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Fr. Peter Gumpel, R.I.P.

GUEST COLUMN

By Ronald J. Rychlak | April 2023
Ronald J. Rychlak is the Jamie L. Whitten Chair in Law and Government at the University of Mississippi. He is the author of several books, including Hitler, the War, and the Pope (2000), Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategies for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism (2013; co-authored with Ion Mihai Pacepa), and American Law from a Catholic Perspective: Through a Clearer Lens (2015), and he is the editor (with Jane Adolphe) of Clerical Sexual Misconduct: An Interdisciplinary Analysis (2020).

Fr. Peter Gumpel, S.J., one of the true unsung heroes of the Church, passed away on October 12, 2022, at age 98. He was professor emeritus at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and a witness to the Second Vatican Council, at which he served as a consultant and translator. But he was best known for his work on Pope Pius XII’s cause for sainthood.

Gumpel was born in Hannover, Germany, on November 15, 1923, to a family of nobility. He had a strained relationship with his father, but he was close to his mother, who saw to it that young Peter received a solid education and instruction in the family’s Catholic faith. When Peter was tempted to take advantage of his status as a member of a noble family, his mother would gently instruct him or strongly scold him, as the situation required. She taught him to respect all people, regardless of their social status.

Peter was still a boy when Hitler came to power. His family opposed National Socialism, and, for that reason, the Nazis killed his grandfather and certain other of his relatives. Peter himself was twice sent into exile. The first time, he went to France. Later, he went to the Netherlands with forged documents that showed him to have a partial Jewish heritage. Now, instead of being treated royally, he faced discrimination from people who thought him to be a Jew. Despite these difficulties, he excelled in school and was permitted to skip two grades.

One night, a teenage Peter received a phone call saying his mother had been captured by the Nazis and would be killed. He kept vigil by the phone all night, waiting for the terrible news. Fortunately, a German officer who’d been friends with Peter’s grandfather intervened and saved her life. The horror of that night, however, never left him, nor did his abhorrence of anti-Semitism. Those of us who knew him could sense it in the scorn he had when he pronounced the word Nazi.

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