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Catholic Heroes . . . Blessed Titus Zeman

May 28, 2020 saints No Comments


“Even if I lost my life, I would not consider it wasted, knowing that at least one of those that I helped has become a priest in my place” — Slovak priest, Blessed Titus Zeman.

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Czech Communists attempted to eliminate the Catholic Church in Czechoslovakia, beginning in 1945, Prime Minister Klement Gottwald working hand-in-hand with Stalin. The government began by imprisoning two bishops and 170 Slovak priests. Slovakia in the east was targeted as the most Catholic region, at 82 percent.
General George Patton, who commanded the U.S. Seventh and then Third Armies against the Nazis, was an outspoken critic of Stalin and felt the U.S. should have continued fighting World War II after conquering the Third Reich. He sensed correctly the new enemy was Russia and Communism. Having no taste for more war, the U.S. and the West turned a blind eye to Eastern Europe, where countless Catholics and others would suffer death and persecution.
This tyranny continued as Czech Communists maneuvered Christian-oriented parties out of the government and expelled the papal nuncio, culminating in mass arrests of all Slovak religious in 1949 and in 1950. Pope Pius XII acted immediately when this began, issuing a Vatican Decree Against Communism in response, excommunicating all Catholic Communists. The war on the Church merely escalated.
The Czech government closed all religious orders, stopped Catholic publications, imprisoned at least half the nation’s religious and more; arrested priests alone were estimated at 6,000. Catholic churches were stolen and presented to the Russian Orthodox.
Public mock trials and very real executions were held to make an example of the Church, though everyone knew the real enemy. Patton was right; the West had sacrificed the Eastern Bloc to Stalin’s henchmen. Among those paying the price would be Fr. Titus Zeman, a Slovak Salesian.

Formative Years

Born in 1915, he was born the eldest of ten to a pious family in Vajnory, near the capital of Slovakia, Bratislava. Young Titus felt called to the priesthood even at the age of ten. He attended Salesian schooling at Sastin, Hronsky Svaty Benedikt, and Fristak u Holesova in Slovakia. He was so young they tried to discourage him at the start, saying, “You are too little, you will be crying for your mommy.”
He responded that the Blessed Virgin was also his mother and, naturally, promptly gained admittance. After graduation from high school he was sent to Rome to study for the priesthood, based on his record of academic excellence.
Titus Zeman studied theology at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University and was then ordained in Turin 1940, at the Basilica of Our Lady, Help of Christians. Even today this remains a center for Salesian study. St. John Bosco, founder of the Salesians, first propagated devotion to Mary under this title. But for his first Mass Fr. Titus returned home, to Vajnory. He would serve in Slovakia both as teacher and parish priest, influencing many souls, young and old.
To teach at the bishop’s grammar school, Fr. Titus was sent to Bratislava for a degree in chemistry and natural sciences. When he returned about 1947, an atheist headed the school. When the man ordered all crucifixes removed, Fr. Titus and another professor put them all up again overnight. Ordered removed a second time, Fr. Titus again replaced them, and so was “expelled” and assigned instead to parish duty.
What soon followed a sort of “Kristallnacht,” only instead of Jews in Germany, it was meant for Catholics in Czechoslovakia. Termed “The Night of the Barbarians,” on April 13-14 Communists rounded up all religious in the country and sent them to “cloister concentration camps.”
Fr. Titus happened to be at a rectory in another town, thus escaping by pure chance. He had an idea which he put to his brother priests; to use this providential window to smuggle Salesian seminarians out of the country, so they could become future priests.
Since he knew nothing about smuggling, an expert was found who would act as a guide. His sister sheltered him during the dangerous planning. Two trips were successfully managed: August 31 and October 23, 1950. Sixty escaped, all reaching Turin, Italy. They traveled by night, using the woods as much as possible to remain hidden, before crossing the Moldova River and on into Austria. Mass was celebrated amongst the forest trees.
Unfortunately, their guide was arrested after Fr. Titus returned. When time passed and he was still detained, Fr. Titus determined to try a third trip without him in April 1951. Unfortunately, their new leader proved to be a fiasco. He was not experienced enough and failed miserably when they reached the Moldova River. The river ran high, frightening the group from crossing. They would not only risk drowning, but need to carry elderly priests who had not the stamina nor strength alone.
Father’s group fell apart despite his begging them to cross. Out of 22 total who scattered, 16 were captured and arrested, among them Fr. Titus. One who did escape out of the 22 was a future priest, Brother Aloysius Pestun. The only participant still alive from these trips when Blessed Zeman’s 2017 beatification was announced, he attended in Slovakia…along with two of Blessed Zeman’s sisters, some of Zeman’s other relatives, and about 25,000 Slovaks.

Dying To Self

“When I have to come back to this time of unimaginable torture in my mind I have to frankly admit that the thought of it makes me shudder. They used inhuman methods of beating and torture at the most horrible level. For example, they used to bring a bucket full of excrement from a cesspit, they forced my head into it and held me until I started to suffocate. They kicked me everywhere, beat me heavily with some object, and slapped me across my face. After receiving one such blow I turned deaf” — Fr. Titus.
Fr. Titus was imprisoned in a room where he could hear torture and executions outside of his window. He expected certain execution. Prisoners were routinely beaten unconscious for refusing to admit guilt. In February 1952, he was finally put on trial for two days, accused as a traitor working in service of the Vatican. The prosecution argued for the death penalty but he was sentenced to 25 years. This was not kindness.
At the beatification, celebrant Angelo Cardinal Amato stated Blessed Zeman’s sentence included hard labor at the Jachymov, a forced labor camp where workers mined uranium without any protection and were highly expendable. We know little of those years, excepting he suffered horribly cruel treatment.
He requested conditional release after 13 years, granted by authorities in 1964. Just prior to Prague Spring (1968), when the country’s noose of Communism relaxed, he rejoiced in being allowed to celebrate Mass once again. But persecution resumed after the uprising was crushed. However, he had long forgiven his torturers, and after release would not name names out of charity.

Fifty Year Anniversary
Of Martyrdom

Due to the harsh treatment Fr. Titus received, he would only survive five years after his release, passing away from heart failure January 8, 1969. Pope Benedict XVI declared him a martyr by reason of “hatred of the faith” in 2010 and Pope Francis approved his beatification seven years later, in 2017. He was beatified as the “Martyr for Vocations.”
His feast day is January 8.
It was Fr. Titus who inspired Blessed Sr. Zdenka Schelingova, another Slovak martyr to Communism. At this time there are surprisingly only five beatified Slovaks. Yet, these two point the way to the hundreds of Eastern Bloc martyrs now known only to Heaven.
Our Lady, Help of Christians, who has triumphed over many false doctrines, keep us ever faithful to Holy Mother Church. Amen.
Sources include the excellent site,, and the YouTube film about Fr. Titus by the Slovak Salesians:

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