HE STORY of the life of Fr Gereon Goldmann OFM is amazing on many levels. A seminarian who was drafted into the Nazi army, ascended ranks, all while keeping and defending the Faith, is bound to have some capitivating experiences to share.
Amongst all the horror of war, the amazing close escapes, the heart wrenching tragedies, there are pieces of consolation. One small glimpse into this priest’s background comes out in a few adventures involving sacred music. Here are two such episodes.
Being discovered as Christians as new recruits:
The young lieutenant, younger even than I, turned white and screamed at me and the other seminarians who had been pointed out to him: “Up a tree—quick, march!” Promptly, tongues in cheek, we obeyed the command and climbed the nearest tree. We found comfortable perches on handy cross-branches and peered down. Somehow, our expressions did not seem to the lieutenant to be suitable; we were not contrite, but triumphant, and so once again he gave a command: “Sing a hymn!”
With all the dignity at our command, considering our perch, we loudly sang the Te Deum— in Latin, of course. The poor lieutenant understood only his army German and roared, “What was that? I ordered you to sing a church song!”
“But, lieutenant,” I replied loudly, so that the others who were standing around showing various emotions at this spectacle, could hear, “that was a church song. We are sorry that you do not understand it. But of course the language of the church is Latin or Greek or Hebrew. Those who do not understand these languages cannot, unfortunately, understand the songs of the church.”
And later, when stationed in France:
On July 14 in Vaux sur Blaise, the French celebrated their national holiday—which we did not know at the time. We went to Mass as usual, and three or four choirgirls began to whine away at singing the High Mass. We could not long endure that, and some six Franciscan seminarians opened up and sang a true choral Mass. The French were speechless.—and so were we next morning. The entire staff was in an uproar. Word quickly got around that we sang, in SS uniform, in a French church on Bastille Day…
After the war, Fr Goldmann did wonderful work in Japan. Later in life he founded St Gregory House in Tokyo, an institute for teaching Sacred Music in 1979, where he taught for 15 years.
The Shadow of His Wings is available from Ignatius Press as Paperback, eBook, Audio Book and Graphic Novel. The Graphic Novel doesn’t mention these musical escapades, but my kids found it much more approachable.