Lucien Bunel was born in Normandy, France, in 1900. His father was a deeply humble man and dedicated himself as much as he could to helping others; he was an inspiration to his son and young Lucien felt the call to the priesthood.
Ordained a priest in 1925, Father Lucien worked in the Diocese of Rouen and became a noted speaker and teacher. He also maintained a deep interior prayer life. But he yearned for more.
Lucien wondered if he was being called to join the Trappists, but he wanted something that included the prayer life combined with helping others. He was introduced to the Discalced Carmelites and discovered a tradition that fulfilled his longings. In 1930 he joined the Carmelites in Lille, France, and took the name he would henceforth be known by, Jacques de Jesus.
Pere (Father) Jacques de Jesus was asked if he would consider opening a school for boys. He had not yet taken his final vows but he readily agreed. He managed to open Petit College Sainte-Therese de l’Enfant-Jesus in Avon in 1933. He took his final vows in 1934 and immediately became the headmaster at the school.
As Nazi persecution grew, Pere Jacques became more and more upset and disgusted with the actions of the Third Reich. He decided that he would make his school a haven for young men seeking to avoid service in the German army and also to harbor Jewish boys. He also became part of the French Resistance.
In 1943 Pere Jacques enrolled three Jewish boys in his school under false names and hid a fourth by saying he was just a worker at the school. He went a step further and hired the noted botanist Lucien Weil as a teacher.
Pere Jacques was informed upon by neighbors who greatly feared the Nazis and did not want to get in trouble for staying silent. Consequently, Pere Jacques and his three Jewish students were arrested on January 15, 1944. Lucien Weil, his wife and his mother were also arrested at their home on the same day.
The German SS deported the three boys and the Weil family to Auschwitz on February 3, 1944. All of them died there. Pere Jaques was imprisoned in various concentration camps until finally being placed in the Mauthausen-Gusen Concentration camp. He quietly went about doing his priestly best to raise the morale of the prisoners.
When all of the priests at the camp were moved to Dachau, Jacques hid his priestly identity and was left behind. He was the only Catholic priest for the 20,000 prisoners still at Mauthausen-Gusen.
The camp population included many Polish citizens and Pere Jacques learned enough Polish to be able to minister to the mostly Catholic prisoners. They called him Pere Zak and grew to love the humble priest. When learning that he was also part of the French Resistance, he gained the respect of all the prisoners.
Sick with tuberculosis, Pere Jacques was getting weaker and weaker. In May of 1945, American troops liberated Mauthausen-Gusen Concentration camp. Pere Jacques was down to 75 pounds and died in an Austrian hospital a few weeks later.
In 1985 Yad Vashem honored Pere Jacques as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations” for his efforts to hide Jewish students from the Nazis.
Pere Jacques de Jesus’ cause for sainthood has been started. This is the prayer for his canonization:
Father infinitely good, You gave to Father Jacques de Jésus The desire to love you and to love all men. You have showered him with gifts for the education of the young, You chose him as a priest, You called him in the Order of Discalced Carmelites. In the inhuman distress of the deportation camps, You made him a burning witness of faith and love, Until the total gift of his life. Give us the graces we ask you By his intercession and, if that is your will, Glorify him in your church By your Son Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.