This year has seen some timid attempts at commemorating the 75th anniversary of the conclusion of World War II. With all the blockage derived from the COVID-19 pandemic, though, worthwhile attention to some events will be missed. This could be the case for Père Jacques of Jesus, the friar of the Paris Province who died, perhaps more tragically than others, not actually during the war, but a few brief weeks after its end when U.S. troops liberated him from German Nazi imprisonment in Austria.

How he got there is fairly well known, and it was celebrated in its own way by an award-winning film that was nominated for an Oscar in 1988 (it came in 2nd to “Babette’s Feast”). It went by the title “Au Revoir les Enfants” or “Farewell Kids,” the last words he uttered as he was led away by German occupation forces from our monastery in Avon near Paris on January 15, 1944. At that monastery he was sheltering three Jewish teenagers and he was arrested with them and sent to a work camp near the Danube River not far from the city of Linz. His labors and torture were so intense that, worn out, he died in a Catholic hospital in the nearby city and his body was repatriated to France for burial by a plane sent by General de Gaulle.

Père Jacques’ grave in conventual cemetery at Avon.

ICS Publications has generously been making information about him more widely known and has published two volumes that contain some of his writings. Other small essays were turned into pamphlets by the friars of the Paris Province. To mark this 75th anniversary of his passing on to eternal rest here is a passage from one of those pamphlets titled “The Role and Qualities of an Educator.” It shows well how he had a spirit ready to take responsibility for those placed in his path even if it meant he would freely risk his life in the service of others.

God rules every good thing, regardless of what it is, because God is the source of every good thing. God is infinitely free. To be free is to rule these diverse good things so as to apply to them thoughtful choice. The more one controls good things the more one is free. Only God can possess supreme freedom this way. God does not depend on anyone.

As far as we creatures endowed with reason, we humans, are concerned, all our true happiness, all our fulfilment lies in God. For us, to be free is to control all created beings and to be sensibly free, to be wisely free: it means to choose among them only those which will permit us to reach that Being alone, God, who fulfills the immense needs rooted so deeply in our supernatural being. God alone, the fullness of truth, can satisfy our intellect; God alone, vast expanse of being, can extinguish our enormous thirst for love which so torments us.

We see that freedom for human beings is not independence. Human beings cannot be nondependent. We depend on God, on God personally and directly, as the source and destiny of our lives–God is the absolute master of our existence. We depend also on those who represent God and thereby share in divine authority to assure order in the world in conformity with the plan coming from God’s eternal wisdom.

Chalice, personal cross, and Greek New Testament (frequently scored) left behind in Avon when he was arrested.

Photography and translation by John Sullivan, o.c.d.