Titus Brandsma was a Dutch Carmelite friar, Catholic priest, and professor of philosophy born on this day in 1881. He vehemently opposed to Nazi ideology, and ultimately died in Dachau as a result. He was born into a small dairy-farming family and was named Anno Sjoerd Brandsma. His parents were devout Catholics in a predominantly-Calvinist Province of Friesland, and all but one of their children entered religious orders. He entered the novitiate of Carmelite friars in 1898 where he took the religious name Titus (in honor of his father), was ordained in 1905, and received a doctorate of philosophy in Rome in 1909. He was knowledgeable about Carmelite mysticism, and was one of the founders of the Catholic University of Nigmegen (now Radboud University), where he became a professor of philosophy and the history of mysticism. His studies on mysticism were the basis for the establishment of the Titus Brandsma Institute (in 1968) dedicated to the study of spirituality.
After the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1940, Brandsma fought against the spread of Nazi ideology. In January, 1942 he hand-delivered a letter from the Conference of Dutch Bishops to the editors of Catholic newspapers ordering them not to print official Nazi documents as was required by law. He visited 14 editors before being arrested on Jan. 19. He was transferred to Dachau on June 19, where his health quickly gave way, and died on July 26 from a lethal injection that was part of a medical experimentation on prisoners.
In a biography about him, The Man Behind the Myth, Brandsma was said to have combined vanity, a short-tempered character, extreme energy, political simpleness, true charity, unpretentious piety, decisiveness and great personal courage. His idea were of his own age and modern as well. His strong disaffection for any kind of antisemitism offset contemporary Catholicism’s negative theological opinion about Judaism. In 2005, the town of Nigmegen named him its greatest citizen, where a memorial church has been dedicated. A street in Dachau is also named in his honor. He was Beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1985.
In honor of his birth 135 years ago today, take a moment to ponder these words of his: “Do not yield to hatred. We are here in a dark tunnel, but we have to go on. At the end, an eternal light is shining for us.”