This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Friday, March 22, 2013

March 22 -- Feast of Blessed Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen

How does an anti-democratic German nationalist make it into the canon?  This grumpy old aristocrat was a bitter critic of all things modern -- individualism, socialism, democracy, and laicism, which he described as a plague.  So even if he was the bishop of Munster, how could he be recognized as a beatus? [Hint: It wasn't the fact that he was a Graf, or Count, born at Dinklage Castle.  Family connections might have carried him as far as the Bishop's chair, but the rest was up to him.] 

Timing is everything.  Born in 1878, von Galen was elected Bishop of Munster in the same year that Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany.  [What is 1933, Alex?  That's correct.  Choose again.]  The choice was not popular, especially with those who knew von Galen, but at least one previous candidate had turned down the job.  Although stormtroopers attended his consecration as bishop (in full swastika), Nazis had no reason to celebrate von Galen's elevation to bishop. 

Ill-tempered and outspoken, he wasted no time in criticizing the new government.  While no fan of democracy, he found Hitler's tyranny far more objectionable.  He used Section 21 of the Reichskonkordat to defend Catholic schools against the Nazi attempt to secularize and nationalize all education.  He criticized racial ideology and the Nazi cult of race supremacy.  Then he criticized Gestapo brutality, arrests and confiscations.

The Boys in Black took notice.  An officer named Walter Tiessler wrote to Martin Bormann, suggesting that the Gestapo eliminate Bishop von Galen, but the decision was deferred.  As the terror mounted and the war heated up, he preached patience and endurance, noting that it was not the Allies but rather the Germans themselves who were destroying Germany.  That kind of talk would be called treason in many countries, but it was tricky to know whether the government was better off eliminating him or letting him fulminate.

taken from this site
He was especially critical of the government when Aktion T4, the program to euthanize (murder)  handicapped Germans, became public.  His vitriolic criticism of the regime's ideology did not end the murder of disabled Germans, but the government declared publicly that they had ended it.  They also debated arresting Bishop von Galen, but decided to wait until the war was over.  Meanwhile, his sermons criticizing the government were published and distributed throughout the Reich, both by German Resistance groups like the White Rose and by the Allies.

Following the war, Bishop von Galen  was as critical of British and Soviet occupation forces as he had been of the Nazis.  Since he was not in the Soviet zone of occupation (lucky for him), his protest of the wholesale rape and pillage of eastern Germany by the Red Army did little to change things.  The British were more sensitive to his criticism, though initially that only prodded them to think of ways to shut him up.  As an advocate for the German people with the credibility of a critic of the Nazis, he had sufficient standing to speak with impunity.  The British didn't care for him, but they had to listen. 

The arms of Cardinal von Galen
The Brits got even when Bishop von Galen was nominated for a red hat in 1945.  They blocked his travel to Italy for a consecration ceremony, but he managed an end run around their territory.  An American cardinal paid for his stay in the Holy See, and Pope Pius XII elevated him to the College of Cardinals.  He died of an infected appendix not long after returning to Munster; his last words included "As God wills it," and "May God protect the dear fatherland." 


  1. listing your sources is always a plus! But can you divulge the source for the painting of Torello of Poppi (03/16/'13)?

  2. Yeah, I should source things a lot better. The site I used for this painting is