Editor: Tomáš Pavlů
Author: Jan Pavlík
Translated by Pavel Kolmačka
Copyright 1998 Czech Province of the Society of Jesus, Ječná 2, 120 00 Praha 2
Published by Refugium Velehrad – Roma s.r.o., Stojanovo nádvoří 207,
World rights reserved. No part of this publication may be stored in a retrieval system, transmitted, or reproduced in any way, including but not limited to photocopy, photograph, magnetic or other record, without prior agreement and written permission of the publisher.
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A Short Summary of the History of the Czech Province of the Society of Jesus
Jesuits and the Birth of the Independent Czechoslovak State
The Czech Province During the World War II
A Short Sigh of Relief
The Czech Society of Jesus Province, from the Communist Seizure of Power to the Break-up of Orders in 1950
Operation “K” (kláštery—monasteries)—Elimination of the Male Religious Orders and Congregations on the Night of 13 to 14 April 1950.
Army Camps—PTP (Hard Labour Technical Squads)
Czech Province Jesuits in Civil Occupations
A Few Words about Convicted Jesuits
The Third Stage of Dispersal of the Society of Jesus Czech Province
What I am here presenting to the reader is only a concise and very factual overview of the events concerning the dispersal of the Czech Province of the Jesuits and the activities of its members in general. This is a summary of my book “Budou vás vydávat soudům” (They Will Hand You Over to the Courts), which was published in 1995 and met with a surprisingly friendly reception from readers.
This work lacks the narrative style which gives a spark of life to events, the spark which awakens interest and helps us understand better the things that happen. But the plain reality can also testify to truth, hope and love for God and can promote a sense of truth and justice in people. It is also a testament to the source of patience in love as well as an example for those who have erred or who are enemies of the Jesuits.
After this short preface I will be pleased if the reader joins me on this journey through the history of Czech Jesuits from the beginnings of the order.
The events concerning the dispersal can be divided into three stages. The first stage, when Czech Jesuits suffered most, is the period of cruel persecution of all Czech Jesuits (for a shorter or longer time), in both single and repeated arrests. The aim of the second part is to describe the short two-year period, 1968-69, known as the “Prague Spring.” The third stage is a period of less cruel but very purposeful persecution during the so-called “normalisation.” This period in the lives of Czech Jesuits lasted from 1970 till the fall of Communism at the end of 1989.
I believe that readers will see this work with an open mind and will be able to read it for guidance, for establishing a better relationship to the Society of Jesus, and for their own education.
A Short Summary of the History of the Czech Province of the Society of Jesus
After the approval, by Pope Paul III, of the “Formula of the Institute,” the outline of the newly established order’s way of life, the Society of Jesus began its remarkable expansion across Europe and its penetration into India and Latin America.
But the centre of the Society’s activity was in Europe. The lands of the Czech Crown were surrounded by the Germanic world. The Society of Jesus penetrated into this world very soon and the German Province was established, including also Austria. We cannot say precisely how those Czech persons who were interested found out about the Society, but it is clear that already in 1552 twelve young Czech men came to Rome to enter the Society. In 1555 another ten Czechs entered the Society of Jesus in Rome. It was probably not only this fact, but also the wish of both the Archbishop of Prague and the ruler which caused St. Ignatius to send the German provincial to Prague in 1555. He was Peter Canisius, later to be a saint and teacher of the Church. He dealt judiciously with the estates, the king, and the archbishop and in this way opened the door for the arrival of the first Jesuits in Prague.
Before his death in 1556 St. Ignatius sent the first 12 Jesuits to Prague to a newly prepared home by St. Clement’s Church (the former Dominican monastery). The letter of safe conduct is dated by St. Ignatius 2 April 1556). On 21 April 1556 the chosen Jesuits appeared in Prague. All of them were foreigners but could establish the schools since instruction at that time in Europe was conducted in Latin. On 7 July 1556 they opened theological and philosophical colleges as well as an academy (analogous to a grammar school). At the same time, they established two halls of residence: St. Bartholomew for noblemen, and St. Wenceslas for poor students.
In 1559 the first two Czech Jesuit priests Father Valentin Foit and Father Ondřej Pěšina came back to Bohemia. From this time on the Jesuits have preached the word of God from the pulpits of Prague. From Prague they went to the country, at first on missions, but later, when the number of Jesuits increased, for long-term work in different places belonging to the Czech Crown which at this time comprised Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia and Kladsko.
Jesuit activity was briefly interrupted when thirty Protestant leaders issued a decree on 1 June 1616 denouncing the Jesuits “now and forever.” Exile was not to last long and Jesuits gradually returned to their colleges. Firstly in 1619 to Český Krumlov, Prague and Jindřichův Hradec and then also to the remaining places. In 1622 they again began to teach at the university.
The administration of these activities was conducted by the German Province from 1556 until 1563. In this year a new Austrian Province of the Society was established and the Society’s houses in Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia and Kladsko were also joined to it. The growth of the order in our country was so great that the General of the Jesuits decided in 1623 to set up an independent Czech Province.
This Czech Province administered three universities on its territory: in Prague, Olomouc and Wroclaw. The colleges and residences providing religious services for worshippers continued to prosper. At its peak prosperity there were forty-eight institutions of this kind and, in addition to these, two mission stations came into being. Up to 1773 and the disbanding of the orders, beautiful Baroque churches were built everywhere Jesuits of the Czech Province worked. In the places where they had their colleges the Jesuits also built large schools and halls of residence. At the same time, however, Czech Jesuits also took part in the Society’s world-wide missions in India, China, Latin America and the Philippines.
It was not only the Jesuit teachers and priests who were of such importance for Czech cultural development, but also the scientists, prominent in various fields, and the excellent painters and sculptors. The Czech Province Jesuits carried out pioneering work of all kinds in their schools, which involved dramatic performances, ballet and also music.
Although the Society is not a charitable order its members did not exempt themselves from this kind of work wherever it was needed. Many Czech Province Jesuits served people suffering from the Black Death, sometimes paying the ultimate price. Twenty four Czech Jesuits died as a result of this work.
In 1754, Silesia separated from the Czech Province. In 1773, at the time of the disbanding of the order there were, excluding the Silesians, altogether one thousand one hundred and twenty-five members of the Czech Province, of which six hundred and twenty-three were priests. Seventy-eight members were at this time engaged in foreign missions. In the days of the independent Czech Province one hundred and sixty priests and brothers took part in the missions. Most of the priests were enlisted by the dioceses for parochial service while some of the professors carried on with their teaching.
Despite the world-wide renewal of the Society through Pope Pius VII’s Bull in 1814, the formerly famous Czech Province failed to become revitalised for a long time. Individuals who were interested in the Society of Jesus had to become members of the Austro-Hungarian Province (later only Austrian). On Austro-Hungarian territory Jesuits returned to the original places in the historical countries of Bohemia. At first, in 1853 to Šejnov-Bohosudov (Mariaschein) where they established a German Grammar School and a hall of residence for boys who were to dedicate themselves to the priesthood (the boys’ seminary of the Litoměřice diocese). In 1866 Jesuits returned to Prague-Nové Město, St. Ignatius Church. In 1900 they were also called to Hradec Králové. Otherwise, the dioceses entrusted them with new work in ecclesiastical service: in 1887 at St. Hostýn (a Marian shrine), and in 1890 in Velehrad (a shrine of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, and a parish). In 1913 the Archbishop of Prague entrusted Czech Jesuits of the Austrian Province with the Archiepiscopal Grammar School in Prague-Bubeneč and a hall of residence for the education of future priests.
Jesuits and the Birth of the Independent Czechoslovak State
After the end of World War I and the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the independent state of Czechoslovakia came into being. Some communities in Bohemia and Moravia could not remain in the Austrian Province and the two communities in Slovakia could not remain in the Hungarian Province. By virtue of a decision of Father General Vladimír Ledóchowský the Czechoslovak Vice-Province was established. The residency at St. Ignatius in Prague became the seat of the head of the Vice-Province. In Bohemia, the colleges in Prague-Bubeneč, Bohosudov, and the residency in Hradec Králové, and in Moravia the college in Velehrad and a residency at St. Hostýn, belonged to the Vice-Province, while in Slovakia, the college in Trnava and the residency in Bratislava fell to the Czechoslovak Vice-Province.
From the other provinces the residency in Opava (from the German Province) was incorporated in 1920, and the residency in Český Těšín (from the Polish Province), in 1924.
New Jesuit houses and works gradually appeared in the following places: 1922 in Ružomberok, 1925 in Podmokly, 1930 in Košice, 1932 in Doupov, 1933 in Děčín, and in Benešov near Prague.
By the time of its establishment, the Czechoslovak Vice-Province had one hundred and fifty-three members, of whom seventy two were priests, twenty nine scholastics (i. e. members studying for priesthood), and fifty two brothers. On 25 December 1928 the Czechoslovak Vice-Province was promoted to the Province. In 1929, the Czechoslovak Province had two hundred and seventy-one members, of whom ninety-nine were priests, ninety-three scholastics and seventy-nine brothers. By virtue of the decision of the Father General, the Slovak Vice-Province, independent of the Czechoslovak Province, came into being on 1 January 1931.
In October 1937, a new provincial Philosophical Institute was opened in Benešov. The Province, together with the Polish Province and the Slovak Vice-Province, was entrusted with the territory of North Rhodesia—today’s Zambia—in Africa. Czech Jesuits could also leave on missions to China, and one priest, three scholastics and one brother were prepared for this mission. At the same time two scholastics were also prepared for the mission in Russia.
The General decided to give back the Province its earlier famous name: the Czech Province. But the events leading up to World War II were already under way. The result of these events was the affiliation of the houses in Bohosudov, Děčín, Podmokly, Doupov and Opava to the German Province, and the house in Český Těšín to the Polish Province. In this way the Czech Province lost sixty-nine members. The Czechoslovak Province performed easily overlooked but important work in the education of young priests in Czech Grammar Schools in Prague-Bubeneč and Velehrad and in German Grammar School in Bohosudov.
One work of great importance was that of carrying out spiritual exercises. The main centre for this was Velehrad, with a special retreat house Stojanov, and, after building the pilgrim house in St. Hostýn, the exercises could also be made there.
Another notable field of activity was that encompassed by the Marian Sodalities, especially in places where Jesuits worked, but also in places they visited. Other Jesuits work was the press apostolate. The Province published the following Czech periodicals: Posel Božského Srdce Páně (Messenger of the Lord’s Divine Heart), Ve službách Královny (In the Queen’s Service), Hlasy svatohostýnské (St. Hostýn Voices), Velehradské zprávy (Velehrad News), Zprávy české provincie T.J. (The Society of Jesus, Czech Province, News). Czech Jesuits also published a German magazine Mariascheiner Sodealenkorrespondenz at their own expense.
The editors from the Czech Province worked on the Czech Catholic magazines “Neděle—týdeník pro obecný lid” (Sunday—a weekly for laypeople) and “Dorost—časopis pro mládež” (Youth—a magazine for young people).
Members of the Czech Province also served as spiritual advisors in diocesan seminaries; on a long term basis in the Brno, Litoměřice (for German students) and Hradec Králové dioceses and, for a short time, in Prague and České Budějovice. The apostolate in the suburbs of Prague and in the districts on the fringe of the developing city was also of great importance. Something completely new was their work aimed at bringing different strands of the Christian faith together (known in these days as the ecumenical movement), especially the attempt at reconciliation with the Orthodox Church. Jesuits prepared seven union congresses in Velehrad and played a significant part in it with their lectures.
The Czech Province During the World War II
On 15 March 1939, the German army occupied Bohemia and Moravia, and the part of the Reich known as the “Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia” came into being. German authorities, with the extensive help of the Gestapo, struggled against the Catholic Church. The Jesuits in particular found themselves in a difficult position.
First of all, the schools administered by Jesuits were gradually closed. Even in 1938, before Bohosudov was affiliated to the German Province, the local grammar school with its hall of residence was closed. In 1942, both Czech grammar schools with halls of residence—Prague-Bubeneč (after the seizure of the building the school was situated in Smíchov), and in Velehrad—were closed. For the Reich’s purposes, the buildings of Benešov college near Prague were seized and the teachers and students had to leave in just a few hours. In 1943 the residency at St. Ignatius was occupied. The Provincial Office and the Fathers, together with the brothers, moved into a number of rooms above the sacristy beside the church, and into the garden house, which was originally built as a small printing office. The theology students found a home with the Premonstratensians at Strahov. Both houses where our members mostly led spiritual retreats—Stojanov in Velehrad and the pilgrim house at St. Hostýn—were seized. All our periodicals were gradually suppressed.
The principal target was people and the rate of arrests was relatively high. At the beginning three priests were arrested—the first already in 1940. Others followed, after a few months, in 1941. They all ended up in Dachau concentration camp, from where they returned after the end of the war. Then two Jesuit priests were interned for some time. They were finally released, but were ordered to stay in one place. In 1942 one German scholastic, but a member of the Czech Province, was arrested and executed in Brandeburg-Gorden. In 1944 a large-scale rounding-up of Jesuits occurred in Prague. This included some theology students and their professors at St. Ignatius, but it occurred mainly at Strahov, where eight priests and sixteen students from the Czech Province were arrested. All were convicted by a special court “Sondergericht” and went mainly to the concentration camp in Terezín. Three of them were deported to a house of correction in Bernau, Bavaria. One priest and one student died (in the Pankrác prison in Prague). The rest returned after the end of war.
Otherwise, the Province was afflicted with the taking away of some scholastics and novices (in total five people) to perform forced labour in the Reich. One of them died there.
Some Jesuits who were abroad (four priests and one brother) were called-up to the Czechoslovak army-in-exile being established in London. In this way the Jesuits suffered under the German occupation.
A Short Sigh of Relief
After the end of World War II, Jesuit activity in Czechoslovakia began in earnest once more. The residency at St. Ignatius was given back, but the college in Benešov near Prague and the building of the Archbishop’s Grammar School, with the hall of residence, in Prague-Bubeneč, were not. The Czech Province received back the houses and works in Bohosudov and Děčín and the retreat house under process of construction in Podmokly. In Moravia, Czech Jesuits were given back the residence in Opava. The houses in Doupov and Český Těšín remained unrestored because of a lack of members.
After provisionally functioning in Velehrad and in Brno, a place for the Philosophical Institute was found in Děčín. In Velehrad and Bohosudov the grammar schools with the halls of residence were re-established. The Czech Grammar School, with the hall of residence, in Prague-Bubeneč, was replaced by the grammar school in Bohosudov. The Society again took over the grammar school with the hall of residence in Brno, which was built by the Brno diocese. The press apostolate was renewed. Jesuits provided editors for “Katolík” (The Catholic), a weekly periodical for more discerning Christians, and for “Rozsévač” (The Sower), a weekly aimed at more typical worshippers. The Province again began to publish the periodicals “Posel Božského Srdce Páně,” “Ve službách Královny,” “Hlasy svatohostýnské,” and “Velehradské zprávy.” The Marian Sodalities started up too. The Jesuits also began to give spiritual retreats at Velehrad and at St. Hostýn. The priests of the Province carried out many popular missions in the country parishes. The increasing number of people finding vocations both in the priesthood and for life in the fraternity was also hopeful. All these activities were headed and inspired by a new young Father Provincial, František Šilhan, who took on this role in 1945.
In 1946 the communists seized parliamentary power through an election that surprised the whole nation. Already in 1947 the government had on its programme the banning of all church schools, but at this time nothing was done to put it into force.
But there were signs that a new totalitarianism was just around the corner and that the dominance, even the dictatorship of the proletariat would soon begin. This happened by means of a putsch on 25 February 1948. This day became a painful date not only in the history of the Czech nation, but also in the history of the Church and the Society of Jesus.
After this brief history of the life and work of the Jesuits in the Czech regions we are coming to the period of persecution under communist totalitarianism. It was a time of violence which affected human lives inhumanly and cruelly. It was a period when the Communist Party, and the Czechoslovak government headed by it, did not reject violence, leading even to death and ruining the lives of many people, especially intellectuals. It was a period notable for the existence of mindless people in the Security Services, who were, on the other hand, obedient party members. These people followed party instructions and treated prisoners in ways which deprived them of any human dignity. By means of physical and psychological violence, and by other means which are not common in a civilised society, they prepared the investigated men in ways which led to the gallows or to sentencing for the punishments prescribed according to the wishes of the communist leaders.
Jesuits were afflicted by this fierce oppression too.
The Czech Society of Jesus Province, from the Communist Seizure of Power to the Break-up of Orders in 1950
All the members of the Czech Province understood that the time was approaching when it was no longer a case of praying “O Lord, take all my freedom,” but that it was in fact necessary to face the loss of freedom. The admirable Provincial of the time, a brave man with a wonderful vision, was a brilliant example for all. This Provincial has already been mentioned; Father František Šilhan, who also assisted the Vatican embassy in Prague (especially when the embassy employees—foreigners—had one by one left the Republic as undesirables).
The critical year for the Church in Czechoslovakia, and certainly for the Jesuits and other orders, was 1949. In this year negotiations went on between state authorities and bishops. The state managed these negotiations extremely skilfully, and a compromise was not possible. The state consented to passing the Churches Security Act, confiscated all Church property and, through paying wages to the priests, made the priests state employees. On the basis of this the priests were called upon to swear an oath of loyalty to the Republic. The bishops decided that the priests could swear the oath if they added a proviso in the text saying that they would observe the state laws only if they did not contradict natural and Church laws. The state benevolently permitted this but disregarded it anyway. If a priest coming into conflict with the state quoted the proviso, he was simply eliminated through the taking away of state approval needed for working as a priest, though firstly by means of arrest and lengthy imprisonment. In June 1949 the bishops addressed a pastoral letter to worshippers in which they completely openly judged the attitude of the State to the Church. They refuted in this letter the lies in the press and radio which claimed that there was freedom of worship. At this time also the decree of excommunication against Communist party members who actively promoted atheistic communism was drawn up. The state initiated the establishment of an association and gave it the name that had been used since the time of Pope Pius XI for active laypeople—assistants in pastoral care and the work of salvation. The universally respected name—Catholic Action—was abused. The aim of this was to confound simple priests and worshippers and produce the appearance that the state wanted to look after the welfare of the Church. This devil’s work was also affected by the decree of excommunication in this year. Division among people certainly occurred, especially among the priests. This was also contributed to by state intervention when, in one night, state representatives penetrated all the republic’s consistories and gave authorities the ability to easily classify all priests, ideally on the basis of the personal data held in consistories. This cunning deed was of crucial importance for the state’s policy of dealing with the priests as individuals. In many cases it resulted in a decision to dispose of the committed and determined priests. On the base of these materials it was also possible to identify the weak and to blackmail them. A few priests even became members of the Communist Party. The others were gained as willing tools for communist interests. A wave of arrests took place. Some show trials were carried out and also many trials when the punishments were prescribed by the Communist Party Central Committee. The priests were not sentenced to years but to decades. Among the arrested we find bishops, priests of all dioceses, male and female religious, and many faithful and active laypeople.
In 1949 the first Jesuits were arrested—one priest in Opava and two grammar school teachers in Bohosudov. The first was sentenced to seven years, the others received relatively small punishments—two years of strict imprisonment. The arrest of the St. Hostýn superior who would not allow Mass to be celebrated by a priest who had not submitted to the latest “celebration” was wholly unusual. After this, the priest was appointed to St. Hostýn by state military force—the State Security. The priest in question was well-known as a mere instrument for state policy regarding Church matters in Ostrava. The Father Superior was sentenced to ten years, which he spent in various prisons all over Czechoslovakia.
Towards the end of the year the persecution of a very enthusiastic Jesuit, the rector of Velehrad, began. The parishioners protected him and even wanted to hide him with a family in a nearby village. But the priest, whose name was Father Vašíček, did not stay there and gave himself up to the police: “When so many souls are going to prison, the Lord sends priests to prison too.” This fully corresponded with his desire for self-sacrifice, something he had prepared himself for during his training for the missions in China. At first he was sentenced to four years and six months. But after his release he was taken away again for another term of imprisonment that lasted two years. This imprisonment was very tough and resulted in his developing pulmonary disease. The second court sentenced him to another eighteen years, so he was to stay in prison for twenty two years in total. In the end he spent twelve years in prison as in 1962 he was released after the second amnesty for political prisoners was declared.
Other arrested Jesuits came from the Prague house. They were kept in custody awaiting the show trials with the members of the orders, which were to precede the general raid on the members of the orders (and then against the female members of orders). Firstly, the two prominent editors, Father Kajpr and Father Mikulášek, were arrested. The first edited the journal “Katolík” (The Catholic), the second a periodical for young people called “Dorost” (The Young). Also Father Provincial Šilhan was to be arrested on 14 March 1950. It was only because he had not been present at the house when the others were arrested that he had not been taken away at that time. The State Security patrol kept watch on the gate of the St. Ignatius residency and awaited the Father Provincial. There is one nice detail in all of this. Father Šilhan came and showed them his identity card. But the policemen were waiting for the Provincial, not for some Mr. Šilhan, and so they let him walk in and went on waiting. After a consultation with a few Fathers the provincial procurator let Father Šilhan leave through the church in Prague advising him to try to flee abroad. The Fathers decided to do this because Father Šilhan knew too much and it was difficult to guess how much he was able to endure in prison. However his attempt to flee failed as he was betrayed, and was arrested near the Austrian border, taken to Prague, imprisoned and quickly prepared for the planned trial with the members of the orders. The authorities wanted the trial to be over by Easter. After this they wanted to move against all orders as soon as possible. At this show trial, where spectators—deputies from the Prague factories were present—the three Jesuits were sentenced as follows: Father Šilhan was (after an initial sentence of capital punishment), sentenced to twenty five years imprisonment. He served fifteen years and was released after the third amnesty for political prisoners in May 1965. Father Adolf Kajpr, who experienced almost five years in the Mauthausen and Dachau Nazi concentration camps, was sentenced to twelve years imprisonment. He served only nine years and a number of months. On 17 September 1959 he died a saint’s death in the tough Leopoldov prison. Father Mikulášek was sentenced to nine years imprisonment. He served the whole term.
The state authorities speeded up the trials—imprisonment before trial was therefore in some cases unusually short. A long period of pre-trial imprisonment meant that the accused could be better manipulated and schooled in how to answer questions. All the religious in this show trial, ten in total (three Jesuits, three Premonstratensians, two Redemptorists, one Franciscan and one Dominican) were kept in strict isolation in Valdice prison after the trial. They could not write home nor receive a letter from their families. The public believed that they were already dead. After a year and three months of this additional imprisonment, they were sent to the high security prison in Leopoldov, Slovakia.
What was the aim of this show trial? First of all, justification for the Vatican embassy’s dissolution. The last Vatican representative, Monsignor Ottavio de Liva, had to leave Prague on 18 April 1950. The second aim was justification for operation “K”—the elimination of the male orders on the night of 13 to 14 April 1950 through the intervention of State Security institutions. Finally, it enabled the state to steal all the property of the orders.
Operation “K” certainly affected the Jesuits of the Czech Province too, as we will see in the following chapter.
Operation “K” (kláštery—monasteries)—Elimination of the Male Religious Orders and Congregations on the Night of 13 to 14 April 1950.
This operation was a nation-wide administrative raid of a violent character. It was ordered by the Communist Party Central Committee and by the government of the Czechoslovakian People’s Democratic Republic. The operation was carried out by police departments, but primarily by the State Security Service, in some places with the help of Communist Militia. We must underline the violent character of the action, because no Act dissolving the orders and congregations was ever passed.
The campaign was mostly carried out very roughly with a greater or lesser impact on different individuals. There were also differences concerning what brothers from various houses could take with them as personal belongings. In some places, brothers could have taken a feather bed with them, if they wanted, but in others not even the removal of a breviary was allowed. Somewhere desecration occurred in chapels, even at altars, in other places the action passed off more gently. Libraries were badly treated. After the brothers had been removed, the libraries were mostly closed and the books simply taken away to some unknown place. All machines, typewriters, cars and motorbikes that were used in parochial administration, or needed by larger houses and a large number of residents, were confiscated. Where some small farm existed (Jesuits had only two farms—at St. Hostýn and in Velehrad), all agricultural machines and equipment, stores of food and stock—cattle, pigs and poultry—were stolen.
Also all writings of the religious were destroyed, especially the teaching materials. In many cases these consisted of scientific material derived from a lifetime’s dedicated research and many valuable abstracts from books. New clothes and underwear disappeared too. Only a few things were brought to the religious in the concentration camps.
This hypocritical intervention in the life of the orders was reported in the daily press in line with the completely fabricated account of the Prague Press Agency on 14 April. It was reported that the religious had become an instrument of foreign enemies. The article said that, “The reactionary Catholic hierarchy prepared the male orders in particular for the fulfilment of its subversive ends at the Vatican’s request.” At the end of this report it was said: “The orders were concentrated in a few monasteries, where they pursue their purely religious aims in accordance with the special rules of their orders.” I will refer in the following chapter, to what life in these “monasteries” was really like.
Let me turn now to the Czech Province to enumerate the houses affected and the number of Province members who suffered. At the time of operation “K,” the Czech Province administered the following colleges or residencies: the college and grammar school with the hall of residence in Bohosudov. This hall of residence served all the dioceses of the Czech ecclesiastical province. Jesuits also served through their work in the pilgrimage shrine devoted to Our Lady of the Seven Wounds. Although this was not always the case, at the time of the operation the Krupka-Bohosudov parish was administered by a Jesuit priest.
Another house was the college and hall of residence of the Brno diocese in Brno. One hundred and forty seminarians lived there. At the time of its closure the grammar school had only three lower level classes. The advanced seminarians lived and were educated in the hall of residence, but for teaching they went to a normal grammar school.
The third house affected on the night of 14 April was the college and Philosophical Institute in Děčín. In this Institute scholastics from the Slovak Province also studied and lived together with the Czechs and, at this time, there were in fact more Slovaks than Czechs there. Jesuits taught Religious Education in a grammar school and administered the Děčín parish and many other neighbourhood parishes.
The other residency that was wound up was the residency at St. Hostýn. The Jesuit priests’ main task here was to serve pilgrims, especially by hearing confession. But the annual exercises were held here too, for both priests and laypeople. In winter, notably during advent and periods of fasting, priests travelled to parishes for popular missions or for three days spiritual examination and renewal. The priests also served yearly in many deaneries with day or half-day spiritual renewal for priests. In 1949-1950 the tertianship for the young priests of the Czech and Slovak Provinces was held there too.
And now a few words about the residency in Hradec Králové that was closed: Here a few Fathers and brothers served at the Church of Our Lady. They were dedicated to guiding the laypeople and priestly Marian Sodalities. One member of this community was a regular spiritual guide of the Diocesan Priestly Seminary.
Equally small was the residency in Opava. Jesuits served there much the same as they did in Hradec Králové—as leaders of Marian Sodalities and spiritual counsellors to boy scouts. They also assisted in neighbourhood parishes. St. Vojtěch, which was the Jesuit church, had been extensively damaged by bombs during World War II. So the Jesuits tried as hard as they could to repair the damage and the majority of this work was completed.
The main house of the Province was the Prague residency by the Church of St. Ignatius where the provincial’s office was also situated. The members of the order performed in Prague the usual good works and their preaching and hearing confession was very important. The Marian Sodalities were also resident there as was the Apostleship of Prayer. The Jesuits edited the periodical “Ve službách Královny” and “Posel Božského Srdce Páně” there. Our Fathers worked there in the press apostolate as editors—they led various Marian Sodality groups, especially the groups consisting of academics and students. They also helped by conducting holy worship in the suburbs of Prague.
The last house closed in the Czech Province was the college, grammar school and hall of residence on Vyšehrad, where the novices’ house was also located. This was in perfect shape at this time: forty-eight novices lived there, of whom eight were Brother novices and Fathers who taught at the Apostolic school. After the break brought on by World War II only six grammar school classes remained there.
The Jesuits also served the Velehrad parish and held exercises in Olomouc, in the diocese’s Stojanov retreat house. The Jesuits and the female members of the Congregation of Sts. Cyril and Methodius looked after the functioning of this house.
In the above-mentioned houses of the Czech Province, two hundred and nine religious were arrested during the night of operation “K.” One hundred and seventy four arrested Jesuits were from the Czech Province and thirty two from the Slovak Province; one priest was a member of the Austrian Province, one priest was a member of the Polish-Mazurian Province and one brother was member of the German Province.
Eight superiors of houses were deported to the strict regime of the camp in Želiv and the rest, that is two hundred and one members, were housed in the Bohosudov camp.
We must also mention seven Jesuits from the Czech Province who were arrested in Czechoslovakia, but in the Slovak Province where they studied theology. They could not avoid arrest, but were deported together with Slovak Jesuits to the Jasov “monastery” and later to Podolinec. Altogether, with these seven men, one hundred and eighty one Jesuits were arrested on this night. Only the following Czech Province Jesuits were not “centralised.” twenty three Jesuits who were studying or working abroad at this time, eight priests of the Czech Province who were already in prison, five Jesuits who were not present in the society’s houses and three who were away because of illness (in hospitals or in convalescence). One priest was a seminary spiritual advisor in České Budějovice. He was allowed to stay there till the end of the school year. It is difficult to say what would have happened to him as he did not wait to find out but, just after the end of the school year, fled abroad. One priest—a student of Charles University -was somehow told of this event. As a result he absented himself from the Prague residence and later tried to break out but was captured and sentenced to prison. Such was the turn of events for the members of the orders, concretely for the Jesuits, in this “Bartholomew Night.” It meant the loss of freedom and at the same time made it impossible to continue valuable work caring for the well-being of souls.
And now we can turn our attention to the so-called “monastery camps” and to life inside them, especially how it affected members of the Society of Jesus’ Czech Province.
Firstly we must deal with the name. It derived from communist jargon. In all respects these were normal concentration camps. In saying this we also follow definitions from the communist-style encyclopćdia of the time which says: “Concentration camps are designed for isolating, terrorising and for the physical liquidation of political opponents of Fascist and other dictatorial regimes.” In the same entry we find: “The prisoners came to the concentration camps without proper legal authority and for an undefined time.” The aim of the “monastery camps” was to isolate the religious—police watched the buildings and the prisoners could not freely communicate with the outside world. As in other camps the heads of these “monasteries” used terror as an instrument for making the lives of prisoners unpleasant—counting parades, compulsory dangerous work without any prior training. There was no fixed standard of discipline providing prisoners with at least minimum rights. Everything was left to the arbitrary decision of the camp headquarters. In the Želiv camp even the number of lines in a postcard was stipulated and this rule had to be adhered to before a postcard could be despatched. The letters could be addressed only to parents or selected relatives and always to the same address. The “monasteries” did not carry out actual direct killing, but there was indirect murder. The possibility of injury or death at work was ever present, be it because of insufficient training or lack of protective equipment while working, for instance, with various chemicals. The lack of health care was terrible and amounted to indirect murder. It is clear that we were included among the files as opponents to the dictatorial regime. Precisely at the time when these camps were being established both the Communist Party leaders and the government pompously proclaimed the dictatorship of the proletariat.
All prisoners got to these “monasteries” under police escort although there had been no judgement by the courts against them. In all cases, the period of residence was set to last for an indefinite time! The youngest novices, who were not yet eighteen, were sent away to their parents after six months. Novices over eighteen, but not yet obliged to military service, were released in the summer 1951. They were unlawfully interned in various places for at least a year.
After six months in camps the young novices, scholastics and priests obliged to do military service were ostensibly released, but in the army they were often posted to labour squads, that is, once more to camps, albeit now in army uniform.
But many stayed in the “religious” camps for a long time, some of them even more than ten years, until the final dissolution of these Camps on 31 December 1960.
At the time of operation “K” there were a lot of these camps. The number gradually decreased due to the young being released, transfers to the army labour squads, and the ageing and death of inmates. Sometimes some of the internees were released to civilian life during the liquidation of certain camps.
The camp in Králíky near Lanškroun remained open the longest, that is from 14 April 1950 until 31 December 1960. The most oppressive camp, Želiv near Humpolec, was in operation from 1950 to 1956. Many religious, including our Jesuits, lived between the years 1951-1955 in a less confined camp, Klíčava near Kladno, where they were building a dam. At first they were novices but later included the brothers of all orders.
After the closure of the Klíčava camp the brothers were released but most of them were ordered to stay as employees of the building company.
The camp in Osek, near Duchcov, lasted little more than two years. In other places the camps did not last so long—Bohosudov, Hájek, Hejnice and Kadaň—(I mention only the camps where Jesuits stayed).
A less restrictive camp for the old and ill in Moravec deserves a special mention. This camp, established in 1951, with the Notre Dame School Sisters offering nursing care was virtually unwatched, but only apparently. This camp was gradually changed into a charitable house for the priests, including those from dioceses. Many religious, including Jesuits, died in Moravec.
During operation “K” and on 14 April, Jesuits were deported (mostly to Bohosudov). So fifty-two Jesuit priests, fifty-seven scholastics (also novices), and fifty-five Brothers and Brother novices ended up in the Bohosudov camp. One priest was a member of the Austrian Province, one priest of the Polish Province and one brother of the German Province. Also the Jesuits of the Slovak Vice-province who lived in the Czech Province were interned in Bohosudov: six priests, twenty-one theologians (theology students), and five brothers. All the interned were undisruptive, but not frightened or sycophantic. The great feature here was an outspoken love for the Lord and for each other. Pursuing a life of goodness provided an example which helped everybody. Life in the camp gradually normalised, in particular thanks to our brothers, who were capable of working in many areas (in the kitchen, garden and farm) and could make life more bearable. After a few days things also got better because of the arrival of some furniture, first of all the cupboards and the beds, that we brought from our college in Děčín. The Bohosudov church was inaccessible for us, but we could celebrate Mass in a chapel in the students’ hall of residence. When one priest and one scholastic tunnelled out to the area around the church and fled, the regime became harder and the chapel was closed for about a week. We worked around the house and in the garden and soon we were tying the knots in the elastic of training suits for some unknown factory. After a month we were walked to a nearby ceramics factory. Even at work the Jesuits were closed in one room. They prepared the pressed pieces for burning out in the stoves. One event involving political training deserves a mention. After two days, when the Jesuits showed an absolute lack of interest in receiving such training, the training was cancelled. Another interesting event was recruitment for parochial administration. No Jesuit put himself forward. They did the right thing because all those who put themselves forward had to pass a special course of training, and then, in the parishes, they were a centre of attention on the part of the authorities. Mostly they were increasingly governed by the influence of the state and the police.
The fact that novices continued their noviciate education thanks to the efforts of others is also worth mentioning. In the same way the community helped a few scholastics and three Fathers who were to finish their order’s philosophy studies. They could graduate in the camp taking a test “ex universa philosophia.” The final event to note is the death of two Jesuits in this camp. First, one Czech Jesuit, a brother, died and soon after an Austrian Province priest died too. They were both already ninety, but the change of their lifestyle speeded up their decline. The number of prisoners changed, at first with the departure of novices under eighteen, then with that of novices over eighteen.
In 1950 39 Czech and 20 Slovak Jesuits went to join the army. On 8 September 1950 the Bohosudov concentration camp was wound up. The remaining Jesuits—seventy-two Czechs, eight Slovaks, one priest from the Polish Province and one brother from the German Province—were, together with Franciscans and Conventual Franciscans, brought to the camp in Osek near Duchcov. The camp was established in 1950 for Silesians, who had their theology institute there in the ancient Bernardine abbey after World War II. During the liquidation of the Bohosudov monastery two seriously ill and old Fathers were released.
The second concentration camp that I would like to mention briefly was the Želiv camp. This was the strictest camp with a very oppressive regime. Eight of our superiors were brought there on 14 April after the winding up of our houses. On the same day provincials and superiors of all other orders were brought there too. Later, six other Jesuit priests were escorted from Bohosudov to Želiv. In 1951 one of our Fathers was sent there without trial after two years imprisonment in Prague. Another fourteen Jesuit priests and one older scholastic came to Želiv from Hejnice and after the liquidation of the Osek camp in 1952. In 1952 one “rebel” Jesuit brother came to Želiv from Klíčava too. After three years he was sent back to Klíčava again to join the other brothers. Altogether, thirty-one Czech Province Jesuits and thirty-two Slovak Vice-province Jesuits were interned in the Želiv concentration camp.
Apart from the various religious, a total of ninety-eight diocesan priests were also brought to Želiv. There was also Father Tomášek, who was later to become a cardinal and the Archbishop of Prague; the apostolic administrator of Hradec Králové, Monsignor Otčenášek, and the spiritual guide of the seminary in Olomouc, Dr. Antonín Šuránek. These three were kept in special isolation in Želiv. At the time of writing this work, a diocesan process concerning the beatification of Dr. Šuránek is under way in Olomouc.
Work in the Želiv camp—as in other places—was unpaid. Later the prisoners received a monthly salary of 50-70 crowns—a paltry sum. Normal earnings for the work were used by the camp headquarters. Later, visits were allowed but nobody was informed about this. Only very brave and persistent relatives succeeded in visiting the prisoners.
The church in Želiv was also inaccessible for the prisoners. Initially it was impossible to celebrate Mass. Later, an oratory with whitened windows facing to the church was opened. The oratory was small and most of the religious attended Mass in the corridor. Brave priests who somehow obtained altar bread and wine celebrated Mass privately in their rooms. But in general only Mass in the oratory was allowed.
It was possible to receive packages, but nobody could know what was originally contained in them. Sometimes whole packages were lost “somewhere in Želiv.”
A few words about the concentration camp for the young in Hájek near Kladno. In the first wave twenty-two Jesuit novices were taken there. They were not eighteen yet. For two months they were politically educated. Young communists, especially girls, often came to see them. The aim was clear—to take them away from their religious vocation. In Hájek they had mass but only on Sundays. After two months they were taken to work on the Klíčava dam. From there they could attend Mass in Zbečno (the nearest village from the dam), with an escort. In October they were released. After the departure of the first group from Hájek to Klíčava other novices over eighteen but still not called up for military service, were deported from Bohosudov to Hájek. They also went through political training. After the release of the first novices from Klíčava a group of elder novices was brought in. They were released back to civilian life in the summer of 1951.
Of the life of Jesuits and other interned religious in Osek, we know that they kept the house and worked in the garden and on the farm and that the joinery machines from all the religious houses, including Jesuit ones, were taken there and the production of special windows and doors, especially for castles and other places of interest, was started.
The younger men were taken off to work near Duchcov. At first they worked in a factory producing the window handles and door locks, operating presses, welding plants, sanders etc. When the factory moved to Liberec, the prisoners from the Osek camp began to work in the Duchcov glass-works. They worked there in production of concave glass “bricks” and in a production unit where there were very high temperatures. Others unloaded wagons of sand, lime, crushed glass waste, soda and other chemicals. The work was dangerous for the eyes and lungs and also resulted in skin diseases. Civilian employees refused to do this work.
During the liquidation of the Osek camp in 1952 the joinery workshop workers remained in Osek but they were free. The workshop came under the administration of the joinery factory in Lovosice. There were five Czech Jesuit brothers. Seven Jesuits in total (priests and brothers), were released back to civilian life. One elder Jesuit priest died in Osek. During the existence of the Osek camp eight Jesuits from Osek were transferred to the camp in Hejnice. After political training in 1952 brothers and scholastics were released back to civilian life. The only priest among them was sent to Želiv. A group of fourteen Czech Jesuit Province brothers was transferred to the Klíčava dam camp. These Jesuits carried out the very arduous task of cementing the dam. Others worked in a quarry at the end of the dam arm. A group of Czech Jesuits was given the job of moving things. That mostly meant unloading wagons in Zbečno station and storing material on the building site. They worked mostly with cement which was transported only in bags. One Jesuit brother worked in the works canteen, another in the maintenance workshop.
The interned brothers could attend Mass in Zbečno parish church. In Klíčava they were not watched all the time, but they were strictly governed by State Security men. Brothers here, as in other places, showed great dedication to their holy vocation and they performed their order’s religious exercises as much as possible. Only three brothers left the Society of Jesus during the whole time of this dispersal.
Another larger group of older but, it was claimed, fit and able Jesuits—both priests (ten) and brothers (eighteen)—was sent from Osek to Králíky camp, where they worked mostly in agriculture on a collective farm. Two brothers from the Slovak Vice-province and one brother from the German Province were sent from Osek to Králíky. In the first stage of this camp (which lasted until 1956) Dr. Opavský from our Province was fatally injured at work (while looking after grazing cattle). He died in Šumperk hospital. Many Jesuits in Králíky became old or fell ill so they were sent to join the old religious in Moravec. From 1956, after the breaking up of the Želiv camp, Králíky lived out its second stage. Because the “prominent” religious—including Jesuits—had gone there, bugging devices were placed in the camp in advance. Watching the Jesuits was not now contemplated so much, but the religious were—ostensibly for charitable reasons—classified and told with whom they were to live. Groups of members of one order were established. I would like to remind the reader that no communist benevolence could ever be considered as an act of disinterested good will. Party concerns always lurked behind it. In this case the merits were preparations for another large-scale campaign against the Jesuits that occurred in 1959. Jesuits imprisoned here were gradually arrested and escorted to prison. A great trial of Jesuits was prepared in Ostrava (Ostrava specialised in church matters). From Králíky six Czech Jesuits and one Father from the Slovak Province were brought there. Later, five Jesuits from Králíky were imprisoned in Hradec Králové.
Maybe it is only right to mention the health “care” in the camps. At the same time as the camps were established a special detachment in Semily hospital for ill people from these camps for the religious was started. The reality of health care in this hospital has not been cleared up even to the present day. In 1995 it came to light that after an appeal for opening the hospital files, all documents concerning religious treated in this hospital had been destroyed. We can only present the general outlines of the case of one Czech Jesuit priest, Dr. Nemeškal, a philosophy professor. Dr. Nemeškal was sent from Bohosudov with ear problems to Semily hospital. When he returned he described the “cure” to us (I shared a room with him in Bohosudov). Soon after his return the cure resulted in his becoming completely deaf in his fifties. In Bohosudov we had an advantage because there were two doctors among the prisoners—one Slovak Jesuit who studied philosophy in our Province, and one Franciscan deacon. They took as much care of us as possible. Many medicines came in parcels provided we could receive them. For the old and ill, the more relaxed camp at Moravec was later established as was mentioned above. Forty-two Jesuits, both priests and brothers, were sent to Moravec, mostly from Králíky and a few from Želiv. Sixteen Jesuits, also priests or brothers, who were ill or weak, voluntarily came to Moravec after 1960, when the religious camps were closed, seeking the good nursing care provided by the nurses, guaranteed attendance at Masses and a holy death. Altogether forty-eight Jesuits passed through Moravec. Most of them, forty-seven of our Fathers and brothers in total, died happily in Moravec. They were well prepared for death and strengthened by the prayers and care of their brothers in the order. Eleven priests stayed in Moravec for some time but from there they were sent to nuns, who had to leave the hospitals in 1957 and 1958. They were left to look after old people in homes for the aged or retarded children in institutes. These priests then died in different places in Bohemia and Moravia.
In 1960 four Jesuits in Moravec were arrested and taken to prison in Brno. After a term in prison they returned to Moravec. We will say more about this later. In Moravec, the State Security Police spied until the fall of communism and even in October 1981 the institute was invaded by police together with members of the militia. They took all radio sets, typewriters, foreign currency (strictly speaking money sent from abroad changed for Tuzex coupons) and other things not only from the inhabitants—priests, but also from the nursing sisters. Our already well known Jesuit Father, Father Šilhan was accused at that time. After approximately a year the things were returned and accusations against our former provincial were stopped.
Army Camps—PTP (Hard Labour Technical Squads)
The rise of these units was the result of political necessity. Sitting in judgement on all “difficult” citizens and removing them from public life by way of courts was of no use to the authorities. At the same time it was profitable to have a large, cheap working force, especially in unattractive areas, or in places where the demands for a workforce was greater than the labour market could meet. From 1948 the administrative organs—National Committees—sent the political dissidents to hard labour camps. Protests against these concentration camps arose abroad, even at the United Nations. The Czechoslovak government therefore looked for a way of observing people and acquiring a cheap labour force but under another name. We have already seen how “monastery camps” were established and then the “army hard labour technical squads” (PTP) arose. At first, it was for young people undergoing military service and for people (priests) who had put off military service for a long time. Later the older people, up to the age of sixty, were involved. They were called up indefinitely for “extra manoeuvres.” So it was that the government immediately had a place for the young religious. The State succeeded in reducing the number of “monastery camps.” It could now be said that “army service is just army service.” I want the reader to understand that being in the PTP meant loss of freedom. In these camps the more easily imprisoned individuals had only their outdoor uniforms in common with the army. Work clothing consisted of various armies’ uniforms that had remained in Czechoslovakia after World War II. These “PTP soldiers” usually had to work more than eight hours daily. These “soldiers” worked either in mines and foundries or on building sites and it is necessary to take into account that the work was extremely hard. Workshops in which PTP “soldiers” were sent possessed the minimum of technology. At PTP, units political correction—brainwashing—was carried out. Marching drills were practised and various kinds of brutality were common, both on the part of section commanders, platoon commanders and “instructors”—in fact guardians. During the era of minister Čepička normal soldiers could go on leave to their parents only as a reward. This was very useful at PTP units where it could be easily asserted that due to poor work an individual was not allowed to go on leave for long time. Commanders also requested higher achievements in return for leave from those persons who really longed to visit someone.
Otherwise, the valid army regulations and agenda had certain advantages, though it was sometimes turned against the “soldiers.” It was possible to write freely, especially if the letters were posted in a post-box in some other place. This service was provided by visitors. Otherwise censorship of army letters indeed operated. The diet was substantial. Originally the soldiers had to stay at PTP for two years, but during this time the service was prolonged by indefinitely extended extra manoeuvres. The religious’ period of service ended after three years, three months and twenty-five days. The religious’ advantage and, at the same time, disadvantage was that they established self-contained sections. Only rarely, and then as a punishment, did the religious join the secular PTP “soldiers.” The disadvantage was the impossibility of carrying out sacred rites because of noise in rooms etc. But there was the advantage that the laypeople were able to resist those in charge and the authorities did not terrorise priests and brothers so much.
As I stated in the previous chapter, altogether thirty-nine Czech Province Jesuits left Bohosudov for the PTP. From the Slovak camp in Podolinec another seven Czech Jesuits were called up to the “army”—PTP. So, overall, fifteen priests, twenty-six scholastics after taking vows, three scholastic novices and two young brothers went through the PTP “school of life.” The individual place of residence changed. From among the group that entered PTP on 5 September 1950 four Jesuit scholastics were soon released on medical grounds and one Jesuit priest was released after approximately four months. They were not obliged to return to religious camps, but were released into civilian life to seek some occupation. Three priests were arrested at PTP and imprisoned and after the court verdict they served their sentence in prison. Finally I would like to state that the life at PTP varied: sometimes it was better, sometimes worse and sometimes very hard. That usually did not depend only on hard labour, but on the human factor, on the individual commanders at all levels, the “observers.” They could make people’s lives hard or easy depending on how the commanders viewed their posts at PTP. Usually Slovak State or so-called Governmental Army soldiers were sent to PTP as a form of punishment or because of loss of confidence. Therefore they often wanted to please their superiors and clear their bad record by being very enthusiastic and the “soldiers” suffered from that. The Czech Province had one loss at PTP—a priest who got married.
Czech Province Jesuits in Civil Occupations
As we have already noted—a few Jesuits, five priests, were not interned. One of them was soon arrested and one fled abroad. The others—being ill—remained free. At the time of the liquidation of the first Jesuits camp in Bohosudov, two old and ill priests were released. In October 1950 twenty-two Jesuit novices were released. They entered occupations near or in their parents’ hometowns. Gradually they managed to graduate from secondary schools. >From among the twenty-two novices of 1949, six were faithful to their vocation and had to deal with many hardships. Some of them waited for priesthood till 1971, that is twenty-two years from their entry into the Society of Jesus. Others left. Five Jesuits returned to civil life from PTP on medical grounds as I have already stated. Two scholastics were ordained in secrecy shortly after their release, but they indeed worked in civil occupations, not in ecclesiastical administration. Two scholastics later left the order.
In 1951 eight more young novices, who were not called up to the army, returned. Two of them persevered and after many years became priests. The rest left.
In 1952 one priest was released after serving his sentence: he then got a position in the ecclesiastical administration of the diocese.
In the same year during the closing of the Osek camp, more Jesuits (four priests and eight brothers) left. Also from Hejnice six members (scholastics, one novice and brothers) left in the same year.
On New Year’s Eve 1953 the PTP “soldiers” returned to the civilian life (ten priests, twenty five scholastics and two brothers). Also the first prisoners sentenced in 1949—three in total—returned from prisons. So the number of Jesuits in civil occupations increased in the territory of our Province in Bohemia and Moravia.
The first Communist trend in our country was to intern the religious to prevent them as far as possible from doing their apostolic work. This was both in camps and at PTP. The experience of watching the young Jesuits’ life then led to tactical changes. The members of orders were to be together for a minimum period only. Party and government supposed that in this way worldly things would influence them more and the likelihood of the weak abandoning their vocation would increase while the “strong” would be more easily watched at their workplace and at their place of residence. If they were not “good boys,” they would be sent to prison.
Many scholastics continued their studies with the help of the priests and were gradually ordained in secrecy. The first of them were the scholastics who studied in Slovakia. They were ordained in Rožňava by Monsignor Pobožný, Bishop of Rožňava. Then some scholastics were ordained by Monsignor Matoušek in Prague with the help of our Father Havelka who was not interned. Some of the “soldiers” at PTP were also ordained by a secretly ordained bishop—a Jesuit of the Slovak Province Monsignor Hnilica. Novices who continued their vocation took their first vows—also with Father Havelka’s help—and began to study privately. The young novices or scholastics, but also young priests, sometimes got to Moravec to our old Jesuits. It was said “go to the second hand bookshop, where the authentic Jesuit spirit can be bought.”
All these mutual contacts of Province members who were already out or in Moravec were pleasant and very important, I am sure, but they created other enemies and in particular led to the State Security’s assault.
It started in Brno with the arrest of two priests and one brother. Soon a few Jesuits were arrested in Ostrava. They worked here as miners after their release from the PTP. Some Jesuits also lived and worked in the neighbourhood of Ostrava. In the first group, tried in Ostrava in January 1956, four Jesuits were sentenced: three Czech Province priests (one ordained in secrecy), and one Slovak Vice-province scholastic. In the second group, four members of the order were also tried—they were all priests (two secretly ordained). Additionally one secretly ordained priest was tried. In connection with this one priest and one brother were judged in Bohemia a year later in 1957. The trial was a show prepared in advance. The Jesuits did not receive either the text of the charge nor of the sentence.
What was the aim of the inquiry and later trial? The cause was the meetings between the Jesuits—it was seen as continuing the order’s life, secret sacred services, without state approval, including mutual hearing of confession and giving financial aid—namely to three Jesuits who came to Ostrava. Private lodgings were found, with difficulties, in one large room, for which it was necessary to buy furnishing. Jesuits from Ostrava gathered money for this end and this was seen by the court as an illegal Jesuit fund. Other problems were represented by “demonstrations of conscience”—twice a year with scholastics and once a year with fathers—and the renewal of vows. All these things were regarded as evidence of the regrouping of the order with the aim of destabilising the Republic. The main protagonists—Bohm, Havelka, Hipsch and Pavlík—were convicted of treason, others of plotting against the Republic to overturn the people’s democratic regime. The sentences were more lenient than in 1950: two sentences for three years and six months and for four years, most of them for seven or eight years, Pavlík’s sentence was for ten years.
The aim of this trial was to stop a definite activity but also to overawe others and make them more frightened. After such trials, which concerned not only those people sentenced, some scholastics abandoned their way of life in the Society of Jesus and embarked on a civilian life and marriage. This action was the first big move against Jesuits accompanied by imprisonment since the operation “K.”
But many Jesuits remained unrepentant even after these events. Some left, but others began to take care of the Province’s life. It was surely carried out by unworldly minds (in the world’s opinion and in the opinion of worldly thinking persons in the Church it was unwise). However it helped many people in prison and also for many people in the world it was an encouraging testimony.
It turned out that a priestly and religious vocation was not just something private, but a message to people. The people who hid and isolated themselves endangered their vocation. So a living belief that a religious vocation can be preserved and man can remain faithful only if the risks are accepted, arose and increased in many people.
In 1959 another large-scale assault against the Society of Jesus occurred. In 1959 a new wave of arrests of Jesuits began, again in Ostrava. Two Jesuit priests lived and worked there, one scholastic and three novices, admitted as late as at the time of the dispersal. Another Jesuit priest and one scholastic worked near Ostrava. Soon after the imprisonment of all of them, all our Fathers, with Father Vice-provincial Zgarbík at the head of them were taken—as I mentioned above—from Králíky camp. From Leopoldov prison also Father Pavlík and later Father provincial Šilhan were brought to Ostrava prison.
A new trial known as the “Zgarbík and Comp. Case” was prepared in Ostrava. In it nine priests (two secretly ordained, four scholastics, three secretly admitted novices and two laypeople—one Austrian and one a teacher from Prague) were charged. The main points of the accusation were as follows: the disruptive activity against the so-called “Catholic Action, propagating excommunication decrees, mutual support in keeping religious vows and principles, encouraging propagation of religious ideology.” Other points of the prosecution were: establishing the illegal headquarters of the order in Králíky and creating illegal groups in Ostrava, Brno, Uherské Hradiště, Prague and Moravec, recruitment of new members, organisation of studies, receiving vows, ordination in secret, organisation of group funds. In some cases the prosecution listed providing foreign magazines, or writing books (for instance „Christian World Outlook“ by Father Dr. Vojtek SJ whose aim was to refute Marxism-Leninism). Also mentioned were contacts with the General’s Office through Polish Jesuits and propagating the news of Vatican Radio. Even writing “reactionary exercises” by one Jesuit, creating the words of a “Catholic youth song” by one and music by other Jesuits were quoted.
All, excepting two novices, were accused of treachery. The two novices were accused of subversion of the Republic. Sentences were passed by the Regional Court presided over by Dr. Jan Jandák on 21 March 1960. The prosecutor in this trial was Dr. Zábranský. Sentences were very severe for 1960. Ten Jesuits were sentenced for ten to sixteen years (Fathers Zgarbík and Kučera), eight Jesuits for two to nine years. The prosecutor appealed to a higher court because of ten sentences being too lenient, in order to avoid the effect of the first political prisoners’ amnesty in May 1960. The Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court presided over by Dr. Jan Hlavička upheld the sentences (excepting one secretly admitted novice who was released). The rest stayed in prison at least till the next amnesty in 1962. One Father was released as late as 1967 and three not until the May 1968 amnesty. These three spent the longest time in prison—nine years of internment and nine years imprisonment, that is a total of eighteen years.
The main person in this trial, Father Antonín Zgarbík, vice-provincial, died in prison in 1965. He had influenza, which was not cured. It developed into pneumonia which was not cured either. This resulted in severe asthma. Then Father Zgarbík was sent to Brno several times, where he stayed in a special prisoners’ department in the University Hospital. Here he was finally properly treated, but it was much too late. His sister (forever active in his cause), achieved the only break in his sentence, in 1963 for a year. It was supposed that this break would be prolonged and Father Zgarbík would not be forced to return in prison. The district doctor in Břeclav (competent in Father Zgarbík’s sister’s place of residence) made out a certificate stating that the disease was serious but not life threatening. Therefore Father Zgarbík had to return to prison. Here complications set in and he died on 22 January 1965.
Apart from the Ostrava trial there were also some secondary ones. In Prague, Jesuits (six altogether, four priests and two scholastics) were sentenced to lesser sentences. In Brno three Jesuits also received lesser sentences. They were all pardoned and sent home on ten years probation. After the pardon, two scholastics were sentenced—they stayed in prison till 1962.
The trial of seven Jesuits in Hradec Králové also went ahead so that it took place after the amnesty. These seven were in Valdice prison and returned home after the second political prisoners’ amnesty in 1962. The arrest and imprisonment of four Jesuits, three priests and one brother, who were arrested in Moravec and sentenced in Brno is especially interesting. The old and ill men were sentenced to unconditional imprisonment. Father Stork (brilliant spiritual advisor of several seminaries and for a long time of the “Nepomucenum” in Rome), was eighty two at the time of his arrest. Father Ráček, author of “The History of Czechoslovakia” and “The History of the Church,” who also wrote “The Life of Jesus Christ” in Moravec, was seventy six. Father Bernard Pitrun underwent a brain tumour operation. Together with them was brother Sedlák, fifty eight years old, but ill, who was arrested because he had been their typist. They received lesser sentences, but they had to go to prison and were not released until the amnesty in 1962. Apart from this inhumanity the following illegal case occurred during the arrests in Moravec. A search of all Jesuits was made, although they were not charged. Many things were confiscated from them—books and letters from priests and saving books—savings were about 4,000 crowns on average. These savings were from work in camps and from pocket money that Jesuits received in Moravec. The Regional Court’s decision of 27 October 1960 to confiscate these things, and the money, has not been overturned until today and, apart from the four arrested, it also concerned thirteen Jesuits who were not arrested.
A Few Words about Convicted Jesuits
In the Czech Province, altogether seventy Jesuits were convicted. They were sentenced for four hundred and eighty-five years in total. The longest sentence was given to Father Šilhan—twenty-five years. The shortest one to two brothers—one year. The average sentence for a priest was seven years, for scholastics and secretly ordained priests four years, for four sentenced brothers two years.
Almost everybody served his sentence in various prisons. The old type of prisons were known as “on solid ground.” New prisons were predominantly situated over uranium and coal mining. The regime in prisons used to be very tough, even inhuman. Priests and bishops had especially hard conditions when they were isolated from normal prisoners. Work in “solid ground” prisons and especially in isolation was such that their earnings and pocket money were minimal: feather plucking, sewing up bags for mills, production of cellophane bags for shirts and other underclothes, gloves, neckclothes etc., the production of hemp binders for binding the grain sheaves (this type of production ended with the arrival of combine harvesters). In other places door locks were assembled, coats sewn or mouldings for cameras were cleaned. Occasionally—during a bumper crop—the prisoners cut apricots and plums for fruit salad or peeled onions and prepared peppers for preserving. These jobs were also unprofitable, but popular, because vegetables and fruit improved the poor prison diet.
Letters to only one address could be sent once a month (if the prisoner was not being punished for breach of discipline). A visit was possible once in three months, also as long as a prisoner was not being punished for something. For the visit, only relatives to whom the prisoner addressed his letters could come. The visitors stood behind a fence so that nothing could be passed over. For instance, in Leopoldov a prisoner was not allowed to shake hands with his ageing mother. From 1958 the visitors could sit freely at a table, but at each table a member of the security guard was present. If he did not like anything, he could end the visit instantly. Otherwise it could last one hour. If the priest, that is also Jesuits, were among laypeople, they had a large religious clientele—they confessed, baptised, accepted people back to the Church etc. If at least one “proper material” was obtained—raisins and bread, Mass was sometimes celebrated. The gaining of “material” was possible when parents or siblings could give a prisoner a parcel during their visit or if they sent it by post. This was not possible for instance in Leopoldov—therefore we lived there from the raisin supplies that we brought from the mines and that some fellow-workers, not prisoners, bought for us.
Where more Jesuits were together, they created a deep religious and human alliance. We supported each other. In the isolation of Leopoldov there were eleven of us for a time (four from the Slovak Vice-province). There we accepted two novices as members—one priest and one theology student from Prague who was studying in the third year at the time of his arrest in 1950. In Leopoldov they also took their vows. Thanks to the extensive reading of the Rules (summary of general rules and letters about obedience) at table we could together reconstruct and write these rules. One imprisoned Father interpreted it for the novices. They also made the Thirty-Day Retreat before taking vows even if not in a perfect form. The student who we accepted as a member in prison graduated there (there were plenty of professors of theology colleges or religious universities) and was ordained by the imprisoned bishop in Leopoldov. Eleven Jesuits also saw the hardest Leopoldov prison—Mírov—and lived there for some time (for a shorter or longer time). And thirty Jesuits also experienced the famous Valdice-Kartouzy prison (a former Carthusian monastery) (also for various lengths of time—some for many years, others for a few months).
Thirteen Jesuits were imprisoned and worked in the coal mine in Rtyně in Podkrkonoší. Three Jesuits stayed in the Jáchymov region and worked in uranium mines. Three Jesuits were in a uranium ore sorter in the punitive camp “L.” Two Jesuits spent some time in Bory, two in Mladá Boleslav, two in Prague-Pankrác, one in a coal mine in Ostrava-Heřmanice and three in the building of a cement works in Senica near Banská Bystrica. The places changed and only rarely did somebody stay in one place. I mention only the places where Jesuits served their sentence, not the places of imprisonment before trial.
As in Leopoldov, so in Valdice-Kartouzy one scholastic was ordained in secret, of course by an imprisoned bishop.
Finally I would like to say that we tried to live the order’s life and be faithful to the Church and Pope wherever we were. We did not capitulate, but we took new members, even in prison. We had no approval from Congregations in Rome or the General Curia, but we followed the example of our saintly fellow-brothers, especially from the time of the English persecution, who survived in this way. We handed over everything to our loving Lord and were led by only one idea—that “everything was for the greater glory of God” and supported—though in a very restricted way—the souls of our fellow-prisoners.
With this I end the account of the first stage of the Czech Province Jesuits dispersal.
As a break between events of the first and other two stages of dispersal I would like to note at least a few facts about Jesuits abroad. As I said above twenty three Jesuits of the Czech Province were not “interned” because they were living abroad at the time of operation “K.” They were the first of all the Jesuit groups who worked abroad—professors, missionaries or priests, who were preparing themselves for work in missions. The second group was that of students, who did their basic or special studies in foreign countries. The third group were German Jesuits, who had to leave Czechoslovakia after World War II.
These groups were, additionally, joined by six Jesuits who fled abroad in 1950 and later. One Czech scholastic, but an Austrian citizen, was banished from Czechoslovakia in 1959. In 1968, nine priests (all secretly ordained), one scholastic and one novice went abroad. After graduating they all returned home except for three—two priests and one novice. They were ordered to stay there by Father provincial Šilhan. In foreign countries a few arrivals also occurred, altogether ten, although three later left. From the Jesuits already living abroad three priests and one brother left. Four members of the Czech Province were moved to other Provinces as well as all German Jesuits of the Czech Province. Czech Jesuits in foreign countries worked at the following posts: spiritual advisor of the “Nepomucenum” Czech College in Rome, professors at the Gregorian University, Papal Institute of Oriental Studies (five) and Innsbruck University, editors of Vatican Radio’s Czech section, editors of the “Nový život” (New life) review and “Křesťanská akademie” (Christian Academy), writers of scientific and religious books. Three Jesuit Priest worked in a mission to Zambia and there was a considerable amount of work by Czech Jesuits for emigrants—refugees from communism. They performed such religious administration in London, Montreal, Paris and in Australia. Later one young priest-physician from the Czech Province left for missions to Bolivia and two priests worked in Austria.
Members of the Czech Province living abroad were at first administered by a Slovak assistant in the General Curia in Rome. In 1969 Father General Arrupe appointed Father Feřt, provincial for our members living abroad, to vicegerent. In 1975-1991 he was replaced by Father Špidlík.
The activity of Czech Jesuits abroad was carried out with enthusiasm everywhere. It is also necessary to point out that they lovingly helped Jesuits at home especially through sending books but also with material resources, as long as government regulations allowed it.
The second stage of the Czech Province’s dispersal began in 1968. The majority of both nations (Czechs and Slovaks) hoped that things would go better. The “Prague spring” was like a rainbow heralding hope for a better life in the whole society and nation, including the life of the Catholic Church and religious orders. But it was only a superficial reworking of the appearance of Communism. Communism was to continue, but with a “human face.” Indeed no extraordinary change happened because the fifties were not condemned as a time of evil and immoral acts.
This time lacked confession and conversion—penitence. So unrepentant and unforgiven sins continued to bring forth evil fruits, though in a milder form. For a correct understanding of this situation we can turn to a statement by Mr. Smrkovský, one of the Cabinet ministers and of course a true communist of 1948 and the fifties, and who remained a Communist until he fell foul of his superiors and ended up in prison. The real issue was the intervention of Father Dr. Alois Michálek in certain Church matters. This priest spent a long time with Mr. Smrkovský in an isolated cell in Leopoldov. Minister Smrkovský courteously welcomed his former fellow-prisoner but in the matter of oppression of the Church and then in the matter of relieving these injuries he stated: “You know, Alois, it was a great mistake, that the Church was the first victim, it should have been the last one.”
So for the Catholic Church no fundamental change occurred. The bishops could return after almost twenty years internment. A branch of the School of Theology of Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Olomouc could be established. Female religious orders became legal subjects and were allowed to accept young novices. Priests deprived of state approval could be posted to jobs in ecclesiastical administration and new approvals could also be granted to religious and Jesuits. (Note: In Czechoslovakia priests, who were allowed to carry out some priestly acts, that is, to celebrate Mass in church, though only in privacy, had to have state approval by the district secretary for Church matters. Approvals for parochial administration were granted in accordance with section 17 of the Church Act of 1949, and for retirement in care of the nuns or service for them in accordance with section 16. Sometimes approval for individual acts was granted, for instance for the burial of a mother performed by her son who lacked official state approval).
All laws of the fifties were preserved and the church affairs’ secretaries continued to work. After initial uneasiness the secretaries began to test the limits of freedom more, especially after the Warsaw Pact armies raid. Now—more experienced—they practised their service in a more sophisticated way.
The State Security forces also worked very consistently. It did not constrain anybody in this era. But neither did it constrain the murderers of the fifties, who stayed in their good, profitable posts.
But we were grateful also for this short period of relief. Father Šilhan entered his provincial office at once. He took advantage of 1968 immediately and visited Rome and the General Curia and Pope Paul VI. He also visited Germany, especially his former students of the times when he taught in the German College “Germanicum.” Then he went to Innsbruck in Austria. There he made arrangements for the studies of our secretly ordained priests so that they could graduate in a school that was acknowledged by the Church, because they had studied and taken tests partly in privacy. He re-established the Consult (a committee of four counsellors) and gradually interviewed all members of the Province. Certainly with those who had died or left the order the number of members of the Province had decreased. The number of those who replaced them during the first stage was insignificant. From among twelve members accepted during the Province’s most difficult time only eight stayed in the order. Apart from two priests accepted in Leopoldov they all had to go through, or finish, all their studies. As soon as possible, Father Provincial sent eight secretly ordained priests to Innsbruck to study and one scholastic to finish his studies before being ordained. He also sent one novice to the noviciate in Austria. One secretly ordained priest was sent to Belgium to graduate there. Other scholastics who persevered and studied, finished their studies at the Diocesan Seminary in Litoměřice. One secretly ordained priest only graduated there, seven scholastics added two or three more years of studies and in 1970 and 1971 were ordained and posted to the diocesan religious administration. Father Provincial Šilhan decided then that the majority of members were to live at least their priesthood in Church service, if a life of service through the religious life could not be granted to the Church in our country. So most of the members were sent to work in religious administration throughout Bohemian and Moravian dioceses or served as chaplains for nuns.
Through negotiations with the state authorities dealing with the Church (these negotiations being a little easier) and with competent bishops or capitular vicars the establishment of a small community alongside a parochial administration was achieved in some places. Members of the same order got state approval for their normal work, but officially it was not a renewal of the order’s life. Jesuits, after all, achieved this only in Velehrad, Bohosudov, Prague and Hradec Králové. There was everywhere the matter of priests as defined by a certain section of the Act of 1949, but also the matter of work of the brothers who could be employed by the rectory as sacrists, cooks or clerical workers.
Members of our order started up their typical form of service through retreats, also for laypeople, in this second and transitory stage. One province member who even at this time did not receive final state approval, but had only approval for general work pursued in particular retreats and popular missions. So, alongside his normal occupation he gave missions in the evenings during the weeks and on spare Saturdays and Sundays in five Brno diocese parishes in total. He usually led exercises on weekends and on Fridays, time which he made up for at work on other days.
The meeting with Father General Arrupe who visited the Czech and Slovak Provinces in 1969 was very important for all members of the Order. He received a visa only for three full days (excluding the journey). The first day’s meeting with a group of Jesuits in Prague occurred at evening Mass for the public at St. Ignatius. On the second day the Father General met the old Fathers and brothers in Moravec and in the evening a group in Brno. In the same evening he came to Velehrad. There he celebrated Mass in a full basilica (it was the year of Sts. Cyril and Methodius) and then met another group of Jesuits and had lunch with them. In the afternoon the Slovak fellow-brothers took him to the Slovak Province where he met a few Jesuits in different places. During this visit a variety of approvals could be stipulated that a provincial in our conditions needed, especially the possibility of preparing the older Fathers and brothers to take their final vows was attained. The first group which was prepared—twenty-two Jesuits (seventeen priests and five brothers) took their vows on 15 August 1960 in a full St. Ignatius during public Mass. Father General was to come—he longed to and was supposed to have come, but he did not receive a visa for this visit. The vows were accepted by Father Provincial Šilhan. We were grateful for the chance provided by 1968-1969. We all held our heads high and were ready to live, work but also fight under the banner of the Cross, in the Church’s service under Peter in obedience to the Pope.
One matter of great importance was the Prosecutor General’s decision about the orders in 1968. This decision was initiated by the Religious Societies’ Secretariat where Father Provincial Šilhan was one of the prominent representatives. This decision stated: “The orders and congregations, which had existed before the passing of the Act of Economic Provision of Churches and Religious Societies No. 218/49 of the Coll., were not unmade by this Act nor any other. They legally continue to exist and there is no obstacle for them to renew the life of their order and continue it within the actual rule of law.” Although the Church Affairs’ Secretariat of the Ministry of Culture did not take this decision into account, we were strengthened by it. We quoted the decision during the next period of persecution though we did not achieve anything definite.
So the Prague Spring flourished. But, because nobody dissociated themselves from the sins of the fifties, nobody called them by their proper name, nobody repented for them, these sins continued to drag on in the history of our country. After a spring that was full of flowers no crop came. The spirit of penitence did not appear in our nation. Therefore, more attacks started, though “better dressed and painted.”
The Third Stage of Dispersal of the Society of Jesus Czech Province
Normalisation in our state was characterised by the acquired experience that, when they want to, normally silent people protest against their oppressor. It also resulted in a hardening of the rule by the regime, which became aware of this fact. Everything was to seem more decent, but only in appearance. Also the destruction of people’s lives was more “decent” and many difficulties and much suffering were created by this “more decent way.”
All these things were strengthened by the long period of rule. People who had better brains than the former rulers were recruited, but their hearts were poisoned in the same way and they hated anybody who thought in a different way. Because people were experienced now, and more careful, new means had to be found. The technical achievements which also arrived in the Communist States allowed them to use new ways of controlling and persecuting people. Certain people were watched and persecuted all the time and Jesuits were among those persecuted people too. In the process of such modernisation only one chance remained. Whoever did not want to go mad from thinking about all the tools that the state could use for getting information about him, had to follow his own way in the unwordliness of religious peace and trust in the Lord. Indeed each Jesuit knew that even though he did nothing, he would be watched and seen as a prime suspect. So we decided to live come what may! This decision was supported by rather more concerned and sympathetic responses from abroad. As in the fifties nobody stood up for the poor, dead or imprisoned, nonetheless some solidarity in world public opinion and institutions appeared in the seventies. At least some people wrote and talked about what was happening in our country. Jesuits also received more evidence of support from abroad which the government and the Party was aware of, and had to take into account. In Czechoslovakia protests also appeared from different places, and the Warsaw Pact States could not ignore negotiations on an international level. Discussions in Helsinki in particular helped opponents being oppressed by the modern slave-masters. But what was probably a more difficult obstacle than the ruling communists was that represented by indifferent people who obediently gave their votes to communist rulers in casual elections. This indifference of the masses allowed the state to act against those who opposed the regime. Many of the opponents were Christians. Finally, in the eighties, Czech Christians urged by simple laypeople gathered many signatures supporting cardinal Monsignor Tomášek to let him know that he is not “a general without an army” as he was always being told by the representatives of the state and the State Security men.
Jesuits in this third stage of dispersal were usually in parishes and with nuns in old-peoples’ homes or in institutes for retarded children.
Some of them worked in civil occupations because of the lack of state approval. Father Provincial Šilhan suggested that Father General replace him by someone younger and more active him in his early seventies. Father General, advised by Father Šilhan and other members of the Society of Jesus in the Czech Province, chose Father Jan Pavlík. He had no state approval and worked as a crane driver at a company in Brno.
At this stage it was necessary to consolidate the Province more, so Jesuits needed a mobile provincial who could often visit his fellow brothers. And it was also necessary to give newcomers a chance to finish their studies and to be ordained and increase the number of priests in the order—the number was in decline as members of the order left this world for their reward in heaven.
There was some interest in entering the Society. There were no huge crowds of people interested, but on the other hand not everybody could be accepted. Everybody had to be ready to take risks and in addition to this, those interested had to be unselfish in order to pass at least the basic elements of the order’s formation, both religious and educational. Some regular priests and scholastics studying theology at the General Seminary and at the only Theological College, in Litoměřice, were involved. Some of them were taken into the order before their coming to the seminary. They at first carried out their noviciate while performing their occupation or other studies and then began to study in Litoměřice. Also the academically educated persons who according to state provision could not study in Litoměřice were attending. For these it was necessary to ensure their studies as novices by way of consultations with some of our Fathers and to prepare them for ordination only in secrecy.
While accepting more people we did not want only to rely on our own perception of the situation. We wanted to be bolstered by Father General’s approval or by the approval of the Congregation in Rome. In foreign countries some Jesuits appeared who selflessly visited us. Among them especially Father Richard von Aretin was very good to us as he negotiated the first necessary contacts. More things were cleared through the visit of a tourist, who was an assistant of the Slavonic assistance, the Croat Father Galauner. The help of Father Andrzej Koprowski, who replaced him in the regional assistant’s office was very important. This enthusiastic priest was in our country several times. In the second, but especially in the third stage, forty-one novices in total entered the Society of Jesus. They gradually took their first vows and some of them had been ordained by 1989. They studied in Litoměřice or in secret. One very devoted ordainer of those who could study only in private was the Jesuit bishop Monsignor Ján Chrysostom Korec, later a cardinal. But, on the other hand, some did not achieve their aims and left the Society and some left the Society as priests when they found out after 1989 that they were not able to fulfil the new Order’s life-long requirements (one died as a priest in the Society, one was transferred to the Slovak Province, fifteen left). Twenty-four young and middle-aged Jesuits remained—they filled, at least partly, the abyss between the Province of the old and that of the young after the fall of Communism.
Also the new Father General, Peter Hans Kolvenbach, decided to leave to our Provincial all the rights that were given to him by his predecessor. Father Kolvenbach showed great personal concern for the Province. That was manifested in many letters and the sending of new provisions. His interest was shown very clearly during a visit of the Czech Provincial to Rome in 1987. Father General invited the Czech Provincial and pursued, in person, recognition for our Province’s situation. Our Provincial had an opportunity to have personal talks with Father General Kolvenbach and his assistants even before the “Velvet Revolution” during St. Agnes’ canonisation. On the occasion of St. Agnes’ canonisation more Jesuits came from Czechoslovakia, also some young scholastics, who were then studying in Litoměřice. Father General once had lunch with them at the Curia and talked with each of them for at least a few minutes, especially if they could understand some of the many languages that he could speak.
During the time of normalisation two General Congregations of the Society of Jesus also took place in Rome. The Czech Provincial was invited to both of them, but he could not get there. He was always told that it was not in the interest of Czechoslovakia. The authorities stated that to allow the journey would mean accepting the male orders and their proper superiors. “You are only tolerated, we are not interested in a renewal of male orders”—in this way the authorities rationalised their rejection. Before the general congregation in 1983 where the election of the Superior General was to occur, the Czech Provincial received an invitation from the Vatican State Secretariat. The Provincial who lived in Brno presented it at the Passports Department of the Brno Police Force. This invitation was unwelcome for the Czechoslovak State, because the authorities tried to conduct casual negotiations with the Vatican. Finally the state authorities, especially the State Office for Church Affairs at the Ministry of Culture in accordance with the principle of not dealing with the male orders rejected this application for a passport and exit permit too.
During the time of normalisation Jesuits were frequently interrogated. In 1971-72 almost all members were summoned for interrogations, and finally the Provincial was summoned in 1972. Many members were spied on and some were arrested for forty-eight hours, especially the Father Provincial. This happened in 1981 after a great raid on the elderly priests’ house in Moravec. In this house the former provincial Father Šilhan lived. He was charged after this raid, but after a year of investigation, the charge dismissed. Father Provincial Pavlík was given a prosecutor’s warning at the Regional Court in Brno in November 1982. In this time of normalisation imprisonment was in general something exceptional: more common were acts which made life unpleasant, creating fear etc. Father František Lízna was arrested and detained for more than forty-eight hours during this period. He graduated in Litoměřice but did not get state approval for any diocese in Bohemia or in Moravia. He worked in a civilian occupation. He was brought before a court three times. At first—from 10 September 1979 till 9January 1980 because of unofficial literature (“samizdat”). Then he was released and left free while being on trial. He also worked after the sentence till the second arrest on 2 July 1981. Then he was not released and after the trial he served his sentence in Bory until 28 June 1983. The third time, he was arrested and imprisoned in 1988 because of distributing a pamphlet about unjustly imprisoned individuals. He was sentenced to two months, which he served.
Maybe more interesting are the things that we could do in the difficult conditions of normalisation. First of all I would like to mention the unofficial Jesuit literature. It was represented by philosophical or theological texts or texts for religious development. They were written by some of our Fathers, or translated from foreign languages. These books numbered thirty-one, but we had no means of copying them. We had only a typewriter, carbon paper and a man who could make ten carbon copies in one go. In this way new liturgical texts were also copied, firstly in Latin and then in Czech translation. These were the Society’s own texts for the breviary or missal or lectionary. In this way each member obtained a carbon copy of texts concerning new saints and the blessed. After approval of the new translation of the missal and lectionary by the Congregation for Liturgy in Rome we managed to “Xerox” them for all members. Everybody received them in hardback volumes.
Life was organised so that a few Jesuits in different regions established a regional community. This had its superior and spiritual father. Members of the community met on special occasions such as name-days, birthdays or some anniversary. For the young, newly accepted, who were not in the central seminary in Litoměřice, formation meetings were established. At these meetings some parts of the Constitution and some theological problems were gone through.
There were also some contacts with other Provinces, though these were very inadequate. The most frequent and useful contacts (because of religious and study material exchanges) were with the Slovak Province. These contacts were rather easier, because we lived in one state and because the languages are very similar and intelligible for both nations. With the Austrian Province we had contacts through our Father Vladimír Richter whose mother lived in Brno (later in Knínice near Boskovice). Sometimes he easily got a visa to visit his mother, but sometimes he did not get it at all or rarely.
I have already mentioned the help of Father Richard von Aretin SJ from Munich. He regularly visited his relatives in Czechoslovakia. The Belgian, Father Lelote, visited our Father Rabušic. Father Waesberghe from Holland visited one of our Fathers every year.
The solidarity of many provincials, who showed their support for our life in many letters was most helpful. In this way, they created some protection against brutal police intrusion into our life. All the letters passed through state censorship and therefore the authorities knew the attitudes of Jesuits abroad.
We must also mention the sending of books both by our Czech priests abroad and other Jesuits from Europe or America. In the same way our members—I suppose all of them—sometimes received financial help through the agencies of the “Tuzex” foreign trade company.
With difficulties, but infallibly guided by the Lord and strengthened by the world-wide Society of Jesus—by its prayers, concern, solidarity and real help—we were getting near the date of 17 November 1989 and events we had only dreamed of.
Then the communist regime in our country collapsed and we could officially
renew the life of the Czech Province of the Society of Jesus.
Ending this short and wholly factual glance at the dispersal of the Czech Province during Communist rule, I must thank Divine Providence very much. The difficulties, persecution and suffering can be experienced as an incidence of the hand of God being placed upon our shoulders and can be understood as our being chosen. We were led to this state by our Father Ignatius through his spiritual exercises but also through the directions of the Constitutions. Apart from showing great personal self-sacrifice we were also to be obedient to his wish: to wear the same clothes and to decorate ourselves with the same symbols as our Lord Jesus Christ. In my opinion, the majority of our members and novices longed to follow this way. But what is desired does not always come about as it should. Sometimes a rather weaker understanding plays a part but, on the whole, human nature is the main obstacle. My praise of God sounds out in very clear tones because—though we leave the last judgement to the Lord—the fidelity of Province’s members was, after all, a serious witness to the faith. The number of members lost was indeed admirably low and was greatly exceeded by faithfulness.
May the Lord bless also the future work of Czech Jesuits as he blessed it in our day. The perspectives are certainly great in the spirit of faith, hope and love for the Lord. But we must not ignore the facts which were present at the beginning of the new stage of our Province’s history in 1990. First of all we started literally in a “wasteland.” By means of the Act of Compensation for Injustice to Religious Orders and Congregations (Act No 928 of the Coll. of the July 1990) the Society received back only one house—the residency in Prague. But it was, like all the returned Church buildings, in a very bad condition and needed general repairs from the roof to the courtyard, and of all the facilities inside. From among houses which were the property of the Society until 1950 (Děčín and Opava) nothing was given back but, on the other hand, we were not concerned about this because no useful work could be done there. But the Archbishop of Olomouc invited us to continue the work at St. Hostýn and at Velehrad which had stopped forty years before. Later the archbishop called us to Český Těšín, where Jesuits returned now for the fourth time. The Bishop of Brno wanted the former Jesuit Church of Our Lady’s Ascension to be administered by Jesuits again and to serve for the university students there.
An internal obstacle for the advancement of the Province’s work was the high average age of our Province members, a painful lack of brothers and the fact that many Fathers worked in religious administration in almost all Czech and Moravian dioceses. It was not possible to recall these priests at once from the parishes.
A great obstacle soon after the emancipation from Communism, was represented by various unsolved problems in the political life of the State. The main difficulty is and will continue to be for a long time, that the Communist disease lives on in people and their minds. But the worst thing is that the Communist leaders and many ordinary Communists remain throughout the nation and in public institutions.
However, we can only take pleasure in the existence of a liberal democracy. A pluralistic society gives the Church and its bodies the principle of freedom to live and work. But neither the Church nor the Society of Jesus has sufficient experience of working in these conditions so far.
When all is considered, I must say that the work that was done was admirable. We can only hope that it pleases the Lord to call up workers to his vineyard who would now like to continue the work started and carry it on to an ever greater growth for the sake of God and people’s souls.
In Olomouc on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, 22 February 1996.