The Ordination at DachauDEACON GREG KANDRA
Some months back, I preached a homily on the "Priesterblock," the section of the Dachau concentration camp where priests were kept in isolation during World War II.
But what many may not know is that one of the men imprisoned there was a deacon. More remarkably, during his time there he was secretly ordained a priest – to my knowledge, the only such ordination.
His name was Karl Leisner. The Wikipedia entry on him gives the bare outlines of his life:
What the Wikipedia entry leaves out are his frail health, and the circumstances surrounding his eventual secret ordination. Leisner was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and in Dachau his condition began to deteriorate. Fearing that the great dream of his life – to be a priest – would never be realized, he and the priests in his cellblock secretly sent a petition to a local cardinal (aided here, and in so many areas, by a heroic nun known as the "Angel of Dachau," Sister Imma Mack.) The cardinal granted permission for a French bishop detained in the camp to perform the ordination, and asked Sister Imma to deliver a ritual book and chrism needed for the rite; Sister Imma was told to return these items, along with written documentation of the ordination, if they were able to celebrate it.
A number of prisoners, including some non-Catholics who worked in different work areas of the camp, made full sets of vestments for the bishop and Deacon Leisner. The ordination was celebrated in 1944 in secret, and the documentation was smuggled to Sister Imma, who then delivered it all to the cardinal. (The photograph here shows the newly ordained Fr. Leisner moments after his ordination. It is one of the few taken to capture this incredible event.) But Fr. Leisner's health was so weak, he was only able to celebrate mass, again in secret, once. Shortly after the camp was liberated, he was sent to a hospital for the terminally ill, where he died in the summer of 1945. He was 30 years old.
In 1996, Pope John Paul II declared Karl Leisner a martyr for the faith, and beatified him. His feast day is August 12, the date of his death. Blessed Karl Leisner's remains rest in the crypt of the Xanten Cathedral, in Germany.
As the Church remembers all her faithful departed this month, we need to remember in a special way extraordinary people like Karl Leisner. We are hearing again and again these days about how the Church is facing persecution in the Middle East, and how so many are giving their lives for what they believe. They are martyrs, just as surely as Blessed Karl Leisner was. And they remind us, too, that so much of what we take for granted today – so much of what we practice and believe – took root and grew and flourished because it was watered by the blood of martyrs. Their legacy is ours, and it traces its roots back to the first martyr, who gave his all on the hill of Golgotha.
He showed us The Way of sacrificial love, and countless have followed, including Blessed Karl Leisner.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them . .
Deacon Greg Kandra. "The Ordination at Dachau." Patheos (November 19, 2010).
Reprinted with permission of Deacon Greg Kandra.
Founded in 2008, Patheos.com is an online destination to engage in the global dialogue about religion and spirituality and to explore and experience the world's beliefs.
A Roman Catholic deacon serving the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, Greg Kandra is the creator of "The Deacon's Bench" blog, carried on Beliefnet and News Director for the diocese's cable channel, NET (New Evangelization Television).
Prior to that, Deacon Greg worked for 26 years as a writer and producer for CBS News, where he contributed to "The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric," "60 Minutes II," "48 Hours," and "Sunday Morning." He was co-writer for the acclaimed documentary "9/11," hosted by Robert DeNiro. His radio essays were featured in the bestselling book Deadlines and Datelines by Dan Rather. He's also a two-time winner of the Catholic Press Association Award. Other places you may find him: America, U.S. Catholic, Catholic Digest, Reality and The Brooklyn Tablet. He also contributes homiletic reflections to the parish resource Connect! published by Liturgical Publications. In November 2009, he began serving a three-year term as a consultant to the Communications Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Deacon Greg grew up in Maryland but he and his wife today live in the beautiful borough of Queens, New York. You can contact Deacon Greg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2010 Deacon Greg Kandra
Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.