History of the Vincentians in Slovakia

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

by: Pavol Noga, CM

(This article appeared in Anales Volume 120, No. 1 - January-February, 2012)


Many people in Spain have asked me about The History of the Vincentians in Slovakia. My response to all of them is very similar as I offer a brief synthesis of my research on the same theme. The reader of Anales will keep in mind the fact that here we cannot reflect at length on the historical, political, social and religious context that surrounds our particular history. For a better understanding of the historical development, I have divided this history into four periods, the last period being open to the future. After naming each period of development, I present a brief description of the historical context.

Time of the Austria-Hungary Empire (? – 1918)

For many years Slovakia, together with other countries, was part of the State of Magyar. Later, around the sixteenth century, then known as the Austria-Hungry Empire, Slovakia formed part of this state for almost one thousand years. Besides Slovakia the empire was composed of Hungry, Austria, Rumania, Slovenia, Croatia and the Czech Republic. This situation continued until the collapse of the monarchy in 1918.

The seventeenth century – the first attempts at establishment

In 1761 the archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Mizazzi, in accord with the Empress Maria Theresa, invited the Vincentians from the Polish Province to administer the diocesan seminary in Vienna. Two priests were selected for this mission: Thomas Hussarzewski and Jan Hardley. Their work was so successful that the archbishop of Magyar invited the Vincentians to take charge of the administration of the seminary in Trnava (Slovakia). The formation provided there produced excelled fruit despite the many difficulties that were encountered, especially those difficulties that arose from various ecclesiastical circles.

Louis de Bras, Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission during that era, announced to the confreres an ambitious plan with regard to the Austria-Hungary monarchy, adding an important note: I believe that this enterprise will be successful despite the difficulties… [1]. After this initial announcement there is no further news about this project until after 1763. We can suppose that this project lasted no longer than five years [2]. We know, more or less, the cause for the departure of the Missionaries, but we do not know the ext date [3].


The establishment of the Vincentian during the monarchy of the XIX century

The establishment of the Congregation of the Mission during the period of the monarchy in the mid-nineteenth century was facilitated by the Daughters of Charity, especially Sister Leopoldina of noble origins … she was a countess when she entered the Company. Through the influence of Sister Leopoldina, Father Bartolomé Touvre (1799-1880) from France, together with other important individuals, created the preparatory council. Sister Loepoldina influenced some diocesan priests to enter the Congregation. So it was that in 1851 the first of these priests entered the Internal Seminary in Paris. The following year these priests were established in Celje (Slovenia) and were accompanied by Konard Hirl [4], and superior of the house in Colonia.

In 1853 the Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission, Jean-Baptiste Étienne, visited the recently established mission and was accompanied by the new Director of the Daughters, Father Schlick, who was residing in a house that had been build close the residence of the Sisters in Graz (Austria). In addition to the houses in Celje and Graz a third house was established in Krakow (the only house that remained after the partitioning of Poland). Thus, in 1853, in a somewhat provisional manner the Superior General, Étienne, formed the new province [5]. During this same period the Vincentians did not reside in Slovakia but did preach popular missions there (after which they returned to their respective houses). According to the statistics, up to the year 1914, the beginning of the First World War, the Missionaries preached more than one hundred popular missions in the different villages in Slovakia.


The First Czechoslovakian Republic (1918-1939)

On October 30th, 1918 the National Council made the decision to grant Slovakia independence and it was united with the Czechs. In accord with the Pittsburg Convention, Slovakia would enjout complete autonomy and its own Parliament would be established in the State of Czechoslovakia. Nevertheless the proposal with regard to autonomy was not respected. This meant putting aside the more important national aspirations and placing the people in a situation of political opposition to the central powers in Prague. The history of this opposition was the primary ideological current of the historical events that followed the First World War. Said history is related in a very special way to the more recent history of the Catholic Church in Slovakia. In summary, it can be said that during the period of the First Czech Republic, the state-church relationship was very tense due to the theory of “Czech unification” which was intended to diminish Rome’s influence. According to the thinking at that time Rome had to be judged and condemned.


Continuation of the presence of the Congregation of the Mission in the new situation

After the First World War the Congregation once again became present through the influence of the Daughters of Charity, but this presence occurred in entirely new circumstances that required a change in position. As a result of the establishment of the new boundary lines between the countries, the missionaries could not long preach missions in the Slovakian villages. Therefore, the primary work of the Vincentians became one of spiritual ministry in the houses of the Daughters of Charity. In 1918 there were thirty-two houses of the Sisters in the territory of Czechoslovakia which previously had been part of the Province of Hungary.

After the creation of the Republic of Czechoslovakia, all contact with the Province of Hungary ceased, the result of which created an unsustainable situation that affected the Sisters. This situation forced the Sisters to create a new Slovakian Province to which the Vincentian, Jozef Danielik, was named director in 1921. Father Jozef expressed his perplexity to the Superior General: Really at this moment I do not know what to say or what to think … to establish a new province, with a new motherhouse during these turbulent times, alone and with one companion … so many unforeseen difficulties [6].

In 1922 Father Jozef arrived in Slovakia and after visiting all their houses he spoke about the needs of the Sisters: there were vocations, but there was no house of formation. At the same time the bishop of the Diocese of Trnava asked Father Jozef to become a spiritual director in the diocesan seminary. This ministry of service and the good relationships with the diocesan clergy provided an opportunity for the Missionaries to present and make known the Vincentian charism to the diocesan clergy.

In 1924 the Motherhouse of the Daughters was established in Ladce, the north-eastern part of the Slovakia and this move meant that the Vincentians went to the same area. As we have already indicated, Father Danielik was very involved in the establishment of the new Province of the Daughters of Cahrity and do during the same year, 1924, he received help from Austria when Father Jozef Häring joined him [7].

It was then that Father Danielik expressed his concern about the future of the Congregation of the Mission to the Superior General. He wrote: …and the future of the Congregation? We have been here for four years and we have not taken a single step forward. What is worse is that we are in a situation that does not allow us to do anything. In Slovakia the Congregation is unknown and there is no hope that young men would join our ranks … it is clear that we have to begin with the minor seminary, but how? … We are only two confreres: Father Häring and myself … if another priest were to come, then a minor seminary would be possible [8].

He continued his letter and proposed a plan, a very interesting plan [9]. Given the situation that there was no change in the number of priests, Father Danielik continued to explore every possibility. In December 1926 he was able to send the first candidates to the Internal Seminary in Graz (Austria) [10]. After a year Father Häring wrote with great enthusiasm to the Superior General: Thank to God this year we have been able to establish the first house of the Congregation in Czechoslovakia. During the Solemn Mass our first brothers pronounced their vows [11].

Finally, in the beginning of 1929, a third priest from Austria, Father František Kuchá? arrived and then with his help they were able to carry out their plans for a minor seminary which was built in Banska Bystrica, in central Slovakia. In his report Father Häring wrote: thanks to the work of Father Danielik, our superior, this year we were able to open the doors of this institute. Father Kuchá? has been name director of this institute and on September 1st we began with twelve students [12]. In 1934 the first of them was ordained, an event that Father Danielik mentioned to the Superior General [13]. In the following years there were other ordinations [14]. With this increase in personnel the Congregation was able to commit itself to its proper pastoral ministry, that is, popular missions, retreats, advisors to Vincentian groups.

In 1936 the Vincentians accepted an educational work, namely, the administration of the Institute Svoradov in Bratislava, a place where many students could be educated. Here the conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul Society were created and the members of these groups were active outside of Bratislava, especially among workers. The Vincentians also became advisors to the Daughters of Mary (the present day Vincentian Marian Youth) giving retreats and conferences and orienting the members of these groups toward charitable works with the poor. In 1938, when Father Danielik died, there were ten missionaries in Slovakia [15].


The Congregation of the Mission in Slovakia during the Second World War

During the time of the Czechoslovakian Republic, the Slovaks were not satisfied with their situation. The leaders promoting an autonomous Slovakia, members of the Popular Party and led by the priest, Father Andres Hlinka, were concerned about defending their just rights but their aspirations were immediately crushed by the government in Prague. The anti-Catholic policy of the Czechs, together with Hitler’s opposition to the unification of Czechoslovakia, brought about the end of the First Republic.

The seizure of the south-eastern of Czechoslovakia in 1936 and the subsequent occupation of the rest of the country in 1939 by Germany halted the forward progress of the Republic. Bohemia became a province of Germany and In March 1939, under pressure from Hitler, Slovakia was proclaimed an independent nation [16].


The creation of the autonomous Vice-Province of Slovakia

After the proclamation of the formation of the new Slovakian state, the Vincentian had to resolve their legal situation. Therefore, with the authorization of the Vicar-General the Visitor of the Province of Hungary, Father Martin Janisch, engaged in an extraordinary visitation of the Province. In his report we read, among other things: The government categorically demands that we appoint Slovacks to positions of leadership and thus the superiors can be of no other nationality. Since Father Kuchá? was born in Morava the government will not allow him to continue as Director of the Daughters … After having consulted the Sisters Servants as well as Father Kuchá? and the bishop of Nitra (the Motherhouse of the Daughters is in his diocese), and since nothing else could be done, Father Hutyra was appointed the new Director of the Daughters … I believe that his good character justifies his appointment and I request that you grant him a dispensation since he does not have the required age … [17]. In the government Ministry I have been told that the houses of the Congregation have to be independent of foreign administrator. Therefore we ought to establish a new Province. Even though there are only a few confreres, their number is sufficient for the provisional establishment of a province. When we began the province in Hungary (1919) we had no more than the number of confreres that are here at the present time [18].

In 1940, because of its good reputation, Archbishop Karol Kmet’ko entrusted the members of the vice-province with the ministry of coordinating retreats and with the spiritual renewal of the people throughout Slovakia.


The Second Czechoslovakian Republic and the situation of the Congregation of the Mission (1945-1993)

In 1945 the Czechs and the Slovaks were once again united and formed the Second Czechoslovakian Republic. Since it was part of the Soviet Union, its political orientation was fixed even though the elections of 1946 seemed to put a break on the Communists’ aspirations. In those elections the Democratic Party won, but that victory was short lived because through an overthrow of the elected government, the Communists assumed total power. This event in 1948 was called the February Victory by the Communists.


The first confrontations with communism

The Congregation of the Mission entered this period of history with the hope of opening a new house in Belušské Slatiny. The first confrontations with the Communists were mot long in coming. In 1947, the police, with the assistance of the intelligence services, spent eight hour in searching the provincial house of the Sisters in Ladce.

The Visitor at that time, Father Hutyra, after visiting one of the houses of the Sisters, was detained and brought to Bratislava: there were fourteen charges against me and not one of them was true. I was forced to confess to these accusations, I was beaten three times … In this way my interrogators obtained false responses. When I became unconscious I was put in water. After having been beaten in this way, I, as a priest, forgive those persons who had tortured me [19].


A time of trial and purification

In Czechoslovakia the decade of the 1950’s was a period of oppression. When the Communists obtained power in February, 1948 the struggle against the Church was renewed. In June 1949, the nuncio, Bishop Verolino was expelled from the country. The government then organized a schismatic group called Catholic Action. The bishops met and stated that it was impossible to negotiate with the new government and on June 15th, 1949 the Holy Office in Rome condemned Catholic Action as organized by the government.

In 1949 hundreds of priests were imprisoned. In November, 1950 in Prague high ranking ecclesiastics were given prison sentences of twenty years. In January, 1951, Bishop Vojtášák, Bishop Gojdi? and Bishop Buzalka were sentenced to twenty years in prison. The other bishops were watched and completed isolated in their residences. Later, they were also imprisoned. The Greek-Catholic Church was suppressed and became part of the Orthodox Church as the result of a synod that was convoked by the government and held in the city of Prague (April 28, 1950). In July, 1950 the number of seminaries in the country was reduced to two: Litomerice and Bratislava and these remaining institutions could accept a very small number of young men as candidates.

In April, 1950 the monks and religious (some 2,000) were violently removed from their monasteries and houses and placed in other houses where they engaged in forced labor and had to participate in a process of re-education. The women religions (about 10,000) confronted a similar situation in which they were allowed to remain only in psychiatric institutions and in those hospitals that were treating patients with incurable diseases.

With regard to the Vincentians, Father Hutyra as a result of his experience with the Communists feared what was going to occur. He wrote to the confreres: great cross are always a sign of great graces; do not be afraid and do not betray the Lord with your lack of trust and your fear … let us not be ashamed of our vocation or our name [20].

The time of violence was not long in coming. The members of the Congregation were removed from their houses. The seminarians and others who were residing at the seminary were sent to concentrations camps where they had to work on the construction of a dike that ironically was called the young people’s dike. Fr. Hutyra was hospitalized under police vigilance [21] but he was able to escape [22].


Procedures against the Vincentians and clandestine activity

Despite these unfavorable conditions for the Congregation, some of the minor seminarians decided to continue their Vincentian formation. At the beginning of September, after leaving the construction site of the young people dike and with the advice of Father Hutyra, they went to Nitra. They were discovered and arrested, but not only were the seminarians arrested so also were all those persons who had collaborated with them.

After the discovery of the group of seminarians there began on February 5, 1953 a procedure that the Communists called Russicum as a result of which Father Krištín was sentenced to imprisonment for life and the sisters and lay people were sentenced to 129 years in prison [23].

The intelligence services continued to look for the place where Father Hutyra was being hidden (at first they thought he had escaped to Western Europe). After six years he was found and interrogated Soviet style. Three other Vincentians and four Daughters were also charged. Father Hutyra was imprisoned for ten years and the others imprisoned for forty years [24].

At the beginning of the 1960’s another procedure was initiated against the Congregation, a procedure called František Mihina and his group, in which Father Mihina, two Vincentians and three Daughters were accused of undermining the government and high treason because of their support of the Vatican [25].


Silent activity

At this time, encouraged by Father Hutyra, the Congregation and the Daughters began to recruit vocations as they had previously done and yet did this while working officially in their respects areas. The formation of these individuals was done clandestinely. The Vincentian family was prepared to survive in the midst of a very complex situation as they rooted themselves more firmly in their evangelizing vocation (even though this evangelization was carried out in a hidden manner).\

During the worst years of persecution Rudolf Kobela entered the Congregation and was ordained a priest in Vienna in 1957. He died very young in London while working with people from his homeland. Father Mikula, who escaped Czechoslovakia and went to Austria in the 1950’s, opened, with the permission of the Visitor, a house of the Vice-Province of Slovakia in Salzburg. This remained as a house of the Congregation until the 1990’s.


The spring of Prague – new hopes

Alexander Dub?ek (then a leader of the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia) became president and in 1968 presented a policy of socialism with a human face that marked the beginning of the Springtime of Prague. Many people who had been previously detained were released and there was a temporary opening to the West. In time Dub?ek restored the Greek Catholic church. The different churches were able to develop their activities and religious orders were recognized by the government. This reform movement, however, ended with the invasion of troops from the Warsaw Pact (August 21, 1968) and the process of normalization was initiated.


The awakening of the Congregation of the Mission

This political cooling off also affected the life of the Vincentians in Slovakia where they began to organize themselves. In 1968 a meeting was held in the Motherhouse of the Daughters in Mendrika (Moravia) for the purpose of coordinating the functioning of the Vice-Province and community life [26]. In Eastern Slovakia, in Slanec, three brothers began to live together in community, in a parish rectory, but had to leave after being together for one year because the police began to imprison people once again. During the same year contact was begun once again with the Congregation on the international level and Father Hutyra was invited to Rome to participate in the General Assembly of the Congregation. This involved in a new era in which there was contact with the Provinces and confreres in the Slovakian Province could show the confreres that despite the reign of Communism the Vincentians had survived and desires to express their vocation. In 1970, the Superior General, James Richardson and the Mother General, Christina Chiron, were invited to our country in order to encourage the Vincentian Family that had now entered a period of normalization [27].


The Congregation of the Mission during the years of normalization

Normalization is that period that preceded the Soviet invasion that wanted to stop the reform process of society. According to the socialist or Soviet concept, the aggressors (after the invasion) were normalizing society that had become contaminated by capitalist ideas. This purification continued until the end of the 1970’s and as a result of this process Czechoslovakia entered a period of great economic, political and moral decline. In 1972 regular contact with the Polish Province was begun. Thus in 1976 Father Florian Kapuš?ák, Assistant General visited the confreres in order for the Missionaries to elect a new Visitor (Father Hutyra was tired and overwhelmed). Father Rudolf Puchovský was appointed as Provincial [28].

During this stay in Slovakia, Father Kapuš?ák saw the urgency to organize the community. For this purpose almost all the Missionaries gathered together in Poland in 1978 and agreed to live in quasi houses, according to the regions where the confreres were ministering: in the east (Košice), in the central part of the country (Banská Bystrica), in the northeast (Tren?ín), in the west (Trnava), and finally in Moravia (Brno, the present Czech Republic). Each one of these houses had a superior who was responsible for bringing the confreres together once a month. During these gatherings there was prayer in common, the conferences of Saint Vincent were read and reflected on and there was a sharing of experiences and problems. The Missionaries ministered officially as diocesan priests in parishes and the seminarians studied in official seminaries: these were formed clandestinely and the seminarians worked within the society [29].

The creation of the Slovakian Province

The secret visit of the Superior-General, Father Richard McCullen to Czechoslovakia during 1988 was an extraordinary event. The meeting with him was planned with great discretion in the parish house in Bošaca (northeast Czechoslovakia). Provincial Statutes were approved and the Superior General decided to move forward with transforming the Vice-Province into a Province.

One year after the visit of the Superior General, on October 24th, 1989, the Province of Slovakia was officially established [30]. It is interesting to note that all of this occurred three weeks before the fall of communism, the time of the velvet revolution.


The velvet revolution and the second youth of the Slovakian Vincentians

In November, 1989 the Communist regime collapsed and the totalitarian system began to be transformed into a democracy. The Communist Party was suppressed and as a result there was a new emphasis on human rights. At that time the Second Slovak Republic was created.

In 1989 the new Province had twenty-nine priests, four brothers and twelve students. Thus the Province of Slovakia began its second period of youth in society and in the Church [31]. The Church and the Congregation of the Mission had to overcome some fundamental difficulties that were now more noticeable in an environment of freedom. Some of the Missionaries found living in the midst of the community to be an insurmountable barrier.

In the first place the Congregation had to reorganize itself. For this purpose all the confreres gathered together for the first time in Trnava and this occurred on January 25th, 1990, the feast of the establishment of the Congregation. The confreres formulated a plan for the Congregation in Slovakia and decided to formalize the community houses. One house was established in the capital, another in central Slovakia (Banska Bystrica, near the former apostolic seminary) and finally another in eastern Slovakia (Košice). In the capital, at the request of the bishop of that diocese, the community accepted responsibility for the parish of Ružinov (an area in Bratislava with 40,000 inhabitants). In Banska Bystrica the confreres ministered as chaplains in the prison and in the hospital. In the eastern part of Slovakia, in response to the urgent request of the bishop, the community accepted the parish of Šaca in the area of Košice (an abandoned area where the majority of the people were gypsies). In March, 1990 Father Richard McCullen visited the Province and expressed his support to the Missionaries [32]. At the present time the Province has six houses with thirty-three priests, four brothers, six seminarians in theology and three in the Internal Seminary … the median age is forty-four [33].

Conclusion

With the passing of time we cannot ignore the fact that the development of this Vincentian history in Slovakia was sown at the time when the Missionaries were giving occasional popular missions. Soon thereafter, the Vincentians would experience the cross of Calvary and despite all of this the Vincentian spirit remained alive.

In comparison with other countries, there were never many priests in Slovakia but the Missionaries there were firm in the vocation and in their convictions. Today, at this time of searching for our identity, the Vincentians who have lived out their vocation in that “lost” country of Easter Europe can serve as an example as we reflect on renewing the Vincentian charism.

That era and the first Vincentians of that area have become for us the bottomless well from which we can draw froth wonderful examples of faithfulness to the Vincentian vocation.


Footnotes

[1] Pool S., A History of the Congregation of the Mission 1625-1843, (1973). P. 249.

[2] AA.VV., Ksi?ga pami?tkowa trzechsetlecia Zgromadzenia Ksi?zy misionarzy 1625-1925, (Kraków 1925), p. 209.

[3] Cf. BAGIN A., Cirkevné Dejiny – Novovek, (Trnava 1988), p. 156, affirms that the Congregation accepted the administration of the seminary in Vienna in 1761 and the following year the administration of the seminary in Trnava and Vacz and added that the Vincentian remained in Trnava until 1773.

[4] Cf. PLANINŠEK J., Lazaristi na Slovenskem in Jugoslovanska provincia,(Ljublana 1984), 84.

[5] AA.VV., Ksi?ga pami?tkowa trzechsetlecia Zgromadzenia Ksi?zy misionarzy 1625-1925,(Kraków 1925), 46.

[6] Letter of Fr. Danielik – Philiscabam December, 1921.

[7] AGK: Annales 1939, s.506.

[8] Letter of Fr. Danielik to the Superior General, May 13, 1926.

[9] Letter of Fr. Danielik to the Superior General, May 13, 1926.

[10] Letter of Fr. Häring to the Superior General, April 10, 1927.

[11] Letter of Fr. Häring to the Superior General, October 8, 1929.

[12] Ibid.

[13] A.C.G., Letter of Fr. Danielik, December 28, 1934.

[14] A.C.G., Letter of Fr. Danielik, November 1, 1938.

[15] Catalogue des Maisones et du personnel de la Congregation de la Mission 1938, 11-12.

[16] Harenberg B., Kronika ?udstva , (Bratislava 1994), 921.

[17] A.C.G., Report on the extraordinary visitation of Martin Janisch, July 3, 1942

[18] Ibid.

[19] Statement of Fr. Hutyra, November 8, 1947, in JUDÁK, V.,- DANKOVÁ, S., Exodus, (Nitra 1997), 95-96; cf. HLINKA A., Sila slabých a slabos? silných, (Bratislava 1990), 38-39.

[20] A.G.C., Letter of Fr. Hutyra from Tur?ianský sv. Martin, February 10, 1950.

[21] The report of Comrade Hruška, the secret letter, n. 203, # acta 1410-1419, in HLINKA A., Sila slabých a slabos? silných, (Bratislava 1990), 58.

[22] VOLF Š., Rúbanisko, (Ružomberok 1999), 9.

[23] JUDÁK V., - DANKOVÁ S., Exodus, (Nitra 1997), 115 – 116.

[24] A.P.E., La crónica de la Congregación (The Chronicle of the Congregation), 5.

[25] JUDÁK V., - DANKOVÁ S., Exodus, (Nitra 1997), 243 – 245.

[26] Ibid.

[27] ZONTÁK V., Testimonio personal del año 1996 (Personal witness of the year 1996).

[28] Ibid.

[29] La crónica de la Congregación (The Chronicle of the Congregation) in the archive of the Province of Slovakia, Bratislava, p. 5-6.

[30] Testimonio personal del año 1996, (Personal witness of the year 1996), Zonták V.

[31] DUKALA J., Pasados por el tiempo de la prueba (Passing through a time of trial) in: famvin.org/gsdl/collect/vincent2/index/assoc/HASH013e/adca6491.dir/doc.doc

[32] La crónica de la Congregación (The Chronicle of the Congregation), in the archives of the Province of Slovakia, Bratislava, p.8.

[33] Catalogus provinciarum, domorum ac personarum 2010, p. 365.

Translated Charles T. Plock, CM [[Category:Congregation of the Mission}