A scholar and a man: Titus Brandsma

(Post by Fabio Cittadini) Today we would like to speak about a very special man: Titus Brandsma. He was born February 23, 1881 at Ugoklosten at Bolsvard, in the province of Friesland, the Netherlands. Attended high school by the Franciscan fathers of Megen but in 1898, won by the spirituality of Carmel, entered in the School of the Carmelites of Mesen. An intelligent and highly motivated guy, he followed the philosophical and theological studies profitably deserving, once ordained a priest in 1905, to continue to study in Rome at the Gregorian University, where he obtained a degree in Philosophy. Returning home, the superiors assigned him to the School of Oss, where he taught Philosophy for 15 years and devoted himself to an intense pastoral and cultural life.

Date back to those years the foundation of a marian magazine and of an high school of science, the creation of a Catholic library for the general public. Above all, however, in that extraordinary period Tito translated the works of St. Teresa of Avila into Dutch. All these initiatives helped him to get known as a talented scholar so that when in Nijmegen in 1923 arose the Catholic University, Father Titus was called to teach Philosophy and History of Mysticism. Moreover he created the Institute for Dutch mystic in which were collectected more than 16,000 reproductions of Medieval spirituality manuscripts. In this way he confirmed his reputation as a great intellectual and in 1932 he was appointed Chancellor of the Nijmegen University.

Father Tito didn’t was just an intellectual, because as a Carmelite, he had a large and intense missionary activity, spreading the Marian devotion, protecting the language and culture of Friesland region. He was editor of the Dutch Catholic Encyclopedia. He collaborated to the ecumenical movement and, in particular, being devoted to the Virgin Mary, he managed to weave a dialogue with the Eastern Churches.

Although his frequent diseases he didn’t lose his serenity and his good humor. Good hearted, he was always ready to welcome and help anyone who needed him. As a religious, he lived an ideal of fraternity opposed to the the National Socialist ideology propagated by Hitler. When his country was occupied by Hitler’s racial laws and taxes, father Tito refused to expel Jews from Catholic schools and engaged an anti-Nazi propaganda in Catholic newspapers, with the support of the bishops.

The Gestapo kept a watchful eye on him but only the January 10, 1942 he was arrested. Imprisoned in Scheveningen, and, after a few months, interned in the concentration camp at Dachau, he found himself in the midst of humanity sore, suffering and desperatiom in the midst of which he encouraged, comforted, helped people to find reasons to hope. It was, in those terrible months, a point of reference and support for everyone, believers or not. Father Tito, the famous scholar, was light and guide for those who, like him, was in darkness. Exhausted in the physical forces because of forced labor and mistreatment, was killed July 26, 1942 with an injection of carbolic acid. Pope John Paul II beatified him the November 3, 1985.

Father Tito formed at the school of the great Carmelite, as St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux, became, in different circumstances, teacher, brother and companion of every man he met on his way.

Simone Venturini


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