Père (Father) Jacques was a Carmelite priest who took in Jewish refugees during the Holocaust and became a leader of the French Resistance, at the cost of his own life.
Born to a pious Catholic family in Normandy in 1900, Lucien Bunel (as he was then known) was ordained in 1925. He was a gentle soul who focused his life on prayer and service to others.
In 1934, Père Jacques opened a boarding school in Avon, and served as headmaster. When Germany invaded France in 1941, Père Jacques became an active member of the French Resistance.
The good priest secretly made his school a refuge for local Jews who were in imminent danger of being deported and killed by the Nazis. Père Jacques took in Jewish boys, under fake names, and hired a prominent Jewish scientist to join the faculty. “I am sometimes accused of imprudence,” he said. “I am told that I do not have the right to expose myself to possible arrest by the Germans. But if I should be killed, I would bequeath to my students an example worth more than all the teaching I could give.”
In 1944, the Gestapo found out about the ruse. They arrested Père Jacques, the Jewish students and the Jewish teacher, and deported them to concentration camps. At Dachau, Père Jacques quietly ministered to thousands of Catholic political prisoners.
Tragically, the Jews Père Jacques tried desperately to save all perished at Auschwitz. Père Jacques himself survived the war, but racked with tuberculosis and weighing only 75 pounds, he died several weeks after liberation.
French filmmaker Louis Malle was a student at Père Jacques’ boarding school and made a film inspired by the heroic priest (Au Revoir les Enfants.) Malle said that the strongest memory from his childhood was watching Père Jacques and the Jewish students being arrested by the Gestapo. As they were led away, Père Jacques turned to the other students and said, “Au revoir et a bientot!”(Goodbye and see you soon.) Then, remembered Malle, “something very bizarre took place. Somebody began to applaud, and then everybody was applauding, despite the shouts of the Gestapo to keep quiet.”
For being a light in dark times, and sacrificing his life for others, we honor Père Jacques as this week’s Thursday Hero.
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