Anno Brandsma was born to Tjitsje and Titus Brandsma on February 23rd,1881, at Wondseradeel in Friesland, Holland. He was the second youngest in a family of six, four girls and two boys. Five of the six would later enter religious life.
He received his secondary education at a Franciscan school but attracted by the Carmelite Order’s devotion to Mary Mother of God and their prayer spirituality, he opted to pursue his priestly vocation with them.
After Joining the Carmelite order, he began his novitiate at Boxmeer in September 1898. He took his father’s name Titus as his religious name. He made his First Profession in October 1899 and was ordained a priest on June 17th 1905.
He was sent to study for a PhD in philosophy at the Gregorian university in Rome and received his doctorate in 1909. He developed a great interest in mystical spirituality and began to show a great talent for writing and journalism,along side his academic work.
In 1923, he helped set up the Catholic University of Nijmegen,and taught there as a Professor and became it’s Administrator. However as a Carmelite Priest he loved to share his Order’s rich spiritual tradition with people outside of the university. He travelled widely lecturing on Carmelite spirituality. In preparation for a lecture tour in the United States in 1935, he spent some time at the Carmelite Priories in Whitefriar Street, Dublin and Kinsale, Co.Cork and whilst in Ireland met the then future President of Ireland Eamon De Valera. In Whitefriar Street there is a charming statue of him with his glasses and pipe, being a typical Dutch country man, he loved his tobacco!
St.Titus developed a great interest in journalism and publishing. In 1935 he became the national spiritual advisor to the union of Catholic journalists. In this role, he encouraged opposition to the publication of Nazi propaganda in Catholic newspapers and in the Press generally. He was especially critical of its anti-semitism. When the Nazis invaded Holland in May 1940, he was an advisor to the Archbishop of Utrecht. He encouraged the bishops to speak out against the persecution of the Jews. In doing so, he became a marked man by the authorities.
The refusal by Catholic newspapers to print Nazi propaganda sealed the fate of St.Titus. He had agreed to deliver personally to each editor a letter from the Catholic bishops. This letter instructed the editors not to comply with a new law requiring them to print official Nazi advertisements and articles. Titus had visited 14 editors before being arrested by the Gestapo at Nijmegen on January 19th 1942.
He was interned at Scheveningen and Amersfoort in Holland before being transported to Dachau in June. He was treated very harshly there, his health quickly deteriorated and he was in the camp hospital by July. He was subjected to biological experimentation before being killed by lethal injection on the 26th July, 1942. On the day he died, the Dutch Bishops issued a pastoral letter protesting strongly against the deportation of Jews from Holland.
Before his execution, St.Titus prayed that God might help the nurse who would administer the injection to repent of her actions in the camp.
He also gave her his rosary beads, although she protested that she was a lapsed Catholic. A few years later, this lady sought out a Carmelite priory to seek forgiveness for her role in his execution, renounced Nazi ideology, returned to her Catholic faith and was a witness in the process for his beatification, which took place in Rome on November 3rd 1985.
Titus Brandsma may now join St.Paul as a patron saint for journalists and writers especially those who lay a great emphasis on speaking truth to power and fight against oppression of the individual, the media and religion. He passionately believed that every profession and role in life must defend truth and our common humanity, regardless of our race, religion or nationality.
On November 5th 1985, Pope John Paul II beatified Titus Brandsma as a “martyr for the faith”. Many testimonies were presented for his beatification and about half of them were those testimonies of people who had met him during his 7 months of imprisonment. The miracle required for his canonisation was the healing of an American Carmelite priest Fr. Michael Driscoll in 2004 from stage 4 melanoma. He had a great devotion to Titus and was given a piece of cloth from a suit of Titus, which he applied each day to his head trusting in the Blessed’s intercession. Fr.Michael’s prayer to Blessed Titus was supported by all the prayers of his friends and parishioners. He underwent major surgery, requiring the removal of 84 lymph nodes and a salivary gland. This was followed by 35 days of radiation. The cancer completely disappeared to Fr.Michael’s relief and joy.
A committee of theologians recognized the healing as a miracle through the intercession of Blessed Titus Brandsma on May 25th 2021. A committee of Cardinals approved their findings on November 9th 2021 submitting their decision to Pope Francis who announced that Titus would be canonised on May 15th 2022.
The life and witness of St.Titus was long recognised in his native Holland, when the Dutch Bishops wrote to Rome encouraging all efforts to have him canonised as it would support the revival of the faith in his homeland and in 2005 the people of Nijmegen chose him as the greatest citizen to have lived in their city.
Titus had a great sense of humour but was also deeply prayerful and approachable by everyone who met him. He suffered many beatings from his Nazi prison guards and one testimony of fellow prisoner recalls the following incident:
One day he was brutally beaten and kicked and flung on to muddy rain soaked prison ground. A fellow prisoner ran over to help him up off the ground, cursing the guards calling them evil brutes. Titus said to him “Would you like to receive Holy Communion? Please help me find my tobacco pouch, I have hosts in it.” The prisoner said to Titus “No, I am so full of hatred for those brutes, I can’t now receive.” Titus said “You know you must love your enemies”. The prisoner replied “it’s not possible to love such nasty human beings”. Titus said “you know you don’t have to love them all day”. Even in terrible humiliating circumstances during those months of imprisonment, he never lost his renowned sense of humour but deepened his great love of God and Our Lady and people even as noted above giving his Rosary Beads to the nurse who gave him the lethal injection that killed him and praying for her conversion.
I see you in your bleak cell
In that awful place of Hell
The concentration camp Dachau
Lost in deep prayer
God hidden in a pouch of tobacco
Made sure that
Nothing disturbed you
Nothing frightened you
Neither hunger or brutality
Until the executioner’s needle delivered you to eternal Paradise.