FATHER FRANZ STOCK … L’ABBÉ FRANZ STOCK … A PRIEST IN HITLER’S ARMY …AND A SAINT …

Saints – real good people – are few and far between. And – to be venerated as such by the Holy See (Roman Catholic Church) is rare. In the first place one has to be dead, which is not so nice, is it? Secondly, the candidate’s life, virtues and holiness, like having miraculously cured an […]

Father Franz Stock

Father Franz Stock

Saints – real good people – are few and far between.

And – to be venerated as such by the Holy See (Roman Catholic Church) is rare.

In the first place one has to be dead, which is not so nice, is it?

Secondly, the candidate’s life, virtues and holiness, like having miraculously cured an ill person, will be scrutinized in a ‘Procedure of Beatification’ conducted by the ‘Congregation for Beatification and Sanctification’ appointed by the Vatican. This congregation will study tens of thousands of documents and statements by witnesses (if there are still some in the land of the living of course) before the honour of sainthood will be bestowed. No need to say that the procedure is therefore a long one.

The two newest saints, as declared by Pope Francis in 2013, are the Polish-born Pope John-Paul 11 and Pope John X111 (1958-1963).

The Roman Catholic Church have about 10,000 declared saints: this is since 450 AD. Of these 54 were popes. Joan of Arc (1412-1431) who the English burnt on the stake on May 30, 1431, in the town of Rouen and threw her ashes into the Seine was also declared a saint. The charges against her were heresy and – cross-dressing.

Since 2009 a ‘Congregation for Beatification and Sanctification’ has been studying the life, virtues and holiness of Father Franz Stock in order to either declare him a saint or declare that he was not one.

I learned of Father Franz Stock when I was researching the World War Two French serial killer, Dr Marcel Petiot,for a book I was to write, and this was six years ago, and I then came to the conclusion that Father Stock was a saint. Therefore no matter what the Holy See decides!

This German Army Major, stationed in Paris during Hitler’s WW2 Occupation of France, and chaplain to the three Paris prisons – Fresnes, La Santé and Cherche-Midi – as well as at the German execution site of Mont Valérien, certainly merits sainthood, if anyone ever did.

(I wrote about Cherche-Midi here and about Mont Valérien here and my book ‘Die in Paris’ about Dr Petiot can be bought on any Amazon site.)

My book DIE IN PARIS - the cover.Available from all Amazon sites.

My book DIE IN PARIS – the cover.Available from all Amazon sites.

 

Franz Stock was born on Wednesday, September 21, 1904 in Neheim, Germany, the first of the nine children of Franziska and Johannes Stock.

At the age of 11, World War One raging, Franz was confirmed into the Roman Catholic Church and became an alter server.

At the age of 17, Germany and indeed the Stock family, struggling to overcome the hardships and emotional wounds of the war which had ended little over three years earlier, Franz contracted rheumatic fever caused by a bacterial infection of the pericardium, the envelope encircling his heart.

Despite that effects of the illness would leave him with a cardiac problem for the rest of his life, and indeed, it would one day kill him, he grew into a tall, slim and handsome blond-haired, blue-eyed man.

AND he wanted to become a priest.

Already having expressed this wish from the age of 12, in 1926 when 22 years old he entered the Catholic seminary in Paderborn, Germany.

In 1928 Franz Stock, a Francophone and fluent in French, began to study at the ‘Institut Catholique’ in Paris, and in 1934, two years after his ordination into the priesthood in Germany, he returned to France as rector of the German national Parish of Saint Boniface in Paris.

Recalled to Germany at the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, in October 1940, France having capitulated to Nazi Germany the previous June and the Germans occupying France, the mobilized Father Franz Stock was named as priest to the Wehrmacht and sent to Occupied Paris. Then, in 1941, he was appointed Chaplain to those three Paris prisons and the execution site of Mont-Valérien.

Mont Valerien (copyright Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Mont Valerien (copyright Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Always anti-Nazi, and despite that as Chaplain he was made a Major in Hitler’s Army, his merit to be declared a saint is because of what he did (and did not do) during those war years in Paris to the end of his life in Paris in 1948.

In those war years, Father Franz Stock visited those the Germans – his countrymen – had arrested and were holding prisoner in those three prisons, waiting to be shot. He listened to them, calmed and comforted them, prayed with them and secretly acted as liaison between them and their loved ones. He took their messages to their loved ones and vice versa. The messages were mostly verbal, but it also happened that they had been written on scraps of paper which he hid on his person. Of course this he did at the risk of his life because his countrymen in their field-grey uniforms would have shot him had they discovered what he was doing.

Then there was Mont-Valérien where the Germans took prisoners to shoot them. Father Stock accompanied the condemned there, sitting on the floor of the trucks with the condemned, and staying with them right until the end. As you will read in my piece about Mont-Valérien, he sat with them in the small chapel, comforting them for a last time and accepting their last verbal messages or the last notes they had written their loved ones. Above all he administered the last unction on them. This he did whether they were Christian or not, and even if they were Communist and Atheist. Or Jewish.

The Chapel (Copyright Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The Chapel (Copyright Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

His task was then still not over, because he stood watching, holding his Bible and a Crucifix, and silently praying, as the German bullets ripped into the condemned. And he also watched as each shot man was given a last bullet into the head to make sure that that man was dead. AND then he accompanied the dead to the cemeteries, sitting with the bodies in the back of the German army trucks, to where their bodies were dumped in mass graves, noting into his notebook where each executed man lay buried.

Father Franz Stock is the man in the hat bottom right.

Father Franz Stock is the man in the hat bottom right.

One evening, having returned to his rectory and office at No. 23 Rue Lhomond in Paris 5th arrondissement (district) two women (one was his sister Franziska who had come to Paris to keep house for him and the other was a nun) at the rectory heard the strangest noise coming from his office. They went to see what it was and looking into the office they saw that it was Father Stock who was crying uncontrollably.

In August 1944, Paris having been liberated and those Germans not having fled east to get back to Germany, being taken prisoner by the French and the Allies, Father Franz Stock, ill with his heart problem but also physically and mentally exhausted, was a patient in Paris’s Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, with 600 wounded German soldiers and 200 wounded Allied soldiers. The American liberators of Paris took command of the hospital and arrested all the Germans. So they did Father Franz Stock.

Held in an American-run POW camp in Cherbourg where his health deteriorated alarmingly because of the coastal region’s tough weather conditions, two French bishops intervened on his behalf with the Americans to have him freed. The Americans however only agreed to move him to another POW camp, the one at the town of Orléans.

He wrote in his diary: “I have now entered the ranks of the POWs at Depot #51. The former USPWIB 31 has now become Orléans Prisoner #7300402.”

This priest, this saint of a human being who had held those who were living their very final moments on our earth in his arms, wiped their tears, and whom the dying and their loved ones had called l’archange des prisons (the archangel of the prisons) would in the POW camps of Cherbourg and Orléans again comfort the prisoners. The only difference was that in those camps the POWs were German soldiers.

(Bear in mind that at this time the war was still on: On April 30, 1945, Hitler would pop a cyanide pill into his mouth before shooting himself to death, his successor Admiral Donitz signing the German’s unconditional surrender on May 8, World War Two ending.)

In the POW camp at Orléans he was approached by French Catholic priests of Paris to head a seminary in the camp for those German theology students being held as prisons of war. He agreed and immediately he had 28 theology students.

That was in April 1945, the war about to end, and on August 17 that year, Hitler dead and the Armistice having been signed, Father Franz Stock moved his seminary to the POW camp at Le Coudry just outside the Cathedral town of Chartres. The seminary had become known as the séminaire des barbelées – the barbed wire seminary.

Father Franz Stock remained as head of the POW seminary of Chartres until June 5, 1947 when it was closed. Almost one thousand seminarians had been his students over those two years and on closing there were still 369 left.

At this time, Father Franz Stock, still considered a POW of the French, received an honorary Doctorate from the University of Freiburg.

The French, citing his POW status, refused to grant him permission to leave France to accept the Doctorate and informed him that the university could post him his doctorate diploma.

The French also would not issue his sister Franziska a visa to return to Paris to be with him.

In 1948 he was still trying to obtain a visa from the French for his sister when on February 22, he had to be hospitalized in Cochin Hospital in Paris’s 14th arrondissement.  He was unable to breathe but asked that his family not be informed of his condition: “I will be fine. Bring my clothes so that I can get up. I will be leaving for home in a few days,” he said.

In a way Father Stock did go home: to heaven.

He passed away at 4 pm on February 24. He died before the arrival of the priest who was to administer the Last Rites. The Last Rites he had administered to so many French before their execution by German firing squad. He had died of a pulmonary embolism.

Father Franz Stock’s body was put into a plain wooden coffin, as plain as those into which the Germans had put the bodies of the men they had executed, and after a private service at the Church of Saint-Jacques du Haut Pas in Paris’s 5th arrondissement (district) he was buried in Thiais Cemetery just south of Paris, only 12 people accompanying the coffin to the cemetery.

There in Thiais Cemetery lay the human remains of Father Franz Stock, quite forgotten, his tomb becoming more and more dilapidated, until Saturday, January 15, 1963, when his body, in an elegant wooden coffin, was transferred to the newly erected Church of John Baptist in the northern district of Rechèvres in Chartres. Present, as French and German flags fluttered in the wind, were high ranking French and German politicians, military and clerics, French ‘Résistants’ and former German POWs. Also present were one of his brothers and one of his sisters: Franziska was too ill to attend, and so was his mother. His father was no longer alive.

I visited Father Franz Stock’s tomb in the Church of John Baptist of Rechèvres in Chartres in November. It was, for me, a most poignant moment.

Father Franz Stock's tomb.(Copyright Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

Father Franz Stock’s tomb.(Copyright Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

 

Father Franz Stock's tomb (Copyright Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

Father Franz Stock’s tomb (Copyright Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

The church in Chartres where Father Franz Stock  lies buried. (Copyright Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

The church in Chartres where Father Franz Stock lies buried. (Copyright Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

 

In 2009 Archbishop Hans-Josef Becker opened the Procedure for the Beatification of Father Franz Stock. The file the Archbishop had handed over to the Congregation for Beatification and Sanctification consists of 16,800 pages and the statements of 200 witnesses, two-thirds of whom had received consolation from Father Franz Stock while they were prisoners of the Germans during World War Two.

There are several books about Father Franz Stock in French but only one in English – ‘The Last Human Face’ by the late Boniface F.Hanley, O.F.M. which is available in bookshops and also on the Web.

You can also visit the site of the Franz Stock Organisation and become a member in order to back Father Stock’s beatification.

If you wish to visit Father Franz Stock’s tomb in Chartres and you fear that you will not find it – it is a bit problematic getting to it – contact me and I will take you. The town of Chartres and its cathedral are also certainly worth a visit.

 

Chartres Catheral (Copyright Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Chartres Catheral (Copyright Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Chartres Nov 2014 night scene

Chartres Cathedral (Copyright Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Remembering Father Franz Stock at Mont Valerien. (Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Remembering Father Franz Stock at Mont Valerien. (Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Notice the error in the spelling of the name on the above photo.

 

Another photo of the church where Father Franz Stock lies buried. (Copyright Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

Another photo of the church where Father Franz Stock lies buried. (Copyright Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

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