Gapp, Jakob, Bl.

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Priest of the Society of Mary (SM); b. Wattens, Tyrol, western Austria, July 26, 1897; d. Plötzensee Prison, Berlin, Germany, Aug. 13, 1943.

Jakob Gapp, the seventh child of Martin Gapp and Antonia Wach, completed secondary school under the tutelage of the franciscans at Hall, Tyrol. During World War I Gapp served in the military on the Italian front; received the silver medal of Courage Second Class after being wounded in 1916; and was a prisoner of war at in the Italian Piedmont from Nov. 4, 1918 to Aug. 18, 1919.

After Gapp made his vows as a Marianist at Greisinghof, Upper Austria, he worked for four years in Graz. He entered the seminary at Fribourg, Switzerland, where he was ordained on April 5, 1930. His first eight years as a priest, Gapp worked as a primary school teacher, director of religious education, and chaplain in Marianist schools in Austria.

During the depression following World War I, he collected and distributed food and funds to those in need, and helped the unemployed to find jobs. He refused to heat his own room in winter in order to give his allotment of coal to poor families. This sense of justice led to his final demise.

Gapp came to recognize the incompatibility of National Socialism and Christianity after reading Nazi publications, particularly Alfred Rosenberg's Myth of the Twentieth Century, the statements of the Austrian bishops, and Pius XI's encyclical Mit brennender Sorge. He boldly denounced the "abhorrent and totally irreconcilable" ideology when German troops occupied Austria in March 1938. Because of his notoriety as an enemy of Nazism, in October 1938, the Gestapo forbade him to teach. Despite the ban, he continued to advise parishioners to ignore German propaganda and defended Pope Pius XI against Nazi slander in a sermon on Dec. 11, 1938. Advised to leave Austria, Gapp served as librarian and chaplain at the Marianist motherhouse in Bordeaux for several months before being reassigned to Spain (May 1939).

In Spain Gapp found himself isolated among the Marianists because his confrères could not understand his insistence that Catholics must vocally oppose injustice in all forms, particularly that of the Nazis. During his three years in Spain, Gapp was transferred to San Sebastián, Cádiz, Lequeitio, and finally Valencia.

In August 1942 Gapp received messages from two German agents posing as refugee Jews from Berlin in need of his help. They were living just across the border at Hendaye in southern France. When he drove over the border to meet them on November 9, Gapp was immediately arrested by the Gestapo. He was detained at several French prisons before being taken to Berlin. There he was tried before the infamous Volksgerichtshof and condemned to death on July 2, 1943 on the charge of high treason. The sentence specified that his remains were not to be returned to his family for burial because Gapp had "defended his conduct on expressly religious grounds. For a religious people Fr. Gapp would be considered a martyr for the faith, and his burial could be used by the Catholic population as an opportunity for a silent demonstration in support of an already judged traitor."

In the six hours between being informed of his execution and his decapitation by guillotine, Gapp wrote moving letters to his superior and his family. Gapp's body was sent to the Anatomical-Biological Institute of the University of Berlin on the grounds that it would be used for research. The only known relic is the ring Gapp received upon his religious profession, which is kept in the Marianist novitiate at Greisinghof, Austria. Gapp was respected even by his enemies. Himmler had remarked to Gapp's judge that Germany would easily win if there were more party members as committed to the cause as Gapp was to his Christian faith.

Gapp was beatified by Pope John Paul II on Nov. 24, 1996.

Feast: Aug. 13 (Society of Mary).

Bibliography: Blessed Jakob Gapp, Marianist (Dayton, Ohio 1999). L'Osservatore Romano, Eng. ed., no. 48 (1996). j. levit, Jakob Gapp: Zeuge seines Glaubens (Innsbruck 1988). j. m. salaverri, Jakob Gapp Martyr de la Foi (Saint-Augustin 1997).

[k. i. rabenstein]