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William Finnemann
professed priest, Society of the Divine Word; apostolic vicar of Calapan; martyr
Born 1882, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany Germany
Died 1942, Batangas, Philippines Philippines
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Feast 26 October

William (Wilhelm) Finnemann was born on December 18, 1882 in Hultrop, Soest, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. He was a priest of the Society of the Divine Word and apostolic vicar of Calapan. On October 26, 1942, he was killed (thrown to the sea), near Verde Island in Batangas, Philippines.


In 1942, Japan invaded the Philippines. It was the start of World War II in the Pacific region. The war took Bishop Finnemann by surprise, but he continued attending to his ministry. In spite of his German origin, he did not adulate Japan, who was Germany’s ally and victor in Asia. Neither did he render tribute, whether obligatory or diplomatic. The Bishop focused more on his works of charity during the war. During the war, Bishop Finnemann went to Manila three times to ask for permission to resign. But he was told that “now more than ever the shepherd must stay with his flock.”

The Japanese were very much aware that Bishop Finnemann was an excellent orator and of his influence on the masses. They pressured him to ask the people to support Japan from the pulpit. But Bishop Finnemann vehemently refused, saying in all candidness, “I will preach to the Filipino people the way to respect and show reverence for people without resorting to crime and murder. I will preach them peace and order and admonish them against looting, fraud and stealing. Nothing else!”

Bishop Finnemann was advised by his confreres to leave for his safety, but he refused. He told them, “Never doubt it. I shall perform my duty as a Bishop, I shall fight for my parishioners and for Mindoro.” Then, in a faint and distressed voice, he added, “Even if they kill me.”

Bishop Finnemann meant his words. The war took its toll in Mindoro especially on women and children. Some Catholic schools and convents were being transformed into brothels for children. Women especially young girls were being abused, raped and turned into “comfort women." Bishop Finnemann strongly stood against these abuses and a number of times interceded and denounced the soldiers to free young girls who were forced to become sex slaves. Because of this, Bishop Finnemann became increasingly unpopular to the Japanese. They started harassing him after they realized that the German-born bishop had become a Philippine citizen.

It came to a point when a distressed man ran to Bishop Finnemann. A married Japanese soldier fell for his daughter and wanted to have her at any cost. The daughter, a decent young lady educated in accordance with the Catholic principles, would not compromise. But the lady’s refusal will cost the life of the entire family. The Bishop gently advised the father that it would be wise for his daughter to flee to the mountains, to defy all physical dangers before facing moral challenges.

And so it happened. The Japanese soldier became furious and wanted to know the whereabouts of the girl. Soon, he learned that Bishop Finnemann was the one to blame for the disappearance of the girl. Because of the embarrassment his rejection caused and the ridicule he received from his comrades, he wanted to vent his fury on the Bishop.

One day, a Japanese commission led by the scorned suitor visited Bishop Finnemann, informing him of his desire to rent the convent of the Holy Spirit Sisters. Bishop Finnemann asked them why they wanted to rent the convent. The Japanese told him that they intend to use the convent as a venue for their lustful and vicious desires, they wanted to turn it into a brothel. This provoked the Bishop to anger. He angrily said, “This being the case, you cannot have the house. You may take it by force, but never with my consent. I will never compromise!” From Oct. 19-25, the bishop was beaten and not allowed food or water in an attempt to make him sign over the sisters' convent. Bishop Finnemann never complained about his sufferings.

On October 26, 1942, Divine Word priests were then told that he would be brought to Manila on a patrol boat. Bishop Finnemann was already aware of what will happen to him. Fr. Bernardo Pues followed their Bishop to the shore with a group of Christians. When he returned to his rectory, the bell which is supposed to announce the death of a member of the community mysteriously rang by itself.

News that Bishop Finnemann would be brought to Manila spread among the faithful in the city. It made such an impact that the Japanese created a news about the Bishop. They said that the Bishop, who was scared to answer for his actions before a simple investigation in Manila, decided to commit suicide by jumping off the ship. But this is a rejection of the courageous spirit of Bishop Finnemann.

Soon, it was announced that the bishop was already dead, without any information as to when, where and how. One account describes that he died, “Along the way in the waters between Verde Island and Batangas, the soldiers bound his hands and feet, tied his body on a huge rock and dropped him overboard into the depths of the sea.” With hands and feet tied and dragged down by a large rock, the bishop had no way of surviving.

The news of the Bishop’s death spread all over Manila, and no news spread as fast as Bishop Finnemann’s death during the war years, transmitted from one person to another. The tragic event was talked about all over the city with fear, sorrow, and admiration. Everyone was aware of what it meant to oppose Japan and their military forces.


Finnemann is currently in consideration for sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church with protocol number 2290 assigned by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. On December 7, 1999, he was declared Servant of God.

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