Blessed Karl Leisner

Prisoner No. 22356

Born in Rees/Lower Rhine on 28th February 1915 and growing up in Kleve he joined the Catholic Youth Movement. This group not only gave him the companion-ship of young people and experience of trips but also led to a deeper understanding of the Holy Scriptures, the liturgy and above all the Eucharist. In his diary he wrote „Christ, you are my passion.“

Karl Leisner wanted to become a priest. The Bishop of Münster appointed him the diocesan youth leader. The Gestapo became aware of him. During his two terms at Freiburg he was shaken by inner conflicts: priesthood or marriage and family? On 25th March 1939 he was ordained as a deacon, a few months later he was to be ordained as a priest.

But God had other plans. Tuberculosis was suddenly diagnosed, which forced him to go to St. Blasien in the Black Forest for treatment. A remark he made about the attempted assassination of Hitler on 8th November 1939 led to his arrest by the Gestapo: prison in Freiburg, then detention in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, from there to Dachau concentration camp in December 1940.

Here something unexpected happened: Deacon Karl Leisner – already terminally ill – was ordained as a priest on 17th December 1944 by the French prisoner Bishop Gabriel Piguet, a very dangerous situation for those taking part. The newly ordained priest celebrated his first and only Holy Mass on St. Stephen’s Day 1944. He was freed on 4th May 1945.

He spent his last weeks in the tuberculosis hospital in Planegg near Munich. Only two thoughts occupied him: love and atonement. On 12th August he saw his life fulfilled in God’s love, which he believed in and which he wanted to preach to the mankind. His last entry in his diary was „God Almighty, bless my enemies too.“

His grave is in the crypt of the Xanten Cathedral. On 23th June 1996 Karl Leisner was beatified by Pope John Paul II.

The International Karl Leisner Circle

When Dean Theodor van Aaken, who had known Karl Leisner very well, died in the summer of 1973, Viktor Roeloffs then Provost of St. Maria Himmelfahrt in Kleve used this as an opportunity to try again to found a „Circle of Friends of Karl Leisner“. Following his invitation a meeting took place on 6th November 1973 in the Kolpinghaus, where he asked those present to write down reminiscenses about Karl Leisner and put documents and keepsakes at his disposal.

From these beginnings many people in Germany and abroad were busy with this task so that on 3rd October 1975 the „International Karl Leisner Circle“ was founded. Dedicated members formed smaller and larger circles in the Netherlands, Poland, France, Spanien and England.

On 14th October 1994 the general meeting decided to change the statutes so that more attention should be paid to national groups outside Germany. The spokespersons of these national groups now belong to the enlarged steering committee as coopted committee members.

In addition to the aim of preserving the memory of Karl Leisner, the IKLK is trying to improve international understanding in Europe. Through the mutual corporate membership of the Deutschen St. Jakobus-Gesellschaft and the IKLK the idea of a united Europe and a new approach to the Gospel can be promoted especially among young people, who for example experience on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela the spirit of community among nations.

From the Statutes of the IKLK

Our Organization has set itself the following aims:

1.   The preserving of the memory of Karl Leisner, who – after a detention of five years – was ordained as a priest in the Catholic Church in Dachau Concentration Camp on 17th December 1944 by the French Bishop Gabriel Piguet of Clermont and died as a result of his imprisonment in the hospital at Planegg near Munich on 12th August 1945.

2.   The establishment and maintenance of places of remembrance of this witness to the Christian faith as well as collection of documents about his life.

3.   The promotion of international understanding, peace and European unity in the spirit of Karl Leisner.

4.   The dissemination of international understanding achieving more appreciation for Karl Leisner’s work and promotion of his worship.

The IKLK pursues its aims in the spirit of Christianity and is fully committed to European cooperation.

IKLK Office
Internationaler Karl-Leisner-Kreis e.V.
c/o Propsteigemeinde St. Viktor Xanten
Kapitel 8
46509 Xanten – Germany
Telephone: 0049 (0) 2821/92595
Telefax: 0049 (0) 2821/980331