Gereon Goldmann was a precocious youngster. Hardly the pious and submissive type, he often returned to his home from the Catholic school in Fulda, Germany with a black eye or bloodied nose – evidence of his latest less-than-peaceable adventure.
This didn’t prevent him from making the trek to a local chapel before school to serve as an altar boy for the 5 a.m. Mass, though!
His wild imagination soon turned to the things of God, and he promised that would be a missionary. He had gone a long way toward reaching that goal by 1939, when he graduated from his philosophy studies and looked forward to studying theology in preparation for ordination to the priesthood.
Just a day after his last final exam, though, he and about 200 other seminarians received draft papers into the Wehrmacht – the German regular army. Despite openly mocking their anti-Catholic Nazi superiors, Gereon and some comrades of his comrades were transferred away from the Eastern Front to join Hitler’s infamous Schutzstaffel corps, known as the SS.
Serving in an SS unit in France, Gereon and his fellow seminarians miraculously not only survived as openly Catholic soldiers, but even sabotaged Nazi activities by assisting persecuted French families, priests and churches. Their subterfuge was so well hidden that they were even recommended for promotion to the rank of commissioned officer.
In order to become SS officers, though, Gereon and his companions were asked to formally renounce their faith. Nazism and Catholicism simply couldn’t mix.
They refused. Expecting to be promptly executed, they were surprised to hear their principled commander say: “I salute you gentlemen – I expected nothing less.” Still, their refusal of promotion sent many of them to their deaths on the Eastern Front.
Marked for another purpose, Gereon was saved by a timely illness and a surprising change of orders. At home on sick leave, he met a religious sister from the convent where he used to serve the 5 a.m. daily Mass. She told him in no uncertain terms that she had been praying for his ordination to the priesthood for 20 years, and that this year she was sure her prayers would be answered.
A shocking change of assignment and many miracles later, Gereon found himself kneeling before the Pope in Rome, begging for an early ordination to the priesthood. Soon back at the front and then a prisoner of war in the hands of cruel French guards and sadistic Nazi superiors in North African prison camps, newly ordained Father Gereon did not give up hope.
Not only did he bring the presence of Christ to many devout Catholic prisoners, but soon fallen-away Christians and even hardened atheists were attending Mass in his makeshift chapel. Moved from one hellish prison camp to another, often thirsty and starving to death, Father Gereon continued to serve his priestly duties with incredible energy.
Finally released at 38 years of age, Father Gereon had already known more than a full life’s worth of adventure and suffering. But he still pursued his dream of mission work in Japan, where his work bore tremendous fruit.
Father Gereon’s amazing story is a clear reminder that the Church of God is not restricted by national boundaries. A former SS trooper ordained a priest by a French Bishop – his enemy by birth but his brother in the Lord – Father Gereon’s life is a miraculous testimony to the love of Christ.
Finding himself in one impossible situation after another, Father Gereon found the grace of God always present to preserve him from evil, always “under the shadow of His wings” who never abandons us.
Read the complete amazing story of Father Gereon Goldmann in his book “Under the Shadow of His Wings”, a gripping narrative of war and peace, life and death, hatred and grace.
Eddie Hoffmann is a Catholic seminarian studying to serve the Church in southwestern Ohio and an intern at St. Columbkille in Wilmington. He is also a future Army Chaplain.