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Catholic Heroes… Blessed Karl Leisner

August 15, 2017 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

There was a priest, Blessed Karl Leisner, who heard his call to the priesthood during a Schoenstatt Retreat. The Apostolic Movement of Schoenstatt is an apostolate of the Roman Catholic Church, a Marian movement founded in Germany in 1914 by a Pallottine priest, Fr. Joseph Kentenich (1885-1968).
Members of the Schoenstatt were formed for a renewal in the Catholic Church. Fr. Kentenich had been assigned the pastoral care of students living in Schoenstatt. He prepared the students to entrust their lives to Mary and to establish a chapel which would become a home where they could obtain the grace of welcome, interior transformation, and a fruitful apostolate.
In 1964, the group received formal approval. Thus the laity could find support for freely living their Catholic faith in the world in which they live. The formation within Schoenstatt includes education, spiritual renewal through religious activities, and social projects in cooperation with other Church movements.
Blessed Karl Leisner is a prime example of what dedication to Mary can do. He was the first of five children born to Wilhelm Leisner and his wife, Amalie, on February 28, 1915. Karl was born in Rees/Niederrhein, Germany, near the border with the Netherlands. On March 3, he was baptized in Assumption Catholic Church in Rees with the name Karl Marie since his mother had a great devotion to Mary.
When Karl was six years old the family moved to Kleve — about 20 miles southwest of Rees — so that his father could take a position as a civil servant. Karl continued attending school until he finished. Karl’s spiritual and doctrinal formation continued in the security of his family home. After he received the Sacrament of Confirmation on July 20, 1927, he began keeping a spiritual diary. The entries reveal what a great love he had for Christ, how his soul yearned for Christ!
At the age of 17 he wrote, “My whole life must be more deeply bound to God, connected with God, given to God it does not have to be, but I want it to be so; humbly I ask, seek, make efforts, and thereafter strive for it.”
As a youth he became an altar server and joined the local Catholic Youth Group. These groups combined prayer and study with recreational activities, including cycling, hiking, and camping.
Being a member of the group, his leadership skills quickly became evident. It was not long before he became the leader. At the time that he assumed the headship of the group, Hitler’s minions were recruiting young men to join the Nazis. To avoid the problem with the Nazis, Karl would organize camping trips to Holland and Belgium. During these trips, he and the boys would hike miles with camping equipment on their backs and Karl would play the bugle to keep them on schedule.
His singular devotion to Mary deepened when a friend invited Karl to attend an Easter workshop and retreat from April 5-10, 1933. The retreat was held at the Marian Pilgrimage Place of Schoenstatt in Vallendar, Germany, about 140 miles south of Rees.
He continued his regular education and when he finished high school he immediately made plans to enter the seminary — nearly 600 miles southeast of Kleve near the Austrian border. In 1934 Karl went to Munich where he entered the seminary.
Once again he was assigned the leadership role of the Diocesan Youth Leader by Clemens August von Galen, the bishop of Muenster. As his formation continued, he faced the question of his vocation: To have a family or to become a priest? He knew well the high calling of the priesthood: “It’s beautiful to become a priest, but difficult, almost too difficult, and only those called by God’s great grace should become one.”
Recognizing this lofty vocation and the realization that God might be calling him, he still considered the joys of becoming a father and having a family, “The beauty of family life — of having and raising my own children, such thoughts touch me deeply during my evening reflections. . . . But also the great heroism of the priesthood sets me aglow! I am secure in God’s hand, come what may.” Did he know what was coming?
As his seminary studies continued, he reached a spiritual crisis concerning his true vocation. Quickly he returned to the Schoenstatt shrine where he had received such comfort. For two days he prayed and meditated in silence before the image of Mother Thrice Admirable, seeking enlightenment about God’s will and strength to carry it out.
His tepidity left him as this time of prayerful surrender once again stimulated his desire to be a holy and active priest in serving the King of Kings. On the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 1939, Karl was ordained a deacon in the Cathedral of Muenster. Sadly, just three months later his preparation for Ordination had to be postponed because Karl had been diagnosed with tuberculosis.
Disappointed, Karl once again journeyed to Schoenstatt before going to the Lung Sanatorium in St. Blasien in the Black Forest, near the Swiss and French borders. Once again Karl spent time in prayer — surrendering his entire will to Mary and begging her to help him become healthy again. If he would not be a good priest, then he asked her to let him die before being ordained. He placed all his trust in her.
The Nazis continued their suppression of religion and arrested more and more men, women, and children. They considered them enemies of the state. As they tightened their stranglehold, the Nazis came to the sanatorium to arrest Karl.
For three years they had been tracking his movements and activities. Because fellow patients reported him for speaking against Hitler, the Gestapo arrested him for “protective custody.”
The Gestapo took him to Freiburg just north of the Black Forest. Then he was transferred to Mannheim for three weeks before they shipped him to the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen, near Berlin. Less than a year later on December 13, 1940 they took him to Dachau. Here he joined many other priests.
His tuberculosis worsened in the deplorable conditions of ill-treatment and hunger. Yet these hardships only increased his love of God and his devotion to Mary. Karl became a source of encouragement to his fellow prisoners. Fathers Heinz Dresback and Hermann Richarz testified that Karl had “a rock-solid trust in God.”
After persevering for four years in Dachau, Karl received a special gift. Another prisoner, Bishop Gabriel Piguet from France, ordained Karl a priest on December 17, 1944, Gaudete Sunday.
Nine days after his Ordination he celebrated his first Mass on the Feast of St. Stephen the Martyr. Four months later the camp was liberated by the Allies, but by that time his health had been destroyed. He died on August 12, 1945 surrounded by family and friends. He was beatified by Pope St. John Paul II on June 23, 1996. His memorial is celebrated on August 12.
Dear Fr. Karl, as Europe and the world are once again besieged by evil forces, pray that we Christians will continue with confidence and surrender to God. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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