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.”