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.