Letter to the Editor
Published: December 20, 2007
To the Editor:
My wife, Mary Jean, and I were privileged and blessed to attend the beatification of Franz Jagerstatter on Oct. 26. Franz was drafted into the German Army in February 1943, refused to serve, and was executed. I first heard the story of this Austrian farmer in the 1977 book “His Way” by Father David Knight. I found it to be a powerful Christian witness in our own time. In June, I heard that Pope Benedict declared Franz a martyr of the church, opening the door to canonization.
I then ordered the 1964 book by Gordon Zahn, “In Solitary Witness,” which made the story of this incredible man known to the world. When I heard the beatification would take place in Linz, Austria, on Oct. 26, Mary Jean and I decided we needed to be there. It was a good decision!
When Franz was drafted in February 1943, he had a devoted wife, Franziska, and three daughters, ages 2, 4, and 6. Initially, Franziska tried to talk him into serving, but in the end she was the only person who supported his decision. His friends, his pastor, other priests, and finally the bishop all tried to convince him to join the military for the sake of his own life and for the wellbeing of his family. But he stood by his position that serving the German war effort was so incompatible with his Christian faith that his conscience compelled him to refuse. He was beheaded in Berlin, Aug. 9, 1943.
The beatification ceremony took place in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Linz, with 5,000 in attendance. We were especially touched when Franziska, age 94, presented the urn containing a bone fragment of her husband to the bishop of Linz to be interred in the Cathedral. Franziska kissed the urn and wiped away tears. Her husband no longer belonged to her alone, but to the church universal. We also attended a Mass at Franz’s church in the small village of St. Radegund, where Franz was the sacristan and attended daily Mass. After Mass, Franziska greeted us with a warm smile. We felt like we were in the presence of another saint. We also visited the Jagerstatter home and saw some of the letters he wrote to his family from prison.
A priest named Albert Jochmann attended Jagerstatter in his final hours. When he offered to bring reading materials, Franz declined and he also declined to hear readings from Scripture. According to the priest, Jagerstatter explained, “I am completely bound in inner union with the Lord and any reading would only interrupt my communication with my God.” Father Jochmann marveled at the prisoner’s calm as he approached the scaffold. He later said, “I can say with certainty that this simple man was the only saint I have ever met in my lifetime.”
We will be presenting a video account of our pilgrimage at St. Jude Church on Jan. 13. We will also show a 1971 Austrian film on Franz Jagerstatter, “The Refusal.” All are welcome.
Joe Goode, Atlanta