Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo
Image of Bl. Karl Leisner


Feastday: August 12

Birth: 1915

Death: 1945

Beatified By: Pope John Paul II

      Many Catholic priests and seminarians were imprisoned in the Nazi prison camps, and not a few died of the intentionally harsh treatment they received. Two of these clerics were beatified by Pope John Paul II during his visit to Berlin on June 23, 1996.

      One was Father Karl Leisner. In the mid 1930s Karl was studying for the priesthood in the western German diocese of Muenster. An apostolic young seminarian, he tried to organize the Catholic students into groups for discussion and recreation. He would take teenagers on "camping" hikes to Belgium and Holland so that they could talk freely about the contrast between what Hitler was teaching and what the Church teaches. However, when the Nazis began to demand complete control over all German youth, Karl's efforts became less effectual.

      The government next made Leisner serve for six months in agricultural work service. Despite the Nazi ban on religious activities among his fellow farmers, he arranged ways for them to attend Sunday Mass. On discovering this, the Gestapo (the Nazi secret police) declared him a dangerous person. Searching his home, they made off with all his diaries and papers, and most of his books. Fortunately they preserved all these documents, thus preserving data for a history of this young man's heroic life.

      As the end of his theological education drew near, Karl fell ill with tuberculosis. He passed the year 1939 in a mountain sanitarium. Having then recovered partially, he was put into jail. Then he was sent to the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen, and later transferred to Dachau. His tuberculosis worsening, he was lodged in the infamous Dachau infirmary, where the patients were often selected for medical experiments.

      Leisner arranged, nonetheless, to have Communion brought to him secretly. In December 1944 a French bishop who was imprisoned in the camp was able to ordain him to the priesthood. He was so ill afterwards, that he had to postpone his first Mass for a week. After that first Mass he never got to celebrate another. When the Allies liberated Dachau in April 1945, he was sent to a sanitarium, but he died a few weeks later of the rigors of disease and jail.

      Provost Lichtenberg, an older man, had become a popular pastoral figure in Berlin before the Nazis came into power. As the leading priest in St. Hedwig's, the Berlin Cathedral, he was in an influential civic position. When the Nazis began their tyrannies, he protested them in public. Deploring the regime of concentration camps like that of Dachau, he organized demonstrations against them outside certain camps. In November 1939, on the bitter "Krystallnacht," when Nazi gangs destroyed so much Jewish property, he led public prayers for the Jews. He also dared to lodge an official protest with the government against euthanasia, which Hitler had approved for purposes of "ethnic cleansing."

      At length, Lichtenberg, too, was arrested for "misusing his official position," and imprisoned for two years. Prison did not "convert" him, however. When released, he renewed both his priestly and his political efforts. Ordered, though ailing, to be transferred to the concentration camp at Dachau, he died en route in a cattle car, in November 1943. His tomb in the Berlin Cathedral became a shrine for those who had been heartened by his heroic faith. After the war, the main office building of the Archdiocese of Berlin was named after him.

      When Pope John Paul II declared both of these priests blessed martyrs, it was at a Mass celebrated in the vast stadium that Hitler had constructed for the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. In this arena, used so often for Nazi mega-spectacles, John Paul denounced the racism and the "absolute cruelty" that Nazism had so often demonstrated under the shadow of the swastika.

More about Bl. Karl Leisner from Wikipedia

Bl. Karl Leisner Comments

More Saints

Browse Saints by Category

Popular Saints




Image of Mary the Blessed Virgin

Mary the Blessed Virgin

The Mother, of God, Mother of Jesus, wife of St. Joseph, and the greatest of all Christian saints. The Virgin Mother was, after her Son, exalted by divine grace above all angels and men. ... continue reading | shop


Image of St. Rose of Lima

St. Rose of Lima

Virgin, born at Lima, Peru 20 April, 1586; died there the 24 of August, 1617. St. Rose of Lima is the patroness of Latin America and the Philippines. This South American Saint's real ... continue reading | shop


Image of St. Bernadette

St. Bernadette

On April 16, 1879, Bernadette -- or Sister Marie-Bernard, as she was known within her order -- died in the Sainte Croix (Holy Cross) Infirmary of the Convent of Saint-Gildard. She was ... continue reading | shop

All Popular Saints

Saint of the Day

Image of Sts. Denis, Rusticus, and Eleutherius

Sts. Denis, Rusticus, and Eleutherius

The first mention we have of these three martyrs who died around 258 A.D. comes in the sixth century in the writings of Saint Gregory of Tours. Denis (or Dionysius as he is also called) is the ... continue reading

More Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day by E-Mail

Saint of the Day newsletter icon

Learn about the lives of the saints and other saint resources, including a calendar, over 5,000 saint biographies, our most popular saints, and a list of patron saints. 7 days / week. See Sample


Female Saints

Image of St. Elizabeth

St. Elizabeth

Not much information is known about Elizabeth, but she has the distinction of being one of the first to know about Mary's great blessing as the Mother of God. Zachary was a priest in Jerusalem whose wife, Elizabeth, Mary's cousin, was beyond child-bearing age. He ... continue reading

More Female Saints

Saint Calendar
Saint Feast Days
Saint Fun Facts


Image of St. Michael the Archangel

St. Michael the Archangel

St. Michael the Archangel - Feast day - September 29th The name Michael signifies "Who is like to God?" and was the warcry of the good angels in the battle fought in heaven against satan and his followers. Holy Scripture describes St. Michael as "one of the chief ... continue reading

Image of St. Gabriel, the Archangel

St. Gabriel, the Archangel

The name Gabriel means "man of God," or "God has shown himself mighty." It appears first in the prophesies of Daniel in the Old Testament. The angel announced to Daniel the prophecy of the seventy weeks. His name also occurs in the apocryphal book of Henoch. He was the ... continue reading

Saints Fun Facts

Saints Fun Facts for St. Anthony Mary Claret

St. Anthony Mary Claret

Claretian archbishop and founder. Anthony was born in Salient in Catalonia, Spain, in 1807, the son of a weaver. He took up weaving but then studied for the priesthood, desiring to be a Jesuit. Ill ... continue reading

Saints Fun Facts for St. Francis Borgia

St. Francis Borgia

Francis was a young nobleman at the court of the King of Spain. He became a Duke when he was only thirty-three and lived a happy, peaceful life with his wife Eleanor and their eight children. But ... continue reading

Christian Saints & Heroes

Image of St. Therese of Lisieux

Jennifer Hartline: Trying to Learn Humility From St. Therese

By Jennifer Hartline

St. Therese helps me understand: "the splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not take away the perfume of the little violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy.if all flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty, and the ... continue reading

More Christian Saints & Heroes


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Joel 1:13-15; 2:1-2
13 Priests, put on sackcloth and lament! You ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 9:2-3, 6, 16, 8-9
6 the enemy is wiped out -- mere ruins for ever -- ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 11:15-26
15 But some of them said, 'It is through Beelzebul, ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 9th, 2015 Image

Sts. Denis, Rusticus, and Eleutherius
October 9: The first mention we have of these three martyrs who died around ... Read More