Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

Blessed Jakob Gapp, S.M.

by Brother John M. Samaha, S.M.


An article about a recently beatified martyr who may be considered another patron of the Catholic press.

Larger Work

L'Osservatore Romano

Publisher & Date

Vatican, April 9, 1997

Bl. Jakob Gapp, S.M., recently beatified by Pope John Paul II, may well be considered another patron of the Catholic press. Decapitated by the Nazis in Berlin at the Plotzensee Prison on 13 August 1943, the Gestapo had condemned him for his unwavering adherence to the Catholic faith and his unabashed denunciation of National Socialism (Nazism) when teaching and preaching.

Before entering the Society of Mary (Marianists) in his native Austria, Jakob Gapp had served in the Austrian army in World War I, was wounded and decorated for valour, and suffered as a prisoner of war in northern Italy. This taught him to loathe war, selfishness and greed, arrogant pride, political and social injustice. As a young Marianist he was unstinting in championing the poor, the needy and the oppressed.

This made Jakob Gapp a serious irritant to the Nazis after they annexed Austria in 1938. For his own safety and for the welfare of the Marianist school where he was teaching in Graz, his superiors began to move him from place to place for parish work. The Nazi regime had forbidden him to teach. Some pupils at one school in Tirol had told a school inspector in October 1938 how Fr Gapp had talked to them of the Gospel message of brotherly love and their obligation to love "Frenchmen, Czechs, Jews and communists alike, as they were all human beings". He insisted: "God is your God, not Adolf Hitler".

Realizing the spoken word and the printed word clearly possessed a power lacking in the sword of militarism, he employed the Catholic press as a weapon of choice. And he read avidly to study the thorny problem of National Socialism and all its ramifications.

Imbued with the message of Pope Pius XI's Encyclical Mit brennender Sorge and the statements of the Austrian Bishops, Fr Jakob Gapp had formed a sound judgement about the incompatibility of National Socialism and Christianity. In his preaching he emphasized this truth fearlessly, and taught the uncompromising law of love for all persons regardless of nationality or religion.

In a fateful sermon on 11 December 1938, he staunchly defended Pope Pius XI against the attacks of the Nazis, knowing that his words were being monitored by the Gestapo. He urged the faithful to read Catholic literature rather than Nazi propaganda and to follow the lead of the Catholic press. This bold move forced him to leave his native country and escape to France. A few months later his anti-Nazi audacity required that he enter Spain, where he served in several schools and parishes.

In the summer of 1942 Fr Gapp visited the British consulate in Valencia to inquire about a visa to England. The consulate staff gave him a stack of English newspapers and magazines, including The Tablet, a weekly journal edited by Catholic laity in London. Fr Gapp began distributing The Tablet, returning regularly to the consulate for new copies.

Shadowed by the Nazis over the years, he was arrested through a deceptive Gestapo trap and hustled to prison in Berlin. In January 1943 for two long days he was interrogated by the Gestapo, who were particularly interested in the "subversive propaganda against the fatherland" he had collected and distributed in Valencia.

He willingly admitted that he consistently opposed the Nazi regime and all it represented, but explained when and why he had done so. His reasoning and candour stunned the Nazi agents. For this honesty Fr Gapp was sentenced to death for treason and guillotined. His body was destroyed because the Gestapo feared the people would revere him as a martyr. The record indicates that Himmler had commented that Germany would win the war without difficulty if there were one million party members as committed as Jakob Gapp.

Today Bl. Jakob Gapp is honoured as a modern-day champion of the Catholic press as a source of truthful reporting. Because he respected the Catholic press as a vehicle the Church employs for spreading the Good News in our day, we are invited to call on him to help us promote a more effective Catholic press with a wider readership and to use the Catholic press as he did for the cause of truth and justice.

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