Moral courage and the story of the White Rose

By David Cooley.

“Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go …”

Those were among the last words spoken — 77 years ago —by a 21-year-old German girl named Sophie Scholl before she was executed by her own government in the dark times of the Nazi regime. Sophie was a loving, spunky, young girl full of life and laughter. So, what was the “crime” that brought about her demise?

Sophie, along with her older brother, Hans, and some of their friends at Munich University, formed a secret group called “The White Rose,” which covertly produced and distributed leaflets all over Germany that exhorted the people of good will to “wake up” and take action against the Nazis, who were committing atrocities in the name of the German people. The crime was “High Treason.” A total of three were killed that day, Feb. 22, 1943 — Sophie, Hans and their friend Christoph Probst, who was married and had three young children — the rest of the group was hunted down and killed not long after that.

The atrocities the White Rose spoke out against were not only the obvious crimes against humanity — which included killing anyone deemed “unworthy of life,” especially Jewish people, “useless eaters,” and enemies of the all-powerful state — but also the offences that the Nazis committed against the God-given freedom of the people. The rule of the day was conform and obey or suffer the dire consequences. I once thought that George Orwell’s novel “1984” was just an incredibly imaginative vision of a dystopian future that, while very frightening, seemed almost impossible. In reality Orwell was just taking notes from recent history. Living in Germany in the 1930s, if you happened to be someone who wasn’t brainwashed or completely apathetic to other people, was a nightmare. One of the hardest parts was not being able to trust anyone, even those you loved. Make a wrong move and they might turn you in to the authorities — and life was over.

The White Rose produced a total of six leaflets that, using beautiful and powerful language, interpreted the sign of the times and spoke the truth about what was happening all around Europe. The Gestapo (Nazi state police) spent the better part of a year trying to figure out where these leaflets were coming from so that they could track down and silence the authors. The first line on Leaflet 1 set the tone for the subsequent writings: “Nothing is more dishonorable for a civilized people than to let itself be ‘governed’ without resistance by an irresponsible clique of rulers devoted to dark instincts.” Another line demonstrated the wisdom the students had beyond their years: “If everyone waits for his neighbor to take the first step, the messengers of the vengeful nemesis will come ever closer, and the very last victim will senselessly be thrown into the throat of the insatiable demon.” The leaflets of the White Rose offered practical advice for how every-day people could defy Hitler and the Nazi Party in small but effective ways. The goal was to bring down the tyrants and restore dignity to Germany.

One of the reasons why I am inspired by this particular group of young adults is that they were compelled to act even when the easiest and safest choice was to not do anything. They ended up losing their lives even though they could have easily survived the war and lived out their dreams. Truthfully, they looked like members of the so-called “Aryan race” and they had a deep love for their country; and yet, they had an unwavering dedication to the simple difference between right and wrong, an unstoppable urge to seek the truth and the steadfast desire to invest the precious little time they were given in things that really mattered.

Among the many things that motivated the siblings that led the peaceful resistance of the White Rose were the Bible and the writings of St. Augustine. These two things formed their worldview more than anything else. In addition, Sophie also studied Thomas Aquinas and John Henry Newman’s writings on conscience. She and her brother both lived their lives always with an eye on eternity and finding consolation in Christ.

The catalyst of the White Rose movement came about when Sophie and Hans read an anti-Nazi sermon of the Catholic Bishop of Munster, Clemens von Galen in August 1941. In it the bishop openly attacked the Nazi euthanasia program. He wrote: “There are sacred obligations of conscience from which no one has the power to release us and which we must fulfil even if it costs us our lives.” They were thrilled someone was finally speaking out and Hans came up with the idea of finding an old duplicating machine.

But, on Feb. 18, after close to a year of building up a silent rebellion, they were caught distributing fliers by a man at the university and turned in to the authorities. They were interrogated, imprisoned and given a very speedy trial. They stood before their Nazi judge and jurors in the notorious People’s Court and demonstrated great courage. After just a few days they were sentenced to die … immediately, by way of the guillotine.

They kept their faith to the end, even in the face of death. During her trial Sophie said, “How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause?” Up to the last minute Sophie was given a chance to recant her stance and keep her life, but she just couldn’t do it. She would stick with her brother and her friends and not compromise what really mattered to her. It cost her her head.

Many times in life we are faced with hard decisions. Being Catholic in this day and age is not easy. The way of life we are called to is not hard because we can’t tell right from wrong; it’s hard because often times making the right choice results in our losing something very precious to us. What we lose might be our popularity, our security, or even our life as we know it.  Life is not fair; innocent people sometimes suffer the most. We need to look no further than Christ on the Cross for evidence of that. As Catholics we are always called to stand up for what is right, what is good, and what is holy — no matter what the cost. If those young students, in Germany, in 1943, could exemplify such moral courage in the face of grave evil and danger, can’t we find the courage to speak of and live out our Christian convictions today? While Sophie was willing to die for her worldview, are we able to live for ours?

David Cooley is co-director and office manager of the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization in the Diocese of Covington.

Diocese responds to COVID-19

Laura Keener, Editor.

Last week, information and recommendations concerning COVID-19 (coronavirus) have been changing and spreading, it seems, as quickly as the pandemic itself. Governor Andy Beshear is taking a dynamic approach to stop the spread of the disease, which, as of this writing, has claimed the life of one Kentuckian who died, the governor said March 16, from complications of the illness due to several underlying medical conditions.

Here is a timeline (from latest to earliest) of instructions issued and actions taken by Bishop Roger Foys, and other diocesan leaders, in efforts to protect the faithful of the Diocese of Covington. It is important to note that diocesan staff is continually monitoring the changing conditions and updates are frequently made. For the latest diocesan communications, click here.

On Friday, March 13, Bishop Foys instructs that, effective immediately, any nonessential meetings, events or gatherings scheduled to be held from now through April 3 at any parishes, Catholic schools, diocesan offices, religious houses and other diocesan institutions are to be postponed or canceled.

This action, he said, is being made “In the interest of the health and safety of our faithful and to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

That instruction was part of a document that includes preventative measures and operational responses for parishes, schools and the Curia that were developed and recommended to Bishop Foys by the newly created Coronavirus Task Force.

The 16-member task force, operating under the direction of Father Ryan Maher, vicar general, includes three pastors, Curia directors and the directors of St. Anne Retreat Center and Catholic Charities, Diocese of Covington. The report was sent via e-mail to all members of the Curia and to all priests, deacons, principals and religious houses of the diocese and includes information on what parishes, schools and Curia personnel could expect in the event of closing as well as preventative measures to be taken.

“In light of the coronavirus situation in the Commonwealth and the Governor declaring a state of emergency, it is necessary for us to be prepared with a plan of action,” Bishop Foys instructed the task force via e-mail.

On Thursday, March 12, at 6:30 p.m., Michael Clines, superintendent of Catholic schools, sent a letter to principals announcing that Catholic schools will cease in-person instruction beginning Monday, March 16 through March 27. Additionally, all school extracurricular activities are suspended through March 27.

Earlier that day, Mr. Clines had sent a letter to parents urging them to prepare for extended school closures and encouraging them during this time of uncertainty.

“Our Catholic schools are such wonderful places to grow spiritually, educationally, emotionally, physically and socially,” Mr. Clines wrote. “It is at times like this that the foundation of our Catholic faith … will provide us with the wisdom and courage to meet any challenge.”

On Wednesday, March 11, Bishop Foys and the other three bishops of Kentucky, respond to Governor Beshear’s recommendation to cancel worship services. Noting the liturgical guidelines that were put in place earlier in the month, the four bishops, based on the information they had at the time, did not call for diocesan-wide cancellation of Masses.

“The Sunday celebration of the Eucharist is at the center of the life of the Church. Perhaps especially in difficult times, liturgical gatherings are a source of comfort and hope for the faithful, as well as an opportunity to offer our prayers to God for those who are suffering or who cannot be with us,” the response read.

The bishops reiterate — and implore pastors to remind the faithful — that anyone who is ill, has symptoms or has an underlying health condition are not obligated to attend Sunday Mass.

Bishop Foys’ first communication to priests, deacons, religious houses and diocesan institutions (including the NKU Catholic Newman Club and Thomas More University) detailed guidelines for celebrating the Mass and liturgies.

These guidelines include refraining from the use of holy water fonts, distribution of holy Communion from the chalice, reception of holy Communion on the tongue and physical contact at the sign of peace. It also instructs that priests, deacons, altar servers and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion must use an alcohol-based anti-bacterial solution before and after distributing holy Communion.

This first communication also reminds priests to encourage the faithful who are sick or who are experiencing symptoms to stay home; they are not obliged to attend Mass, that the Catechism of the Catholic Church #2181 allows for serious reasons such as illness.

Additionally, on March 12, President Joe Chillo, Thomas More University, sent a message to University and community members advising that he was extending spring break for most students through Sunday, March 22. After the break, the university would shift to remote learning using Canvass for all classes beginning Monday, March 23. Classes that are already online and for 8-week courses that began on Monday, March 16, will continue as scheduled and will be exclusively online. All University sponsored events are canceled through April 13. Mass will continue as scheduled but will be limited to no more than 75 guests.

“As we address how best to handle this situation, our main priority is to protect the well-being of our students, faculty, staff and the community,” President Chillo wrote. “Thomas More University is committed to finishing the spring semester and providing our students the academic instruction necessary to fulfill their degree requirements.”

And, on Sunday, March 15, in an e-mail to members, Donna Heim, campus minister, NKU Newman Club said that there are to be no meetings or gatherings (or hanging out) in the Newman Center for at least the next two weeks. This is in response to Bishop Foys’ and NKU’s instruction to cancel such meetings and gatherings.

“Blessings come from obedience,” wrote Mrs. Heim. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder and hopefully resolves the coronavirus quickly. Hope you make the best of this Lenten sacrifice.”

For all of these communications and any updates, which can happen quickly, visit the Public Health Concerns page.


Catholic schools to adopt non-traditional instruction

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

As concerns about COVID-19 continue to rise, Governor Andy Beshear mandated, March 13, that public and private schools in the state of Kentucky close for two weeks, effective March 16.

In cooperation with the directive, Michael Clines, superintendent of Catholic schools, issued a statement March 13: “Catholic schools will cease in-person instruction beginning Monday, March 16 through March 27.” All school extracurricular activities will also be suspended through March 27.

Education will continue during this time by at-home instruction, which is to be determined individually by schools according to resources and locale.

According to Mr. Clines, this Non-Traditional Instructional approach will employ both digital and printed materials, and students are expected to complete their tasks for academic credit in the same way as if they were physically present at school.

Students at most schools are receiving a daily e-mail with the day’s work, which includes lessons from paper packets they receive weekly from the school as well as online classes using Google Classroom, Schoology, ExploreMore! Gifted and other resources. These sites include a multitude of resources for students and their parents to foster continual learning while physical schools are closed.

Each school determines what its students need based on available resources. St. Joseph School, Cold Spring, for example, has e-mailed a recommended daily schedule from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., including how much time should be allotted for studying, breaks and exercise. This works in accordance with the number of subjects St. Joseph students are currently taking and how much time they should dedicate to each.

During normal school hours, teachers will be online to correspond with students and answer questions by means of e-mail. Most teachers are working from home rather than in school buildings.

Mr. Clines said that the School Lunch Program offered by the diocese will not be any serving lunches from March 16–20. Mr. Clines and his staff will reevaluate as the situation progresses and make a determination on a week-by-week basis.

“I hope you can respect our efforts and decisions as we strive to provide the best non-traditional learning experience for your child during this very trying time for our region, country and world,” said Mr. Clines to parents.