Dokumentation - Documentation - Documentación
 published: 2006-04-26

Remembering Fr Franz Josef Bezler on the centenary of his birth

Mount Schoenstatt, Adoration Church – 22 April 2006 Fr. Rudolf Mosbach


P. Franz Bezler, con el P. Kentenich

Fr. Franz Bezler, with father Kentenich

Pater Franz Bezler mit Pater Kentenich


Prédica: P. Rudolf Mosbach

Sermon: Fr. Rudolf Mosbach

Predigt: P. Rudolf Mosbach


Fotos: POS Fischer © 2006

Sermon script


During this celebration of the Eucharist we turn our gaze to Fr Bezler, the centenary of whose birth occurs this month. He was born on 26 April 1906. On 2 July 1929 he was ordained to the priesthood. He died on 3 February 1990.

In Fr Bezler we take a look at part of Schoenstatt’s history. He was one of those who lived and worked with our founder.

At such a commemoration we can, as a Schoenstatt Family, grasp our union in faith with those we are remembering beyond the limits of space and time. As our founder often stressed: if someone has tried to carry out his or her life’s task according to God’s will, they may continue to serve it in another way from eternity.

We want to take up one feature of Fr Bezler’s life – his discipleship.

Fr Franz Josef Bezler – the disciple of our founder, his master

An introductory remark about the concept "disciple":

We take the concept from the New Testament. We all see ourselves as disciples of Christ, the Master.

In the history of the Church and religious communities, the concept is applied meaningfully – on an infinitely lower level – to the relationship between the founders of religious communities and their associates, their "disciples". This comes out most clearly with St Ignatius Loyola and his first associates.

Such a founder is not competing with Christ, our actual Master. On the contrary, he leads his associates more deeply and concretely into following Christ and serving his kingdom.

This is how we want to understand what follows.

We will shed light on this discipleship in three steps:

The disciple accepts the commissions of the master.

The disciple is most profoundly united with the master.

The master is always greater than the disciple.

Three sayings of our founder, which he addressed to Fr Bezler on different occasions, emphasize this relationship.

I. The disciple accepts the master’s commissions

New Year’s Eve 1940/1941 – the sanctuary lamp in the original shrine is lit
Our founder’s words: "Franz, you must do it!"

These words contain a confirmation and an encouragement

1. A confirmation of his work

a. With the beginning of the Nazi dictatorship in Germany (1933), Fr Bezler took over the task of Spiritual Director of the Pallottine Study House in Schoenstatt (today the Major Seminary). In addition, the founder gave him responsibility for the Women’s League and the Schoenstatt Girls (1934), later on also for the Schoenstatt Boys.

As Spiritual Director in the Study House, Fr Bezler – as had his immediate predecessor Fr Alexander Menningen – tried to keep alive the traditions of Schoenstatt’s early years: love for the Blessed Mother in the shrine and orientation to the great examples of the first generation.

In 1934 Fr Menningen inspired and organized the boys entrusted to his care to look for the remains of the hero sodalists. They found the remains of Max Brunner and Hans Wormer and solemnly interred them on 20 August 1934 behind the original shrine. Josef Engling, the greatest of the founder generation, was never found.

b. So Fr Bezler directed the gaze of the boys all the more strongly to Josef Engling.

On 4 August 1937 they erected a stone cross in the field near where Josef Engling had died. Today it can be found near the Cambrai shrine. His objective was not that they should look for his remains, but that they should promise to follow Josef Engling’s example. This journey led to the formation of the Ver Sacrum Youth.

In October 1938 the order arrived from Berlin that the Study House in Schoenstatt would have to be closed by April 1939. From May 1939 it was used as a Nazi teacher’s training college.

On 31 October 1938, before the first group of boys left the Study House, they promised at the Josef Engling stone behind the original shrine: "We will safeguard your legacy".

The boys were dispersed all over the place. Fr Bezler tried to strengthen and collect them in their opposition to the Nazi pressure tactics. So he travelled untiringly all over Germany far more than before.

c. In November 1939 they received the great gift of the Ver Sacrum ideal, which the founder had already mentioned at the beginning of the 1930s. It was as though it was re-discovered. Fr Bezler interpreted it and applied it to the situation of the young people and the dangerous situation of Schoenstatt and the Church. It gave the boys clear orientation and the dynamism to press forward – which actually continues until today.

Soon the whole of the Schoenstatt Young Men’s branch took up the ideal of being a "Holy Springtime" in most difficult times for the Church and their people. When they were drawn into the Schoenstatt Family’s spiritual current to crown the MTA (1939), they looked for their own crowning symbol for their Queen. They found it in the symbol of a flaming globe on a paten – the sanctuary lamp for the original shrine.

On New Year’s Eve 1940/421 the representatives of the Schoenstatt Young Men from the dioceses came to Schoenstatt under the leadership of Fr Bezler in order to put up their symbol in the original shrine. The founder gave them a talk in the shrine; then he blessed the new symbol. When Fr Bezler asked him to light it, he replied briefly but decisively: "Franz, you must do it!" These words contained his grateful confirmation of the Ver Sacrum spiritual current, which would hardly have come about without Fr Bezler.

2. An encouragement to continue working

These words of our founder enabled Fr Bezler to cope with the increasing difficulties he encountered in his responsible work for the youth.

a. Catholic organizations and initiatives, in particular the Schoenstatt Movement, were kept under surveillance by the Gestapo (Nazi secret police), and spied upon. Fr Kentenich and other priests were sent to the concentration camp. Fr Bezler was able to go on with his work – with great daring, prudence and tenacity.

During the war he was officially stationed as a Pallottine in Bremen, which was registered as his official abode, and he was naturally also kept under surveillance by the Gestapo. When Bremen was heavily bombed and partially destroyed, many official documents disappeared and he was able to go underground, where he continued to work until the end of the Nazi dictatorship – always prudently camouflaged, hunted by the Gestapo, but never discovered or arrested despite being spied upon.

b. In hiding Fr Bezler continued to work untiringly for Schoenstatt, especially for the youth. The Ver Sacrum ideal spread to every widening circles. A number of young people matured to holiness in this ideal, and through taking Josef Engling as their example. They offered their lives to the MTA as a sacrificial gift for the preservation of the original shrine, despite the Nazi threat and the war, and for the growth of the Schoenstatt Youth Realm. Two of them are well known throughout the international Schoenstatt Family – Heinz Schaefer and Julius Steinkaul.

The war and persecution could not paralyze Fr Bezler or his work; it became a time of rich fruitfulness.

II. The disciple is deeply united with the master

After concentration camp and war – meeting in 1945,
our founder’s words: "Franz, you belong to me!"

On 6 April 1945, shortly before the war ended, Fr Kentenich was released from the concentration camp at Dachau. A few weeks later the dictatorship of the Nazis also came to an end. Fr Bezler was able to come out of hiding and greet Fr Kentenich again after years of outward separation. When they met Fr Kentenich said to him: "Franz, you belong to me!"

We want to interpret these words in two ways: a claim on his services, and the gift of being sheltered

1. A claim on his services

a. Fr Bezler heard this exclusive claim on his services, on all his strength and work, on all the powers of his mind, will, and love, and his readiness for sacrifice at the beginning of this new phase in the founder’s life with its all-embracing plans.

He was just entering his fortieth year, and he understood those words. He placed himself at the founder’s disposal with a certain exclusiveness – and hence at the disposal of God and the Blessed Mother for Schoenstatt and the Church.

In 1945 Schoenstatt was able to come out of the "catacombs", where much had had to be hidden from the Nazis. New initiatives could be taken.

Although Germany was laid waste, the towns and cities in ruins, the bridges and railway lines destroyed, new life began to break through. With their husbands either fallen or wounded in the war, or still held in prisoner of war camps, the women – the so-called "Truemmerfrauen" – began to clear up the rubble and build new homes.

b. For the next ten years, Fr Bezler took up this new life and worked comprehensively mainly among the youth and for the Women’s Movement. From 1949 he was commissioned by the founder to undertake the re-foundation of the Women’s Federation.

Since he "belonged" to the founder, he gave his all for his work and tried to act according to his directives. So Fr Kentenich was able to depend on him to build up the Movement while he was visiting overseas countries.

Since he had few personal wants, Fr Bezler was able to cope with the many privations of the post-war years, and encourage others to trust in help from above: "What we need, we get; if we don’t get it, we don’t need it."

His successful activity could not but arouse opposition. An example: A large pilgrimage of Schoenstatt Girls to Schoenstatt gave rise to envy on the part of those responsible for the youth in the dioceses – it was wrong to lead the young people out of the diocese to a foreign spirituality; the local Church had enough to offer. So the authority to preach and hear confessions in his home diocese was withdrawn.

2. The gift of being sheltered

From the middle of the 1950s, Fr Bezler experienced ten years – from 1954-1965 - during which his activity was again restricted, this time by the authorities in Rome.

a. Fr Bezler was step by step deprived of a home.

In his home diocese we was no longer allowed to exercise a number of priestly services. Since he believed unshakably in Schoenstatt’s supernatural character (Schoenstatt’s secret), and in the founder, whom the Papal Visitator had sent into exile in 1951, he soon had to share in his fate. He was relieved of all his offices at the Centre of the Movement, and in 1954 had to leave Schoenstatt – "exiled".

Life in the community (Pallottine Society) was particularly bitter for Fr Bezler. Because of his loyalty to the founder and his vision of Schoenstatt, he was accused of disobedience and unfaithfulness to the Church. He experienced that he was increasingly ignored and excluded.

b. In this situation he was strengthened by his awareness of being sheltered in the founder – and through him in God and the Blessed Mother.

The realization that he "belonged" to the founder gave him a firm standpoint, profound roots, and calm certainty in all the controversies of those years.

He was able to apply those words of St Paul to himself: "I know the one in whom I have put my trust" (2 Tim 1,12).

Since he was so deeply at home, Fr Bezler never lost courage, he never gave in to resignation, aggression or bitterness. He was able to spread confidence and the spirit of enterprise; and when the doors opened before him, he continued to work in the service of Schoenstatt’s mission.

Many who entrusted themselves to his guidance in his pastoral work – in parishes and schools – came quite naturally to give themselves to the Blessed Mother and the Schoenstatt Movement in the covenant of love.

III. The master is always greater than the disciple

After the founder’s return home in 1965 – Movement Leader.

Our founder’s words: "Franz you can’t do it. I’ll have to do it myself!"

After the blessing of the shrine in Cambrai (12 September 1965) Fr Kentenich was summoned to return to Rome from his exile in Milwaukee. On 22 October Pope Paul VI’s signature restored his freedom. Fr Bezler was also able to return to Schoenstatt.

1. His own achievement

a. Fr Bezler made use of his new freedom to set to work in a comprehensive sense. He contributed his experience and his abilities to what he did.

He worked in various formations of the League and in the Women’s Federation; he took over the office of Movement Leader. When he started something, he tried to ensure that something came of it.

In the meantime the Schoenstatt Movement in Germany had grown and developed into many formations, spreading to many dioceses. The founder called it his "fleet", in which each ship had its own "captain". The individual formations, groups and communities set great store by their independence; they often planned and organized their undertakings and projects on their own.

This caused all sorts of problems with leading and guiding the Movement as a whole, which depended on the structures and competences laid down by the founder.

b. Here Fr Bezler clearly experienced his limitations despite all his zeal. At times he remarked, "The Movement Leader is the poorest man in Schoenstatt!" He was not thinking of money, but of influence, of the men and women he needed to work with him if he was to lead the Movement successfully. He experienced the burden of responsibility. How was he to bring greater solidarity and co-operation into the various tasks and initiatives of the Movement if it was to work fruitfully?

When he complained to the founder about his disappointment and helplessness, because he was not succeeding in bringing about most important co-operation, he was told, "Franz, you can’t do it. I will have to do it myself!"

2. A new way of looking at things

a. With these words Fr Kentenich first of all confirmed Fr Bezler’s objective and goals. He also showed that he saw the difficulties blocking his path, and the realization that Fr Bezler could not overcome them on his own. So he said, "Franz, you won’t manage it!"

He then showed him that he had to call upon a "higher" authority. He did not leave him with the realistic emphasis on his own limitations, but showed him how to solve the problem effectively in a way that liberated him: "I have to take it in hand myself!" As a result Fr Kentenich personally came into the foreground, but at the same time he pointed beyond himself to the effective activity of the Blessed Mother in the shrine, and confirmed Fr Bezler’s trust in her power.

b. So these words had a calming effect. Fr Bezler was able to go on working untiringly wherever he was "able" to do so.

However, he was able to bear increasingly with the limitations, opposition and contradictions he encountered without bitterness or giving in to resignation – that is, the things he was "unable" to deal with or change.

Despite everything he could not do, he was able to count confidently on the actions of the founder – first of all here on earth, then from eternity: the founder, as the instrument of God and our Lady, had to "take it in hand himself".


We are Christ’s disciples; he is our actual Master, and we want to become his disciples ever more completely – applying this meaningfully also to being disciples of our founder, Fr Kentenich. So each of us can apply the quoted sayings to some extent to himself or herself.

1. The first statement, "Franz, you must do it!", admonishes us not to hesitate to face the tasks placed before us in everyday life by God and the Blessed Mother – at work, in our families, in the local Church or community. It is the demand for down-to-earth everyday sanctity.

2. Words that unite: "Franz, you belong to me!" They remind us of the effective care and help many of us have experienced through the intercession of Fr Kentenich. They have given us a sense of being sheltered ultimately in God’s Providence. In return our founder may surely expect those who have received such gifts to commit themselves to the service of his great mission.

3. The third saying is particularly consoling and calming. Who of us doesn’t want to do things properly and correctly, to manage something on our own, or to put things right in themselves or with others; which family doesn’t rejoice when the children fulfil the justified expectations of their parents …? The higher the goals, the more we feel our limitations: "Franz, you can’t do it!"

All the more valuable is the confidence we gain from what follows:

"I have to – and will – take it in hand myself!"

So we are on a safe road to becoming more and more his disciples.

Translation: Mary Cole, England

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