Editor's Briefing

Luke Coppen's Catholic Herald Blog

On this day, an imprisoned priest found freedom

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Exactly 65 years ago, on December 8, 1944, Fr Alfred Delp made his final vows for the Society of Jesus in Tegel Prison, Berlin. He was executed by the Nazis less than two months later, on February 2, 1945.

The Ignatius Press blog has this moving description of the scene:

Is it surprising that on the morning of the 8th, Father Delp was so moved that he almost could not control his emotions as he pronounced his vows? What an unusual celebration it was! The prison guard sat at the desk and Father Delp sat to his right, wearing a simple gray suit. He was without his handcuffs. Father Tattenbach sat at the narrow end of the desk.

The conversation, very constrained because of the presence of the guard, began with news about home and his fellow Jesuits. Even all of these things moved Father Delp deeply. Then technical matters related to obtaining an attorney were covered.

As the talk turned to signing the profession formula, Father Delp fell completely silent and sank back in his chair. Only when I asked whether he really wanted to sign, he said ”Yes,” silently read the formula to himself, took the pen and quickly and energetically signed in his characteristic, hard script. Only with visible effort could he control his emotions enough to read the formula aloud, as is required for canonical validity of the vows.

Then, because we had already far exceeded the visiting time, this very extraordinary meeting was hastily concluded with a few inconsequential sentences.

On the evening of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Father Delp wrote, ‘…It was so much all at once… During the whole Novena leading up to December 8, I had prayed for a message of mercy. And then this fulfillment… I have finally signed my life away. Now the external chains have become irrelevant, for the Lord has made me worthy to wear the vincula amoris (chains of love).’

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Written by Luke Coppen

December 8, 2009 at 9:52 am

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