Raymond-Léopold Bruckberger (Murat, 10 April 1907 – Fribourg, 4 January 1998), was a French Dominican priest, Résistance member, writer, translator, screenwriter and director of Austrian heritage.
The Rev. Raymond-Leopold Bruckberger, a member of the Roman Catholic Dominican Order who became chaplain general of the French Resistance in World War II and a best-selling author in the United States, died Jan. 4 in a retirement home near Fribourg, Switzerland. He was 90.
Father Bruckberger was a prolific, outspoken, worldly man of letters who reaped both honors and criticism and became a chevalier of the Legion of Honor and a member of the French Academy.
But as the newspaper Le Figaro put it last week, ”He had numerous differences” with his superiors in the church ”before revealing a loving liaison” with an American woman. As a writer, Le Monde said, he came to play ”the role of professional despiser” long and vehemently.
Yet his finest hour was gloriously positive: as chaplain general, he welcomed de Gaulle when he came to worship at Notre Dame cathedral in 1944 after Paris was liberated. But when mysterious shots were fired outside and even inside the cathedral, from its eaves, causing panic among onlookers, de Gaulle had the service cut short.
Father Bruckberger was born in Murat in south-central France, studied at the University of Montpellier and elsewhere in France and entered the Dominican order in 1929; he was ordained a priest in 1934.
He joined the Resistance in 1942 and was arrested by the Gestapo. Earlier in the war he served with the French mountain light infantry and commandos.
From 1950 to 1958 he lived in the United States and gathered material for a book, ”Image of America
,” whose American edition came out in 1959 and became a best-seller. In a front-page review in The New York Times Book Review, the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. called Father Bruckberger ”a brave and intelligent man” and compared him to Alexis de Tocqueville, who was best known for his 1835 work ”Democracy in America.”
Mr. Schlesinger said Father Bruckberger had written ”an acute and thoughtful book, which will compel all its readers to deepen their own understanding of the meaning of America.”
In the book, Father Bruckberger said of the architects of the American Revolution, ”Though these men were the political heirs of the New England Puritans, they had rid themselves of prejudice and fanaticism.” And what they began became ”the great revolution of modern times, the only one that has essentially changed the forms of society.”
Similarly, an editorial in Life magazine called Father Bruckberger ”one of the few Europeans since Tocqueville who has grasped the reasons why American democracy is different and has been able to transcend the socialist arguments that still roil so much of Europe.”
Another book by Father Bruckberger, ”The History of Jesus Christ” (1965), was acclaimed in a review by Jaroslav Pelikan, professor of ecclesiastical history at Yale, as ”a bold statement of what the person of Jesus Christ means to a highly sensitive and thoughtful former leader of the French Resistance.”
Father Bruckberger repeatedly criticized reforms of the Catholic church undertaken after the Second Vatican Council, which was held from 1962 to 1965. He was particularly critical of changes in the Mass, and denounced what he once called ”the liturgical delirium of a faction within the contemporary clergy.”
It was after he retired that he recounted in a volume of memoirs, ”At the Hour When the Shadows Lengthen” (1989), the love he had come to feel in the United States for an American woman. ”I was 48,” he recalled in an interview in 1989. ”I was very seductive, I think.”
After his stay in the United States, he lived in Greece until 1961, then returned to France.
Father Bruckberger acknowledged that his relationship with his faith was troubled after his liaison with the American woman, one of several. In a self-critical vein, he once described himself as an ”unworthy priest who does not celebrate the mass anymore, who does not even attend it, who does not practice anymore the religion which he continues to profess.”
In his later years, Le Figaro wrote, with some understatement, ”With his opulent white head of hair, his cane with its silver knob, the Reverend Father Bruckberger did not mix any ecclesiastical unctuousness with his elegance.”