Radboud University

Who is Titus Brandsma?

Brandsma was born Anno Sjoerd Brandsma on 23 February 1881 in Ugoklooster, near Bolsward. Titus became his monastic name when he entered the Carmelite order, and it was also his father’s name. Titus is undoubtedly best known – and honoured – for his heroic resistance against the Nazi occupation and his death in the Dachau concentration camp. But Titus was much more than a war hero.

Brandsma as a lecturer and journalist
After earning his doctorate at the Gregoriana in Rome (1909), Titus spent fourteen years in Oss, where the Carmel study house was located. Besides teaching young Carmelites, he took on an active role in the city’s community. He received a lot of attention as a journalist and chief editor of De Stad Oss, which he gave a new identity to. He also founded, and wrote a large number of articles for, the Carmelrozen magazine, which mainly focused on spirituality.

A special place for journalism
Journalism always occupied a special place in his heart; in Titus’ opinion, it was an excellent ‘modern’ opportunity to give the spiritual life a place in the increasingly secularising society. He wrote articles on Dutch piety in De Gelderlander and became an advisor to the Roman Catholic Journalist’s Association.

Presence of truth and freedom
He was also very active in education, particularly with the foundation of the Titus Brandsma secondary school, including its library, which still exists in Oss to this date. The foundation grew into the Carmel College Foundation, one of the largest educational organisations in the Netherlands today. It shows Titus’ pedagogical urge to share the rich history of spirituality with people, as a guide in life and to open new perspectives. His ever-burning spiritual fire for truth and freedom, which shone through in his journalism, would prove fatal and end his life.

Professor and Rector Magnificus of the Catholic University
Titus became best known as Professor of Philosophy at the Catholic University of Nijmegen, founded in 1923, where he was also Rector Magnificus for a year (1932–1933). This paved the way for serious academic research into the history of Dutch piety and the Titus Brandsma archive, which remains a source for numerous Modern Devotion researchers. Several manuscripts, later lost in the war, have been preserved thanks to Titus in the form of photocopies – the basis of the Titus Brandsma Institute, founded in 1968.

The mystic with the train ticket
His lectures received mixed reviews, but his commitment to his students was boundless. In Nijmegen, he was active in the foundation and construction of the Karmelklooster Doddendaal, and travelled through the country by train to give lectures on mysticism. This caused writer Godfried Bomans, alumnus of Radboud University, to call him the mystic with the train subscription.

Danger of national socialism
Titus recognised the danger of the emergence of National Socialism early on and devoted several lectures to it. In consultation with Cardinal de Jong, he urged Catholic newspapers and magazines to ban advertisements from organisations that shared the National Socialist ideology during the occupation – this action did not go down well with the occupying authorities. It led to his arrest in January 1942, followed by a torturous journey through Scheveningen, Amersfoort and Kleve, ultimately ending in Dachau.

An example to other prisoners
Various testimonies teach us that Titus remained steadfast on his spiritual path despite the extreme circumstances he found himself in. In his cell in Scheveningen, his ‘better’ monastery cell, he found the true loneliness he had never experienced in the monastery. He even started to write a book about Teresa of Avila, although he never finished it. He was an example for other prisoners in the various camps, whom he supported in maintaining their inner dignity. Totally exhausted by the harsh conditions, he died in the concentration camp on 26 July 1942. His heroic attitude during his prison years was decisive for his beatification in 1985.

By: Inigo Bocken, Titus Brandsma Institute