Carmelite Spirituality Series: Blessed Titus Brandsma - A Martyr For Our Times

Friday, November 13, 2020 - 20:00

Sheila Grimwood reflects on the enduring significance of Titus Brandsma, a Carmelite friar martyred for his Christian faith during World War II.

Sheila Grimwood reflects on the enduring significance of Titus Brandsma, a Carmelite friar martyred for his Christian faith during World War II.

Sheila is a member of the pastoral team at Aylesford Carmelite Priory in Kent ( and serves on the Executive Board of The Carmelite Institute of Britain & Ireland (

Titus was the religious name of Anno Sjoerd Brandsma, born in The Netherlands in 1881. He grew up in a devout Catholic family, and as a boy felt called by God to religious life and priesthood. In 1898, aged 17, he entered the Carmelite novitiate at Boxmeer, attracted by the Order's blend of contemplative and active lifestyles.

As a Carmelite friar Titus undertook several positions of responsibility, and became Rector of the Catholic University of Nijmegen. As a scholar, Professor Titus translated the works of Saint Teresa of Avila into Dutch, and had a particular interest in medieval mystics, including those of the Low Countries.

Titus also developed an interest in journalism, and this became an intricate part of his vocation. He became an effective communicator and industrious writer. He was described by contemporaries as a priest fully alive with a sense of cheerful urgency, who spread happiness to all those around him.

Titus had a strong devotion to Jesus through his mother Mary, and said that all Christians should be "God-bearers".

Titus was a devoted peace-maker with a deep care about the society he lived in. He was concerned by the growth of National Socialism in Germany, and in the 1930s preached, lectured, and wrote against its dangers, including discrimination against Jews. He stated that Catholics must refuse to comply with the Nazis on matters that went against the Christian faith, no matter the consequences of such defiance.

In 1940 Holland was invaded by Nazi Germany, and in 1942 the regime ordered Dutch Catholic newspapers to print its propaganda. At the request of the Church hierarchy, Titus travelled the country telling editors that to comply with this order would be to lose their newspapers' Catholic identity. Titus was betrayed to the Nazi authorities, who regarded his opposition as very dangerous, and he was arrested at Boxmeer friary.

In prison, Titus gave great comfort and encouragement to fellow inmates, offering them "spiritual communion" even though discussion of religious matters was forbidden. He had close contact with a number of Protestant ministers, one of whom obtained a rosary for him.

After being held prisoner in Scheveningen, Amersfoort, and Cleves, Titus was transferred to the concentration camp at Dachau, arriving there on 19 June 1942. Conditions were appalling; overcrowded prisoners were starved and forced into hard labour. Holy communion was secretly smuggled to Titus, on one occasion in his spectacles case.

In Dachau, Titus' health quickly gave way, and he was transferred to the camp hospital. Rather than being a place of proper medical treatment, it was where the Allgemeine SS conducted a programme of experiments on prisoners. On 26 July 1942 Titus died from a lethal injection administered by a nurse who later gave testimony: she said that Titus, hearing she was a lapsed Catholic, had great pity for her, gave her his rosary beads, and promised to pray for her. Deeply moved by the encounter, she later rediscovered her faith.

Titus' life and death bore witness to the Gospel, the Good news of God's love for all. Titus believed that society must be about the service of other people. This attitude of respect for all prompted him to encourage his fellow prisoners to pray for their captors. Titus met inhumanity and suffering with a sense of reality and even humour. He tried to embody an awareness of love and peace in his own person.

In 1985 Titus Brandsma was formally declared by the Church to be "Blessed" and a martyr of the Christian faith. In 2005 the citizens of Nijmegen chose Titus as the greatest person ever to have lived there.