Blessed Marcel Callo: The nerd’s alternative to Pier Giorgio

Melissa Keating

Blessed Marcel Callo just needs to be more famous. His story is equal parts Pier Giorgio, Maximilian Kolbe,  Romeo Montague, and something that is uniquely his own. He also totally looks like a French Urkel, which I think we can all agree is amazing. In honor of his feast day on October 4, here is his life in blog form:

That kid at youth group

Marcel as a Boy Scout. Image from the Diocese of Fresuj-Toulon

Marcel as a Boy Scout. Image from the Diocese of Fresuj-Toulon

Marcel was the second of nine children. His family was French and poor, but happy, and raised him in the faith. He started working when he was 13, which is when we get one of my favorite insights into him: He was kind of an obnoxious Christian.

His coworkers would make jokes about women, so Marcel refused to have anything to do with them. He also refused to date, saying, “I am not one to amuse myself with the heart of a lady, since my love is pure and noble,” among other things that kind of make me want to take his lunch money. Most of his (very few) biographers try to pass this off as piety, but I think he was just your typical overzealous young Catholic. He would have been the modern equivalent of the teenager who wears 50 saints medals at once and has the techno remix of “Oceans” as their ringtone. He even spent all of his time with his equivalent of a youth group, the Jeunesse Ouvriere Chretienne (JOC), or Young Christian Workers.

The JOC is where Marcel learned to stop being so obnoxious. They stressed the importance of community and intellectual formation, as well as a robust prayer life. Marcel played sports through them, and began to spend 15 minutes a day in quiet prayer and went to Confession every other week. He still wasn’t perfected, as he was known for losing his temper with people who questioned Church teaching. And yet, as he became a leader within the JOC, he started to lighten up. For example, he shocked many elderly parishioners when he and his friends decided to go see a movie on All Soul’s Day. The older people thought the JOC should spend the day in prayer. However, Marcel and his friends managed to see the movie and still get into the Church before the liturgy started.

A very long engagement
Marcel and Maurgerite. Photo from Blessed Marcel Callo Parish in the Diocese of Arras.

Marcel and Maurgerite. Photo from Blessed Marcel Callo Parish in the Diocese of Arras.

However, the JOC wasn’t just a place for Marcel to sass old ladies. It was also where he met the love of his life, Marguerite Derniaux. He waited to ask her out, because he said, “One must master his heart before he can give it to the one that is chosen for him by Christ”. They were engaged, but World War II and his subsequent martyrdom prevented them from ever getting married.

Rennes was bombed on March 8, 1943. Marcel and his JOC friends volunteered to recover bodies and help the injured. Marcel was sifting through the debris of an office building when he recognized his little sister’s leg and shoe sticking out from a pile of debris. He had to break the news to his family.

A few weeks later, Marcel learned that he was being sent to a forced labor camp in Germany. His family would be arrested if he resisted, which would have been especially horrible since his older brother was about to be ordained a priest.  So he went. He told his family that he was going as a missionary, because there was an urgent apostolate waiting for him in the barracks.

Jesus in the barracks
jeuneMarcelCallo3_ptt

Unfortunately, the reality of forced labor was harder than he had anticipated, but this last round of suffering was what made him a saint. He was sent to a town without a single Catholic Church and forced to help make rockets that were used against his countrymen. He went three months without his family, his fiancee, or the Eucharist, all the while living on starvation rations and recreating the weapons that had killed his own sister. In other words, legalistic lip-service Christianity wasn’t going to work. He developed infected teeth, boils, and headaches from the deplorable conditions.  He sunk into a deep depression.

And then, just when everything seemed hopeless, he encountered Christ. Marcel discovered that Sunday Mass was offered in an obscure room of the barracks. He received the Eucharist for the first time in months and appreciated it like never before. He wrote to Marguerite, “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 the Missionary
Marcelsolo

And that’s exactly what he did. He rededicated himself to the prayer life he and Marguerite had established before the war. He also began to organize JOC-inspired activities for his friends in the barracks. They would play sports and cards, perform plays, and pray together. He found a French priest to say Mass for them once a month. In short, he stopped looking at his awful life and instead focused on choosing to love his God and his community. His hope and joy came back and spread to his fellow prisoners.

The S.S. also noticed the change in Marcel. They arrested him on April 19, 1944. While the officers search through his belongings, his friends asked for a reason for his arrest.  One of the officers replied, “Monsieur est trop Catholique” (translation: He is too Catholic).

Martyrdom

The Germans interrogated him. He admitted to being a part of the JOC, which the Germans had banned as a clandestine organization. He was sent to the concentration camp at Mathausen. The conditions were even worse than in the forced labor camp, but Marcel knew how to keep his joy. He continued to pray and encourage his fellow prisoners, even as he suffered from bronchitis, malnutrition, dysentary, fever, swellings, and generalized weakness, all in addition to his previous ailments. One prisoner had smuggled in a box of consecrated hosts and was able to give him his final Eucharist, also known as Viatacum.

His joy and hope were present to the end. The latrines at Mathausen were designed so that weaker prisoners would fall into them. Marcel nearly drowned in one, but was pulled out by a Colonel Thibideux. Marcel was too weak to even speak at this point. However, the colonel remembered that even covered in human waste and dying, “there was a holiness in [Marcel’s] eyes. I had never before seen anyone look that way!”

Beatification

Marcel died on the feast of St. Joseph, March 19, 1945. It was exactly two years after he left France.  The last time he had seen Marguerite was at the train station, when she told him he was going to be a martyr. He told her that he would never be good enough for that. St. John Paul II disagreed, and declared him a martyr for the faith on October 4, 1987. The pope said that like Christ, Marcel “loved until the end, and his entire life became the Eucharist.

“Received into the everlasting joy of God, [Marcel] testifies that the Christian faith cannot separate Heaven from Earth. Heaven is prepared on Earth through justice and love,” the pope said.

“Nourished by prayer, the sacraments, and apostolic action….he built the Church with his brothers, the young Christian workers. It is in the Church that we become Christian, and it is with the Church that we build a new humanity.”***

A man for our generation
Marcel

And that’s why I love Marcel. He started off as the kind of Christian so many of us are early in our conversion: overzealous, obsessed with vocation, and more interested in looking Catholic than cultivating a deep relationship with Christ.

But then he was stripped of absolutely everything. His little sister was killed, his vocation was snatched away, and he was forced to take the place of German workers who had killed his family. He couldn’t even maintain the prayer and sacramental schedule of his former life. Yet his response was simply to find Christ already present in those dismal surroundings and dedicate himself to bringing others to the Lord. He offered his sufferings for the sake of his brother’s mission as a priest. Even when he was too weak to speak, he changed something in the colonel just by looking at him.

You don’t get that kind of radiance from simply following the rules. It comes from falling deeply, irrevocably in love with Christ, and knowing that his peace and joy are available no matter what happens to you. That’s the kind of twentysomething our world needs.

***My translation; not official

COMING UP: Not your “this-could-be-for-anyone” Christmas gift guide

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With Christmas rapidly approaching, many of us run into the problem of finding great and unique gifts for our friends and relatives. For this reason, we have come up with a gift guide that can make your Christmas shopping a little more fun.

For your friend who enjoys “Naptio Divina”

We all know that sleeping during adoration or prayer isn’t all that bad: you rest with Jesus, right? Well, we thought this quality would be worth honoring with this shirt from Elly and Grace that you can gift your “Jesus-took-naps” friend. The cozy baseball shirt is perfect for any man or woman who enjoys resting with Jesus. Visit EllyandGrace.com for more information.

It is great to nap with Jesus; but… it is also good to pray. Therefore, we have included Fr. Larry Richard’s “No Bible, No Breakfast! No Bible, No Bed!” Scripture Calendar, in case your friend is tempted to nap with Jesus every time, instead of talking with him. You can find this calendar on CatholicCompany.com and help your friend remain faithful to praying without napping.

For your friend who evangelizes while they drive

Is your friend’s driving accompanied by countless Rosaries and acts of contrition? We have the perfect gift! The Catholic Company provides numerous car accessories for the fast evangelizers. It reminds them to wait for their guardian angels on the road in their works of mercy. On the Catholic Company inventory, you can also find sacred images and pins, such as the visor clip for any parent who is worried about their children’s driving habits.

For your friend who fights for a cause

Religious art, yards, a great cause: everyone wins with one. Angel Haus is a Denver-based nonprofit that provides employment for the disabled by creating religious art, especially for yards. The founder is the newly-ordained Deacon David Arling, who has been operating it since its initiation five years ago. They have now sold over 300 Christmas Display boards and San Damiano Cross images. The family business has encountered much support from their pastor, Father Michael Carvill at Nativity of Our Lord Church. Nonetheless, they need your support to continue with this project. To purchase an item for your friend and help this great cause, email Arling at djarling2011@hotmail.com.

For your friend who is a lost cause

Okay, okay, no person is a lost cause; but we all know someone who is pretty close to being one. As soon as you think they’ve finally gotten it, an off-the-cuff comment smashes all your hopes. Hold fast and do not despair, St. Jude is here to help! This 3 ½” tall St. Jude wooden peg from Etsy.com will make sure that the patron saint of lost causes is constantly at work for your friend. Etsy provides a wide variety of religious hand-painted figures from Whymsical Lotus that range from the Sacred Heart to your favorite saints, such as St. Therese, St. Patrick, and Our Lady of Guadalupe. These charmingly detailed and delightful dolls make a unique gift for those friends who need a special intercessor.

For your little friend

Running out of ideas to gift your child, godchild, or short friend? The search is over. Faithful Findz from Etsy.com makes great replicas of saints’ attires. Take, for instance, the “Saint John Paul II the Great” costume, handmade out of cotton poly fabric (Hawaiian Pope mobile not for sale: sad, I know; but a miter and red cape can be purchased separately). Some of their popular costumes include the habits of Mother Teresa and Padre Pio (gloves included). Even more, the maker requests the person’s waist measurement to ensure the best fit. When in doubt, you won’t lose with the saints, and neither will your little friends.

For your priestly friend

He already has all sorts of things, what could he possibly want? Rosaries, religious art, and other religious accessories are probably some of the most common gifts for priests (or priestly friends). Nonetheless, we can assure you that very few have a custom-made priest bobblehead of themselves. It makes a great gift! All you have to do is send a couple pictures of your favorite priest to MyCustomBobblehead.com. Doesn’t sound like the best idea? Look at it this way: it is a way for your priest to remember and embrace his obedience to the teachings of the Catholic Church, as his bobblehead will constantly nod to God’s will and shake his head to refuse all sinful things. Plus, you’ll get a discount if you mention you saw this in the Denver Catholic.

For your friend who never gave up on comics

Why would anyone give up on comic books when you have great initiatives like The Ultimate Catholic Comic Book? A group of Catholic cartoonists joined forces to bring about this entertaining, clever, humorous, and enriching book for all ages. Although many of the parodies and puns may well go over children’s heads, the comics contain messages that remain true to Catholic Doctrine. You can buy it and check out the sample digital copy at CatholicComicBook.com.