The Communists didn’t like priests like Fr. János Brenner. They liked priests who obeyed. They liked priests who cowered.
But Fr. Brenner wasn’t afraid of anyone. He was “full of life, joy, and mischief” that beamed from his million-dollar smile. He was young. He was vivacious.
He was the Communists’ worst nightmare.
Born in Hungary in 1931, János was only a teenager when the Communist government took over his country after World War II. He went to Cistercian schools for a little while, but the government soon took over the schools, too. Inspired to become a Cistercian himself, he entered at the age of eighteen, but he and his classmates had to do their formation in secret.
He enrolled in a diocesan seminary and was ordained in 1955. During his formation, he wrote, “Even if the road is rough, I look at your pain-ridden face and follow you. I ask you only one thing: May I always fulfill most precisely what you give to me as my vocation.”
It’s a verse that would be well-fulfilled in his life.
Fr. Brenner was an energetic and selfless priest, having a particular popularity with young people (the Communists didn’t like that either). He accepted—with joyful and fearless resignation—the inherent dangers of his job, even when a government official made him aware of personal threats to his life. When his bishop offered to transfer him to a safer post, he simply said: “I’m not afraid, I’m happy to stay.”
Two weeks before his twenty-sixth birthday, on the freezing night of December 14th, 1957, Fr. Brenner received a message that someone was dying and needed the Last Sacraments. He immediately took his anointing oils and the Blessed Sacrament, and set off down the road in the darkness.
But the message was a fake. He was walking into a trap.
Ambushed, Fr. Brenner was stabbed thirty-two times and trampled in the dirt of the road. When they found his body in the morning, he was still clutching the Blessed Sacrament—a modern-day Tarcisius who had defended his Lord to the end.
Fr. Brenner got to skip the “Venerable” stage and go straight to “Blessed” since he was a martyr. He was beatified in May 2018 in Hungary.
Look what you did, Communists. You gave us a saint! One whose example encourages us—especially the young—to be fearless Catholics in the face of any danger.
Another intrepid priest we all know and love also worked in a Communist country—Pope John Paul II, whose words “Be not afraid!” remind us of Fr. Brenner’s life. Remind yourself of their courage with your own “Be Not Afraid” mug. With JPII’s immortal phrase emblazoned on the front, this mug will give you a boost of bravery as you remember the example of our great saints. Only available at The Catholic Company—order yours today!