Sunday, March 15, 2015

Father Rupert Mayer

When Katie and I visited Munich, we toured a number of beautiful churches with soaring architectural details that made grand, impressive statements - tile and copper roofs, bell towers, leaded glass, and uniquely shaped design.

So when we came across the Burgersaal Church with its relatively plain exterior, we followed the stream of tourists and entered, expecting a relatively plain interior to match. We couldn't have been more wrong. The ceiling frescoes were stunning.

Just as surprising was a display in the church detailing the life and ministry of a person I'd never heard of, Father Rupert Mayer. He was a Jesuit priest who served the Burgersaal Church between the two World Wars. His dedication to the poor and estranged of Munich earned him the nickname "The Apostle of Munich." Were he a man of lesser convictions during those times, his legacy may have ended there - a gentle priest who worked tirelessly to feed and clothe the poor.

But Father Mayer was a man of strong convictions, strong faith in his Catholic beliefs, and an insistence on the rights and dignity of each individual as a child of God. The Nazi regime with its oppression of free speech, its targeted pogroms, and its intolerance for faith-based viewpoints was unbearable for Father Mayer. He preached against the Nazis from the pulpit, in individual meetings with parishioners, and when he led small study groups.

Warned several times by the Gestapo and twice arrested for his outspoken behavior, Father Mayer might have ended up as other Christians did during the Nazi years - a martyr for his faith. But the Nazis saw the strong support Father Mayer had in mostly Catholic Munich, his leagues of dedicated parishioners and how word of his work had spread through Bavaria. They feared that killing him would only strengthen his cause. Instead, they banished him to an Abbey where he was basically a silenced prisoner for the duration of the war.

I never heard of Father Mayer before I stepped into the Burgersaal that day. Since then, I've come across his name dozens of times during the research for my two historical fiction novels set in Nazi-era Munich. Since he was so integral to the people of Munich during that time period, I'm considering including his character in my current Work In Progress.

Father Mayer was beatified in 1987 and now has the title of Blessed. His story has been made into a 2014 film starring Stacy Keach and Darryl Hannah. I hope to find it soon on Netflix or at a Film Festival near me.

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