Sunday, April 2, 2017


Another holy layman was just added to the list of  future canonized saints.

On March  19th Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, presided at the Mass of beatification of JOSEF MAYR-NUSSER, who refused to recite the Hitler.

Josef held leadership positions in Catholic Action and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. He married in 1942, and a son was born the following year.

Drafted into the SS in 1944, Josef refused to pledge loyalty to Hitler. Sentenced to death, he died while being transported to Dachau.

He “died a martyr because he refused to adhere to Nazism out of fidelity to the Gospel,” the Pope said following his March 19 Angelus address. “Because of his great moral and spiritual intelligence, he constitutes a model for lay faithful, especially for fathers.”

Josef Mayr-Nusser was born in 1910 in Bolzano into a rural German-Italian household. He grew up on a farm in which his devout parents instilled in him Christian values along with his elder brother Jakob, who enrolled in a seminary to become a priest.

Josef became fascinated with the life and works of Frederic Ozanam and with the life of Saint Vincent de Paul. In an attempt to emulate the pair and to help the poor in the spirit of charity, he joined the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul at the age of 22 and became its elected president in 1937. He constantly visited the poor, providing them both material and spiritual assistance, in the process becoming a vocal anti-poverty advocate.

In a 1938 letter to members, Josef  wrote: "When a brother is going to visit a poor family, you should do everything to organize your time so you can spend at least 10-15 minutes to visit people". In an attempt to deepen his understanding of faith, he studied the letters of St. Thomas More and the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas.

His friends nicknamed him "Pepi" in his adolescence and early adulthood. In 1934, he became the head of Catholic Action in the Diocese of Trent, accepting the invitation of Pope Pius XI to broaden his lay activities. In addition to these posts that he filled,  he secretly became a member of the anti-Nazi movement "Andreas Hofer Bund" in 1939.

On 26 May 1942 he married Hildegard Straub (who died in 1998) and his son Alberto was born in 1943.

As part of Nazi conscription during World War II he was enrolled in the SS unit in 1944 which forced him to leave his wife and newborn son for training in Prussia. Sometime during the war, his father was killed on the frontlines. Franz Treibenreif (a comrade and friend) said of him on what became a fateful 4 October 1944: "Josef was pensive and worried. Unexpectedly, he raised his hand: 'Sir Major-General', he said with a strong voice, 'I cannot take an oath to Hitler in the name of God. I cannot do it because my faith and conscience do not allow it'".

His friends attempted to convince him to recant or to cease from the explosive statement, but he eschewed their offers in order to stand up for his beliefs.  Josef believed that Nazism could not be reconciled in any way with the values of Christian ethics and  that the ideology ran counter to the divine law of God.

As a result of this he was jailed and later transferred to Danzig where he was prosecuted. While he was awaiting trial. Josef chopped wood and peeled potatoes, and was given the right to pray during his time in captivity.

From prison he sent a range of letters to his wife and said of his actions: "You would not be my wife if you expected something different from me".  In February 1945 he was sentenced to death with 40 others for treason and was sentenced to be shot by a firing squad at the Dachau concentration camp. However he fell ill with dysentery, and en route on the train he died in the morning of 24 February 1945. When his corpse was discovered in the train, he was found with the Bible and a rosary with him.

 He is known as the "Martyr of the First Commandment”.

Pope Francis on Sunday recalled the Beatification of Josef Mayr-Nusser, which took place the day before in the Italian city of Bolsano. Bl. Josef, as the Holy Father noted, was a layman, the father of a family and a promoter of Catholic Action.

“On account of his great moral and spiritual stature,” Pope Francis said following the Angelus on Sunday, Bl. Josef “is a model for the lay faithful, especially for fathers, who we remember with great affection today.” Fathers are honored in Italy on 19 March, the Solemnity of St Joseph, although this year, since the 19th falls on a Sunday in Lent, the feast of the patron saint of fathers wa transferred to the following day. 

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