Marcel Callo could be declared patron saint of many causes. He was a hard worker, firmly convinced of his vocation as a layman, a missionary working in the world. He was an avid Scout, a dedicated youth leader, a cheerful son and brother, a clean-hearted, devoted fiancé. He was even a talented ping pong player, and ultimately, he was a martyr for the Faith, arrested by the Gestapo on the charge that he was “too much of a Catholic.” Yet, when he was beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 4th, 1987, he was quickly invoked against depression. Why? His devotion to the Heart of Christ, and his determination to joyfully imitate Jesus, Whom He called His Best Friend, lifted him out of a deep depression and enabled him to fulfill his calling as a missionary in some of the most horrendous circumstances imaginable. When he died of dysentery in the Mauthausen Concentration Camp, on March 19th, 1945, a fellow prisoner remembered, “Even covered with filth and exhausted by disease, he had a look of joy and peace such as I had never seen in a dying man.”
His life did not begin in suffering. He was born on December 6th, 1921, to devout and loving parents of modest means in Rennes, in the province of Brittany, France. The second of nine children, Marcel was cheerful and helpful at home. Although he was known to be stubborn and was sometimes scolded for uneven work at school, his teachers knew that he worked hard to correct his faults.
He threw himself with gusto into activities with the Scouts, so much so that his mother sometimes wished aloud that he would spend less time with them! It was as a Scout that he made a pilgrimage to Lourdes. This experience strengthened his devotion to Our Lady, a devotion on which he very much relied, when at the age of fifteen, he was apprenticed to a printer. Distressed by the impure talk he often heard among the other workers, he would kneel down in a lonely corner during breaks and renew his Marian Consecration, saying: “Mother, remember I am Thine own. Keep me and guard me as Thy property and possession.” Teasing him at first, his fellow workers eventually grew to respect him.
Around this time, his parish priest asked him to join the Young Christian Workers Movement (Jeunesse Ouivirees Chretienne or JOC) and Marcel accepted, becoming one of the most zealous members in a short time. At the early age of twenty, he was elected president of his local group. A friend and fellow member commented on his good example saying, “Marcel changed me for the better and I am grateful to him. He taught me to pray and to understand [the Mass] better…He lived his Faith, not for an audience, but with sincerity, without affectation.”
While little seems to be recorded about Marcel’s membership in the Guard of Honor, the Eucharist was the paramount reality of his life. Continuing his remembrances, this same friend testified:
“For Marcel, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was central. For him, the Host was not ‘something’ but ‘Someone’, Jesus Christ. Without doubt, he saw Christ in his neighbor, but he found Him completely in the Holy Mass…”
It is also known that Marcel had a deep devotion to the Sacred Heart, the image of which hung above his bed. He would kiss this image lovingly at the conclusion of his night prayers.
Perhaps most importantly, the ideal of the Guard of Honor, using our work and indeed every circumstance of our lives to bring both ourselves and others closer to Christ, by sanctifying it and offering it, pervades Marcel’s thought. An excerpt from a prayer he recited daily reads:
In You, O Jesus, I want to live,
With You, I want to work,
Through You, I want to pray,
For You, I want to sacrifice all my efforts, my time, my entire life
He also wrote,
“I must be punctual and regular in my daily work, but I must not neglect my prayers, and from time to time, must make visits in the church. By the Mass and by Communion, I must become more and more like Christ.” He reiterated, “We are often bad instruments in God’s hands, because we have bad habits, bad inclinations. We become good instruments when we center our lives around Christ….Every day, I must become, little by little, more like Christ.”
Marcel wasn’t all work and no play. He believed that recreation should also be included in an apostolic life. He was a clever card player and a ping pong champion. He always maintained that joy was the way to bring others to Christ. He wrote that it was necessary in life to focus on the positive rather than the negative.
These were happy times for Marcel. When he was twenty years old, he became engaged to Marguerite Derniaux, a fellow Jocist. They decided upon a rule of life for themselves, praying at the same times and attending Mass together often.
With the occupation of France by the German Army, the shadows began to fall. When a nearby town was bombed, Marcel and some friends volunteered to help clear away the destruction. He found his own sister Madeline crushed in the rubble.
Shortly after, Marcel was conscripted to work in the airplane factories in Germany. He briefly considered going into hiding or even joining the French Resistance, but he realized that this would place his family, and especially his older brother, Jean, who was about to be ordained to the priesthood, in greater danger.
He chose to go and to view his time in Germany as a time of Mission, “to bring Christ to the barracks.” He left on the feast of St. Joseph, 1943. Saying goodbye, his beloved Marguerite predicted he would be a martyr, but he protested that he was not good enough for that.
His resolve to be an Apostle was quickly put to the test. Work and living conditions were miserable. He missed his family, and especially Marguerite, terribly. Worst of all, he had no access to the Mass and Sacraments for several months. Marcel began to suffer from migraines, stomach problems, mouth sores and tooth decay. He was enveloped in a deep spiritual darkness. Then, in his words, “Christ chose to act. He made me understand that this depression was not good, that I must keep busy with my friends. Then, joy and peace came back to me.” Marcel renewed his dedication to prayer and he organized plays and other activities among his fellow laborers. He also found a Mass being offered in secret.
The Gestapo found Marcel’s joy to be dangerous. On April 19th, 1944, he was arrested. When a friend demanded to know why, he was told it was because Marcel was “too Catholic.” Marcel died eleven months later, on the feast of St. Joseph, two years to the day after his Mission in Germany began.
Marguerite’s prediction had come to pass. She never married. She remained a faithful Jocist and worked as a postal clerk. She died in 1997.
Marcel Callo made a conscious effort to choose the joy of the Lord over the despair of evil that threatened to engulf him. Christ accepted this choice and strengthened him. In his final letter home, dated July 6th, 1944, Marcel declared,
“Happily, there is a Friend Who does not leave me for a single moment, and who knows how to support me through the painful and crushing hours. With Him, one can endure anything. How I thank Christ for having laid out the path that I am following right now. What great days to offer Him!”
May all members of the Guard of Honor follow his example, looking to the Heart of Christ as their Best Friend, the Source of All Consolation and the Delight of the Saints.
-written by Meghan Baruzzini, member of the Guard of Honor