Memorial : 2 July
BL. JAKOB GAPP, the seventh child in the working class family of Martin Gapp and Antonia Wach, was born on 26 July 1897 in Wattens, a small village in the Austrian Tirol. On the following day he was baptized in the parish church of St Laurence in Wattens.
After completing secondary school in his native village, he entered the Franciscan high school in Hall, a Tirolean town, in 1910.
Jakob was called to military service in May 1915 and served on the Italian front, where he was wounded in 1916. For this he received the silver medal of Courage Second Class. On 4 November 1918 he was interned as a prisoner of war in Riva del Garda and released on 18 August 1919.
Jakob entered the Marianist novitiate at Greisinghof, Upper Austria, where he made his first vows in 1921. The young religious was assigned to the Marian Institute in Graz, where he worked as a teacher and sacristan for four years. At the same time he was preparing himself through private study for the seminary. He made his profession of perpetual vows at Antony, France, on 27 August 1925. In September 1925 Jakob entered the International Marianist Seminary in Fribourg, Switzerland, and was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Marius Besson at St Nicholas Cathedral, Fribourg, on 5 April 1930.
Returning to Austria, he worked until 1938 as a teacher, director of religious education, and chaplain in Marianist schools. During a time of severe unemployment, Fr Gapp's great concern for the poor appeared in many ways. He collected food and other necessities from his students, but also refused to heat his own room in the winter to be able to give fuel to the poor.
In this period, as National Socialism (Nazism) began to assert itself, first in Germany and them in Austria, Fr Gapp formed a clear judgement about the incompatibility of Nazism and the Christian faith by studying the German and Austrian Bishops' statements and the Encyclical Mit brennender Sorge of Pope Pius XI. In his teaching and preaching he continued this truth fearlessly.
When German troops arrived in Austria in March 1938, he was obliged to leave Graz. After a few months at Freistadt his superiors sent him to his home town in Tirol, since they saw in his anti-Nazi preaching a threat to the very existence of those institutions whose elimination had already been decided by the Nazis. In Tirol he enjoyed the last moment of peace in his life. He had been an assistant pastor in Breitenwang-Reutte for only two months when the Gestapo, at the end of October 1938, forbade him to teach religion. Fr Gapp had taught the uncompromising law of love for all men and women without reference to nationality or religion.
In a sermon on 11 December 1938 he defended Pope Pius XI against the attacks of the Nazis, and directed the faithful of the parish to read Catholic literature rather than Nazi propaganda. After this sermon Jakob Gapp was advised to leave the country.
With the help of his religious superiors Fr Gapp escaped to Bordeaux, France, where he worked at the cradle of the Society of Mary as a chaplain and librarian. In May 1939 he went to Spain, where he served in the Marianist communities at San Sebastian, Cadiz and Valencia. In Spain he stood alone and misunderstood because of his rejection of Nazism.
The Gestapo, having followed him since he left Austria, took advantage of his loneliness. Two individuals pretending to be Jews from Berlin told Fr Gapp about their fictitious experience of flight from Nazi persecution. In Valencia they asked him to instruct them in the Catholic faith. After gaining his confidence, they invited him on a trip, and then abducted him across the border into German-occupied France.
Fr Jakob Gapp was arrested on 9 November 1942 in Hendaye, France, and brought to Berlin. On 2 July 1943, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, he was condemned to death. Any pardon and the transfer of his remains to his relatives for simple burial were denied because Fr Gapp had "defended his conduct on expressly religious grounds. For an explicitly religious people Fr Gapp would be considered a martyr for the faith, and his burial could be used by the Catholic population as an opportunity for a silent demonstration in support of an already judged traitor of his people who was pretending to die for his faith".
At 1:00 p.m. on 13 August 1943, Jakob Gapp was informed that his execution would take place at 7:00 p.m. The two farewell letters he wrote after this announcement are truly moving expressions of his faith. At 7:08 p.m. Fr Gapp was guillotined in the Plotzensee Prison, Berlin. His remains were sent for research to the Anatomical-Biological Institute of the University of Berlin.