By Mike Brinda
The Shadow of His Wings
The True Story of Fr. Gereon Goldmann, OFM
Fr. Gereon Goldmann, OFM - Translated by Benedict Leutenegger
Ignatius Press: 345pp., $14.95
Imagine pitching this script to Hollywood:
“The main character is a Nazi, he is in the SS, and he is a Catholic priest.”
No. Beat it.
Meet Karl Goldmann, Nazi, SS member, and one of the most improbable stories about a man ever ordained into the Catholic priesthood.
Goldmann lost his mother as a young boy and was raised in a spiritual sense by Sister Solana May. Living near a Franciscan friary in Germany and attending Mass regularly, with Sister May’s influence young Karl decided at an early age to become a priest. He was on that path in 1939 as a Franciscan seminarian, when this fellow Adolph Hitler, perhaps you’ve heard of him, happened into history and started WWII. Goldman was gang-pressed into the German military, derailing his plans to become a preist. Or so Goldmann thought. God had called Goldmann to be a priest, and war or no war, he was going to be a priest. However . . . .
The Nazi’s could care less if you were a seminarian and had plans and dreams to become a priest. If you were of age to fight in the war, you would fight. And so Goldmann and his classmates were yanked out of the seminary and inducted into Hitler’s Wehrmacht. Next stop: the Eastern Front. Lovely.
Goldman relates his life in graphic detail: Bombs. Bullets. Hunger. Death. Destruction. But of the eleven seminarians in Goldmann’s platoon, the only one to quit on God through the ordeals of war was the one who refused to pray each evening. The seminarians were noticed for standing up for their faith, and no less an authority than Heinrich Himmler miraculously gave them permission to carry out their religious duties on the battlefield, without interference from hostile anti-Christian officers of the SS.
Nevertheless, being a seminarian is not the same as being a priest, and Goldmann was intent on being ordained a priest. But how could you become a priest in the middle of a war? Dodging bullets does not make for an ideal theological learning environment, and Goldmann had not completed his seminary education before the war started. Besides, who would ordain a Nazi? I won’t tell you who or how, but I can tell you this-- he did it. Goldmann became a priest, during the war, and without completing the prerequisite education. That’s fact.
End of story? Hardly. After the war ended, a new challenge arose. If you have trouble believing a Nazi could be a priest, how do you think people at the time felt? People after the war could not believe it! Imagine being a priest but having nobody believe you are a priest! Remember, in post-war Europe it was not a good time to have been a Nazi and an SS member. Try convincing people you were a Nazi and a Catholic priest. Good luck with starting that ministry.
This is a tremendous account of personal courage, conviction, and perseverance under the most extreme adversity. You think you have problems? Try a day in Goldmann’s shoes. But beyond that Goldman is page-turning proof of the power of prayer and divine providence. No matter what obstacles—including all the horrors of war, were placed in his path Fr. Goldmann never wavered. He turned everything over to God in daily prayer and living his faith. Could you do that?
For those of us who wish to control the last detail of our lives, Fr. Goldmann is an inspirational example of what can happen if you abandon yourself in faith to Christ. If you think that is easier said than done . . . what could be easier than entrusting your Creator with the life He already gave you? The One who gave you life can’t be trusted with it now?
If Fr. Goldman found a way, can’t you can find a way?