South Tyrol, a former President of SSVP, will be beatified in 2017
Pope Francis has approved promulgation of a decree recognizing the martyrdom of Josef Mayr Nusser, an Italian layman sentenced to death for refusing to swear allegiance to Hitler during World War II.
Born Dec. 27, 1910 in the northern Italian city of Bolzano, Mayr-Nusser grew up on a farm and was instilled with Christian values by his parents from a young age. Since his family was poor and his older brother Jakob was in seminary studying for the priesthood, Mayr-Nusser didn’t study himself, but worked on the farm and later as the clerk for the Eccel company in Bolzano. He dedicated much of his free time to reading, including many religious works. Among his favorites were the works of Frederic Ozanam, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Thomas More, and the life of St. Vincent de Paul.
At the age of 22 he joined the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, an international Catholic volunteer organization dedicated to serving the poor and disadvantaged, in an effort to imitate the charity of the saint. Mayr-Nusser was also involved in Catholic Action, and became head its division in the Diocese of Trent in 1934. In 1937 he became president of the Bolzano branch of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, spending a large amount of his time visiting the poor and providing them with both material and spiritual support.
When World War II flared up in Europe in 1939, Mayr-Nusser wasted no time in joining the anti-Nazi movement “Andreas Hofer Bund.” However, a few years later civil war also broke out in Italy following the 1943 ousting of Benito Mussolini from power, which led to the German occupation of the northern half of the country. The Nazi regime had established the “Schutzstaffel,” or “protective squadron.” The regime called not only on local men from Nazi Germany to join the squad, but they also took volunteers and conscripted men from both occupied and non-occupied territories.
Mayr-Nusser was among those conscripted from northern Italy, and so in 1944 was enrolled in an SS unit, forcing him to leave his wife and newborn son for training in Prussia. However, when it came time for the SS members to swear an oath to Hitler, Mayr-Nusser refused. According to a fellow comrade, he was “pensive and worried,” but told the general with a “strong voice” that “I cannot take an oath to Hitler in the name of God. I cannot do it because my faith and conscience do not allow it.”
Although his friends and tried to convince him to retract his statement and take the oath, Mayr-Nusser refused, believing that Nazi ideals could in no way be reconciled with Christian ethics and values. As a result he was jailed while he awaited trial. In 1945 he was sentenced to death for treason, and was ordered to march to the Dachau concentration camp, where he was to be shot by firing squad. However, he fell ill with dysentery along the way and died Feb. 24, 1945, before reaching the camp. When his body was discovered on the train, he had both a Bible and a rosary with him.
The beatification of Josef Mayr-Nusser will be held March 18, 2017 in the Cathedral of Bolzano. His memory is on 3 October. Many places bear his name: streets, schools ... he is also an honorary citizen of Bolzano, his hometown.