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.