Blessed Nikolaus Gross


Nikolaus Gross, layman, father of seven children, union activist, newspaper editor, and martyr, was born on 30 September 1898 of a colliery blacksmith in Niederwenigern, near the city of Essen, and attended the local Catholic school from 1905-12. He then worked initially in a plate rolling mill, then as a grinder and later as a face-worker in a coal mine. He worked underground for five years.

In his limited spare time, he continued his higher education. In 1917, he joined the Christian Miners’ Trade Union. In 1918 he joined the Centre Party (the Catholic political party). In 1919 he joined the St Anthony’s Miners Association (Antonius Knappenverein KAB) in Niederwenigern. It was the major Catholic union for the Catholic miners and a major Catholic voice. At the age of 22 he became secretary for young people in the union. A year later he became assistant editor of the union newspaper Bergknappe (“The Miner”). His work with the union took him around Germany until he finally settled in Bottrop in the Ruhr Valley, in what is now the Diocese of Essen.

In the meantime, he married Elizabeth Koch from Niederwenigern. They had seven children in the course of their happy marriage. He loved his family above everything and was an exemplary father in his responsibility for their education and upbringing in the faith. Gross did not withdraw into the shell of family life. He remained attuned to the great social problems, precisely in his responsibility for his family. Work and social obligations were the place in which he realized his Christian mission. In his doctrine of faith written in 1943 he wrote: “The majority of great achievements come into being through the daily performance of one’s duties in the little things of everyday routine. Our special love here is always for the poor and the sick”.

At the beginning of 1927, he became assistant editor of the Westdeutsche Arbeiterzeitung (West German Workers’ Newspaper), the organ of the St Anthony’s Miners’ Association (KAB) and soon became its editor-in-chief. Here he was able to give Catholic workers guidance on social and labour questions. In the course of time, it became clear to him that the political challenges contained a moral claim and that the social problems cannot be solved without spiritual efforts.

The editor became a messenger who bore witness to his faith here too. When he moved in this capacity to the Ketteler House in Cologne, in 1929, he already had a clear opinion about approaching Nazism. Starting out from Bishop Ketteler’s main idea that a reform of the conditions in society can only be achieved by a reform in attitude, he saw in the Nazis’ success in society: “political immaturity” and “a lack of discernment”. Already at that time he called the Nazis “mortal enemies of the present state”. As editor of the organ of the KAB, on 14 September 1930, he wrote: “As Catholic workers we reject Nazism not only for political and economic reasons, but decisively also, resolutely and clearly, on account of our religious and cultural attitude”.

Already a few months after Hitler’s seizure of power, the leader of the German Labour Front, Robert Ley, called the KAB’s Westdeutsche Arbeiterzeitung “hostile to the state”. In the following period, Gross attempted to save the newspaper from destruction without making concessions on its content. From then on he knew how to write between the lines. In November 1938 came the final ban on the workers’ newspaper which, in the meantime, had been renamed Kettelerwacht (Ketteler’s Watch).