pèrejacques.org

français | deutsch

Biography

Père Jacques de Jésus (1900-1945) Père Jacques de Jésus was a Carmelite friar and headmaster of the Petit Collège Sainte-Thérèse de l’Enfant-Jésus.

Lucien-Louis Bunel was born in 1900, one of seven children in a hard-working family in Normandy. His father’s deep piety, strong sense of social justice, and commitment to work greatly influenced him.

In 1925 Lucien was ordained a priest for the diocese of Rouen where, despite his youth, he became a noted preacher and beloved teacher. His early priestly life was a study in contrasts, combining intense dedication to prayer and solitude with a leaning toward social activism. He was happiest ministering to poor, working-class families but had great success as a teacher of privileged students. His keen intelligence, sense of humor, and kindness to students won praise, but his advanced teaching methods and unique approaches to classroom discipline and grading were not always appreciated. The superior of the school where he taught once exclaimed: "One Father Bunel at St. Joseph’s is fine; two Father Bunels would be too much."

Père Jacques had considered becoming a Trappist before his ordination as a diocesan priest. When the Carmelite nuns at Le Havre introduced him to Carmel and its spiritual riches, Père Lucien found what he was looking for. At age 30 he entered Carmel at Lille. Shortly before his solemn profession, his religious superiors proposed that he found a boys’ preparatory school. The school, the Petit Collège Sainte-Thérèse de l’Enfant-Jésus, opened in Avon in 1934 and flourished. Père Jacques left the school in 1939 when France required his military service. France surrendered to Germany in June 1940, but Père Jacques had no use for the Vichy government’s pact with Nazi Germany and became part of organized French Resistance.

Père Jacques often placed Jewish children with Catholic families for protection. In January 1943, he went further and enrolled three Jewish teenagers, Hans-Helmut Michel, Maurice Schlosser, and Jacques-France Halpern, in the school. The Nazis tortured a school alumnus to learn of their whereabouts. The three were taken to Auschwitz where they were gassed, and Père Jacques began eighteen months in various Nazi camps where the depth of his self-giving charity came to the fore.

He spent three weeks in Neue-Breme in Germany, a disciplinary camp of unspeakable brutality. Of the 51 prisoners who arrived with Père Jacques, only seven survived the three weeks. The atmosphere aimed at dehumanization. Père Jacques, in an effort to keep things clean for the dying, asked to work in the infirmary. The commandant, believing the germ-ridden filth there would kill Père Jacques, granted the permission.

Père Jacques was moved to Mauthausen on April 22, 1944. A Parisian architect-survivor felt sure Père Jacques saw the crucified Christ among them - such was his spiritual strength in ministering to prisoners, sharing his rations, hearing confession, and bringing comfort and a sense of peace.

On May 18 he was sent to Gusen I, a subsidiary of Mauthausen and a hard labor camp. There Père Jacques found ways of raising the morale of the desperately dejected French prisoners. When all the priests at Gusen were moved to Dachau - reputedly less severe than Mauthausen - Père Jacques veiled his priestly identity and was the only priest at Gusen for its 20,000 prisoners. He even learned enough Polish to minister to the Polish prisoners, who called him "Père Zak." Though he grew progressively weaker, he remained one of the leaders of the French Resistance in the camp, respected as a human being and a holy man of God.

By April 1945 word was spreading that the Third Reich’s days were numbered. The haunting question became: who would be alive to see liberation? The camp’s directors had two ominous plans. One was to seal the prisoners alive and out of sight behind a concrete wall they had been constructing; the other was to march the men back to Mauthausen to be gassed. When American soldiers arrived on May 5, the camp surrendered. Chaos followed. Père Jacques, by now a very sick man, together with a Communist friend managed to restore order and organize relief efforts.

On May 20 he was moved to a hospital near the Carmelite Friars in Linz, where he died on June 2. He was 45 years old.

Père Jacques has been honored by both Catholics and Jews as a martyr of charity, and the cause for his canonization was opened in 1990.

- Sister Mary Salucci, OCD
Carmel of the Incarnation, Beacon, New York

CSS Template by Rambling Soul | Valid XHTML 1.0 | CSS 2.0