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Heroes You Should Know: Pere Jaques de Jesus (Lucien Bunel)

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A Roman Catholic priest in the Carmelite Order Pere Jacques de Jesus (born Lucien Bunel) founded and served as the Headmaster of the Petit Collège Sainte-Thérèse de l’Enfant-Jésus, a boarding school in Avon, France for boys, in 1934.  When World War II broke out, he was conscripted into the French Army, but after France’s surrender he returned to his school—and joined the French Resistance.

Because of his authority as Headmaster, he was able to hide young men from being conscripted into the Nazi labor force.  And in 1943 he began hiding Jews as well.  Three Jewish boys were accepted as students under assumed names, and a fourth was added as a worker.  Jacques also arranged for a local Jewish botanist, Lucien Weil, to be added to the school’s faculty.

However, a year later the Gestapo learned of the priest’s efforts from an informant and arrested him along with the four boys.  As Pere Jacques was led away by the soldiers, he turned to his students and smiled, ”Au revoir, et a bientot”  (“Goodbye, and see you soon”).  The students, in a remarkable act of bravery, applauded their Headmaster even as the Nazis shouted for them to stop.

A month later the Gestapo took the botanist and his family into custody as well.  The boys and the Weil family were sent to Auschwitz where they died.

Jacques was sent to several different concentration camps, before finally ending up at Mauthausen-Gusen, a notoriously sever labor camp where he ministered to all the prisoners.  When the Nazis attempted to round up the priests in the camp to send them to Dachau, reportedly less demanding then Mauthausen-Gusen, Jacques hid his priestly identity.  Thus he was able to continue his pastoral work and help lead the resistance efforts in the camp.  He was the only priest for the 20,000 prisoners.

Mauthausen-Gusen was one of the last concentration camps to be liberated by the American forces in May of 1945.  By then Pere Jacques, his body compromised by tuberculosis, weighed only 75 pounds.  He was immediately hospitalized but died less than a month later.

In 1985 Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, honored Père Jacques de Jesus as “Righteous Among the Nations” for his efforts to save Jews as Headmaster of his school.

The film director Louis Malle, who as an eleven year-old student at the Petit Collège Sainte-Thérèse de l’Enfant-Jésus actually witnessed Pere Jacques’ arrest, memorialized his story in the 1987 movie Au Revoir Les Enfants.

The cause for the canonization of Pere Jacques de Jesus, who lived up to his name, was opened by the Catholic Church in 1990.

He is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

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