Carmelite Saints During Times of Persecution

Image of one of two cathedrals in Santiago, Chile that were set fire to on October 18, 2020 © AFP / Pablo Cozzaglio

With the spate of violence against Christianity recently, particularly against Catholic churches, it appears we’re in the midst of an upsurge of Christian persecution in the western world. Throughout Christian history there have been many periods of persecution. We have several amazing examples of how Carmelites have responded during times of persecution. The themes in the examples below is a wonderful roadmap for all Carmelites to follow and to ponder in our current times:

Forgiveness: our Carmelite saints forgave their persecutors wholeheartedly
Offering: they made themselves and their suffering as an offering for others
Calm acceptance: they accepted their fate as the will of God and found peace and joy in doing the will of God
Prayer: they prayed for others even in the midst of their trials, especially praying for those persecuting them

Love will always be victorious. The one who loves can do everything.

The Martyrs of Compiegne
During and after the French Revolution the Catholic Church was persecuted mercilessly. The revolutionary government passed the Civil Constitution of the Clergy in 1790 which made it illegal to live a religious life. In 1792, all women’s monasteries were ordered closed. The Carmelite nuns were forced to leave the monastery and live in the community. However, they continued to follow their Carmelite community life spread out amongst four separate apartments, wearing civilian clothing. The Prioress, Mother Teresa of St. Augustine, had by this point already “suggested to the community that they commit themselves to martyrdom, and offer themselves as a sacrifice for France and for the French Church.” (Source: ) The Reign of Terror began in 1794 and the Carmelites were arrested on June 22nd, and tried and executed by guillotine on July 17th. They were transported through the streets of Paris for 2 hours, during which time they sang hymns such as Salve Regina. None of the sisters showed fear and they forgave their guards. Each sister asked permission to die from the prioress and kissed a statue of the Virgin Mary before mounting the steps and they each died while singing Psalm 117, “Laudate Dominum. The oldest sister, 78-year-old Sr. Mary of Jesus Crucified was heard to say “I forgive you, my friends. I forgive you with all that longing of heart with which I would that God forgive me!”

Ten days after the martyrdom of the 16 Carmelites, the Reign of Terror ended. Mother Teresa of St. Augustine’s axiom “Love will always be victorious. The one who loves can do everything” came to fruition.

St. Elizabeth of the Trinity
Born in France in 1880, St. Elizabeth of the Trinity entered Carmel in 1901 in Dijon. The French government was still very much anti-Catholic and the persecutions continued. Catholic education was outlawed and Church property was being confiscated. St. Elizabeth of the Trinity’s Carmelite community prepared for the worst by making plans to move to Belgium under cover in civilian clothes if need be. Elizabeth wrote to her mother asking her to send her the pattern she used to make skirts, writing “Our Reverend Mother must have told you that because of recent events we are taking a few precautionary measures in case we should have to leave our dear cloister”. Elizabeth shared the following in a letter to her aunts: “Thank (God) for having called your little Elizabeth to Carmel for the persecution; I do not know what awaits us, and this perspective of having to suffer because I am His delights my soul. I love my dear cloister so much, and sometimes I have wondered if I don’t love this dear little cell too much, where it is good to be “alone with the Alone.” Perhaps one day He will ask me to sacrifice it. I am ready to follow Him everywhere, and my soul will say with St. Paul: ‘Who will separate me from the love of Christ?’ I have within me a solitude where He dwells, and nothing can take that away from me!” (L 162)

Blessed Titus Brandsma
Blessed Titus Brandsma was arrested and martyred for speaking out against the Nazi ideology in German-occupied Holland in 1942. He remained calm, peaceable and forgiving throughout his ordeal, which included being subjected to medical experimentation at Dachau before being lethally injected in July 1942. While in prison he was requested by the Gestapo to write a paper on why the Dutch people, especially the Catholic people, rejected National Socialism. Titus held no ill-will against the German people and wrote at the end of his letter “God bless the Netherlands. God bless Germany. God grant, that both nations will once again stand next to each other in total freedom, in recognition of him and for the sake of his glory, for the salvation and blossoming of such closely allied people.” He would often ask his fellow prisoners to pray for their captors. When one fellow Dutch prison complained, and asked how they could be expected to pray for the Nazis, Titus responded “You don’t have to pray for them the whole day! The good Lord will be happy with one prayer”.

Come, we are going for our people.

St. Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross)
St. Edith Stein, the patron saint of Europe, was a Jewish German who converted to Catholicism as an adult. Although she wanted to become a Carmelite, she was instead persuaded to utilize her talents as an educator (she had a Doctorate in Philosophy). She was forced to leave teaching in 1933 due to German laws against Jews and was able to enter the Carmelite convent in Cologne and took the name of Sister Teresa Benedict of the Cross. In 1938, Germany intensified its persecution of the Jews and St. Edith found refuge at the Carmelite convent in Echt, Holland. However, in 1942, in retaliation against the Dutch bishops who had openly condemned the Nazi treatment of Dutch Jews, all Jewish converts to Catholicism were rounded up from convents and monasteries in Holland and deported. Edith and her sister Rosa were sent to Auschwitz where they were gassed on August 9, 1942. Her last words heard in Echt were to her sister Rosa, “Come, we are going for our people.”
She had written the following three years earlier: “Even now I accept the death that God has prepared for me in complete submission and with joy as being his most holy will for me. I ask the Lord to accept my life and my death…so that the Lord will be accepted by His people and that His Kingdom may come in glory, for the salvation of Germany and the peace of the world.” Even earlier, in 1930, she wrote the prophetic words “Every time I feel my powerlessness and inability to influence people directly, I become more keenly aware of the necessity of my own holocaust.

An eyewitness account of her demeanour while in prison and transported to Auschwitz is as follows:
Among the prisoners who were brought in on 5 August, Sr. Benedicta stood out on account of her great calmness and composure. The distress in the barracks and the stir caused by the new arrivals was indescribable. Sr. Benedicta was just like an angel, going around among the women, comforting them, helping them, and calming them. Many of the mothers were near to distraction; they had not bothered about their children the whole day long, but just sat brooding in dumb despair. Sr. Benedicta took care of the little children, washed and combed them, looked after their feeding and their other needs. During the whole of her stay there, she was so busy washing and cleaning as acts of loving kindness that everyone was astonished.”

Our Carmelite saints show us the way to respond in times of persecution. Forgiveness, offering of ourselves, prayer, and calm acceptance can only come from a deep and abiding love of God and neighbour.

Since man’s life on earth is a time of trial, and all who would live devotedly in Christ must undergo persecution, and the devil your foe is on the prowl like a roaring lion looking for prey to devour, you must use every care to clothe yourselves in God’s armour so that you may be ready to withstand the enemy’s ambush. Rule of Saint Albert, Chapter 18


The Blessed Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne

Charity in the Heart of the Church – Lesson from Blessed Titus Brandsma

“He who wants to win the world for Christ must have the courage to come in conflict with it.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about Blessed Titus Brandsma lately.  The Carmelite priest was martyred at Dachau on July 26, 1942 as he had been labelled an “enemy of the German mission”.  How could a 60- year-old frail Dutch priest be an enemy to another country?  Titus recognized early on that the National Socialist ideology was against Catholic teaching.  And as early as 1935 he spoke out against the Nazi persecution of Jews. “Titus, with sadness and foreboding, observed and correctly interpreted the ominous development of Nazism. In classroom, lecture hall and the press, he warned the Dutch against Hitler’s tyranny. “The Nazi movement is a black lie,” he proclaimed. “It is pagan.” His critique and denunciation of the Nazi movement in Germany and its counterpart in Holland did not escape the notice of the Dutch National Socialist Party. He became a man marked for eventual reprisal.” [1]  He was arrested in January 1942.

During his interrogation, the police asked him “Why have you disobeyed the regulations?”

“As a Catholic, I could have done nothing differently,” Titus replied.

“You are a saboteur. Your church is trying to sabotage the orders of the occupying powers, to prevent the national socialistic philosophy of life from reaching the Dutch population.”

Titus responded: “We must object to anything or any philosophy that is not in line with Catholic doctrine.”[2]

In the name of tolerance, tolerance is being abolished

Pope Benedict, 2010

Titus spoke out to open the eyes of his fellow Dutch citizens to the truth of the dangers of the National Socialist ideology.  We live in an era today where we are also surrounded by ideologies that are not in keeping with Catholic teaching.  Political ideologies, activist ideologies and gender ideologies abound that are not in keeping with God’s laws.  However, many of us are afraid of being labelled “intolerant” in pointing out the truth of these ideologies.  With the moral relativism that has invaded society in the past few decades, everyone lives out their own truth.  Pope Benedict warned about this back in 2005: “We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.” When interviewed by Peter Seewald about this in 2010, Pope Benedict elaborated further: “In the name of tolerance, tolerance is being abolished; this is a real threat we face. The danger is that reason – so-called Western reason – claims that it has now really recognized what is right and thus makes a claim to totality that is inimical to freedom. I believe that we must very emphatically delineate this danger. No one is forced to be a Christian. But no one should be forced to live according to the “new religion” as though it alone were definitive and obligatory for all mankind.”[3] 

By today’s moral relativist standards, I am tolerant if I allow others to do what they want to do.  I often hear the phrase “you be you”, as if to say, anything you do is okay as long as it’s okay by you.  I’m being intolerant if I point out that their behaviours will harm themselves or others, whether that be physically, mentally or spiritually.  However, as Carmelites, we are called to be charity in the heart of the Church. 

Charity keeps the commandments of God and his Christ.

Catechism of the CAtholic Church

What is charity?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbour as ourselves for the love of God.” (1822). It also states “…charity keeps the commandments of God and his Christ: ‘Abide in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.’” (1824)  And “…charity demands beneficence and fraternal correction.” (1829) To be charity in the heart of the Church then is to keep God’s commandments, the greatest of which are to love God and to love our neighbours as ourselves, in a generous way and when required, calling our brothers and sisters back to those commandments.  Blessed Titus Brandsma was showing great charity to his fellow Dutch citizens by pointing out to them that the National Socialist party did not keep God’s commandments.  It wasn’t what some of them wanted to hear, as was evidenced by his arrest.  However, he stated “He who wants to win the world for Christ must have the courage to come in conflict with it.”

Tuesday’s reading in the Liturgy of the Hours Morning Prayer states “It is now the hour for you to wake from sleep.  The night is far spent; the day draws near.  Let us cast off deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Let us live honorably as in daylight.”  (Romans 13:11b, 12-13a)

Let us wake from our sleep and see what is happening around us.  If Blessed Titus Brandsma were alive today, what would he be trying to tell his fellow Carmelites and his fellow citizens about the ideologies of today?  “The truth, if it is God’s truth, can be spoken with due respect for authority and profound love for all.[4]  May we never be worried about rocking the boat, but be more afraid of the boat sinking because we did not witness in charity and with courage.

Blessed Titus Brandsma, pray for us.  Help us be charity in the heart of the Church. 

Corina (Formation I Candidate)


[2] Ibid.


[4] A Pattern for Life, Fr. Patrick Thomas McMahon, O. Carm., p. 86

Reflections from Lay Carmelite Annual Retreat October 2019 – Reflection 1

Our members share their reflections on Blessed Titus Brandsma from the October 2019 annual retreat at the Carmelite monastery in Niagara Falls, Canada

“Titus was a witness and man of hope in very difficult times.”  He had great hope because he knew and recognized the presence of God in life and in others; “contemplating the little, weak and fragile signs of the presence of God in his life.”   Sometimes we hear that called as living in the Divine Will.  No matter what circumstances you are in, knowing in the core of your being that “we are in the hands of God”, can’t help but give us hope in all circumstances.  Titus was the embodiment of this attitude.

This was my first Carmelite retreat.  I’ve been on silent retreats before and have always enjoyed them.  By learning about Blessed Titus Brandsma and seeing some of his family photos I felt very much at home as my family is from the part of Holland where he was ordained and studied. I’ve even visited a concentration camp, Camp Vught, near Den Bosch (not the same one he was at), so could picture the circumstances in which he lived.  The picture of his little niece looked just like my mom when she was a small child!  Learning about his spirituality and more about the spirituality of all Carmelites from the former Prior General was a tremendous blessing.  The weekend was filled with graces.

This is what I wrote in my journal while sitting outside:  “My heart is full – you have once again surprised me with your graces. I was almost in tears during mass while singing Blessed Titus Brandsma’s poem he wrote in the concentration camp. It felt like he was there with us…I feel like learning about him and his spirituality is again God’s way of illuminating for me that this is truly my charism as well.  Praise be to God!”

Bedankt Titus Brandsma en bedankt Fr Fernando!

Corina (Formation I candidate)

Reflections from Lay Carmelite Annual Retreat – Reflection 2

Lord, we just finished a retreat led by Fr. Fernando Romeral (who looks like a brother of Tony)

Jezzee , our incumbent Director requested our feedback regarding the talk of Fr. Fernando regarding Titus Brandsma. Lord, Blessed Titus is blessed to have such religious be his spokes-person… Fr Fernando is deep.

I asked this question of him:

Is the effectiveness and efficacy of prayer depend on the intercessor (or prayee) being “Holy”?

Fr. Fernando’s answer was: “ Yes, No. I don’t know”

First answer, “Yes”

The bible ( “Trust in him at all times, O people. Pour out your heart before him. God is a refuge for us.” Psalms 62:8) attest to this fact.


Second answer “No”

There are instances that an evil man, or sinful man prays and the prayer is also granted. (the bible is replete with examples and real life dramas)

Third Answer: – “ I don’t know”

We are delving on the mystery of prayer and that is beyond us.

I agree with Jezzee that the last 3 days is the best retreat I’ve attended at Mount Carmel Spiritual Centre: The keynote speaker is a model of Carmelite attitude and spirituality. He doesn’t have NOTES. He spoke extemporaneously, with wit and humour! I believe he can talk about any other saints (which he includes in this talk) and would be able to weave all the Carmelite spiritualities and his experience as Prior General. He is so humble (an example on humility) that he lines up with the “unwashed” His favourite saint is Blessed Titus Brandsma, but I bet you if he talks about St X, the audience would still find the talk interesting and can resonate with his words.

(But of course, I might be bias, because he somewhat looks like Tony)

Loving in Carmel,

Onette (Formation Director)