Modern Day Saint
Marcel Callo was born December 6, 1921 at Rennes, France of Catholic parents. He was the oldest of several children and helped out at home until he became an apprentice printer at the age of 13 years. Parts of his earnings went to help in the support of his family.
One of the difficulties that arose with his apprenticeship was the lack of Christian fellowship. For this reason Marcel preferred the company of his comrades in an organization known as the JOC, Jeunesse Ouvriere Chretienne (Young Christian Workers). The JOC provide instruction in the Catholic Faith, good fellowship and wholesome activities.
In 1941, when Marcel was 20 years old, he met and fell in love with Marguerite Derniaux. It was almost a year later that he declared his love. Four months later they imposed on one another a rule for the spiritual life. This included the recitation of the same prayers, the frequent assistance at Holy Mass and the reception of the Holy Eucharist.
Marcel’s orderly life of work and prayer was interrupted on March 8, 1943, when World War ll touched the City of Rennes. On that day the city suffered a terrible bombardment. The train station and streets around it were destroyed. Since Marcel worked close by, he and his worker friends went about helping those who were injured. Unfortunately, Marcel discovered his own sister’s body in the debris.
France eventually fell to the Germans and young French men were forced to report to work in Germany. Failure to do so would result in the arrest of a man’s family. Marcel was ordered to report to the Germans. He told his family that: “It is not as a worker that I leave, but as a missionary.”
In Germany he lived in a barracks and was forced to work in a factory that made rockets that were used against the French people. He was not a prisoner as he had the freedom to come and go and could participate in various activities. Marcel suffered for three months from discouragement and had to fight against a terrible depression. In the German town where he lived there was no Catholic Church, but he was eventually able to find a room where the Holy Mass was offered on Sundays. This was a great comfort to him.
He said: “Finally Christ reacted. He made me to understand that the depression was not good. I had to keep busy with my friends and then joy and relief would come back to me.”
Marcel began almost at once to restore good morale and hope among his deported friends. He organized a team of Christian workers and had matches of bridge, cards, sports and other activities. He also organized a theatrical group, which performed small plays. He continued to organize these activities with a holy deliberation despite suffering from illness.
For his French comrades, Marcel was able to arrange for a solemn Holy Mass to be celebrated in their own language. Eventually, Marcel’s religious activities were brought to the attention of the German officials. This prompted his arrest on April 19, 1944. When Marcel was being taken away one of his friends demanded a reason for the arrest. The agent responded: “Monsieur is too much of a Catholic.” He was taken to a prison in Gotha, where he continued his life of prayer and his concern for his companions. He received his last Holy Communion during his stay at Gotha. Consecrated Hosts were secretly brought into the prison and were confided to a JOC friend who kept them in a box for distribution. After he was officially accused or participating in Catholic activities among his French friends an activity regarded as harmful to the German people, Marcel was moved on October 24 to the prison at Mathausen. He suffered there for five months. In spite of sickness, he inquired about the needs of his companions, and encouraged them by saying: “It is in prayer that we find strength.”
Marcel suffered from malnutrition and dysentery. He died quietly on March 19, 1945, exactly two years after he left France for Germany. Before Marcel left France his fiancée told him that he would be a martyr. Marcel Callo replied: “ I will never be good enough for that.” But the Catholic Church thought otherwise and Marcel was beatified by Pope John Paul ll on October 4, 1987.
This article was edited from a story on Marcel Callo in a book by Joan Carroll Cruz, titled, “Secular Saints.” We encourage frequent reading about the lives of the saints as a means of spiritual development.
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