleeing on the underground route to Switzerland.

In 1942 Father Delp was recruited into the "Kreisau Circle" organized by the Protestant Count Helmuth von Moltke. This was a group of German intellectuals who met secretly, mostly at von Moltke's estate in East Prussia, to discuss plans for a "better Germany" following Hitler's removal or defeat. Father Delp was valued for his expertise in the areas of labor and social justice. This activity was to prove his undoing.

In January, 1944, von Moltke was arrested and sent to a concentration camp. A week after the July 20, 1944, unsuccessful attempt on Hitler's life by the Catholic army officer Claus von Stauffenberg, Father Delp (who had met with Stauffenberg shortly before but knew nothing of the plot) was arrested at his parish near Munich. The reason was his supposed knowledge of Stauffenberg's plans. "The actual reason," he would write from prison following his death sentence, "was that I happened to be, and chose to remain, a Jesuit." This was a reference to the Nazis' offer to spare his life if he would renounce his Jesuit vows. Father Delp was hanged at Plötzensee Prison in Berlin on February 2, 1945.

Mary Frances Coady's account of Father Alfred Delp's life is clear and straightforward. It is enriched by many of the letters he wrote, with manacled hands, during his six months' imprisonment. These show him alternating between hope and despair, while clinging throughout to his unflinching faith. He was sustained by the Eucharist throughout his ordeal. 

In addition to his difficulties from the Nazis, he suffered from his Jesuit provincial's refusal to permit him to take final vows. He was considered, "too independent, tending to act without proper permission," with "an extravagant manner" which gave "the impression of unseemly worldliness." He was overjoyed to receive on December 8, 1944, a visit from a Jesuit brother authorized to receive his final vows in prison.

One of his most poignant prison letters, written January 23, 1945, to the newborn son of close friends in Munich, contains the spiritual fruit of his terrible six-month ordeal: "Only in adoration, in love, in living according to God's order, is a person free and capable of life." Before his walk to the gallows, Father Delp told the Catholic prison chaplain: "In half an hour I'll know more than you do."

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating post. You have a lovely blog. Warm greetings from Montreal, Canada.