Saint of the Day – 17 July – Blessed Pavol Peter Gojdic “The Man with a Heart of Gold”(pronunciation Goydich) O.S.B.M. (1888-1960) Martyr, Monk, Teacher, Basilian Bishop, Apostle of Charity, Eucharistic and Marian devotee. Born on 17 July 1888 at Ruské Peklany, PreSov, Slovak Republic as Peter Gojdic and died on 17 July 1960 in the prison hospital at Leopoldov, Hlohovec, Slovak Republic of illness and maltreatment received in prison. (O.S.B.M. The Order of Saint Basil the Great (Latin: Ordo Sancti Basilii Magni) also known as the Basilian Order of Saint Josaphat is a monastic religious order of the Greek Catholic Churches that is present in many countries and that has its Mother House in Rome (Santi Sergio e Bacco degli Ucraini). The order received approbation on 20 August 1631 and was based at the Holy Trinity monastery in Vilnius. Its monks, brothers and priests work primarily with Ukrainian Catholics and are also present in other Greek-Catholic churches in central and eastern Europe.
Pavol Gojdič was born on 17 July 1888 at Ruské Pekľany near Prešov, into the family of the Greek-Catholic priest Štefan Gojdič; his mother’s name was Anna Gerberyová. He received the name of Peter in baptism. Obeying God’s call to the priesthood he began his study of theology at Prešov, immediately after school. Since he obtained excellent results, he was sent a year later to continue his studies in Budapest. Here too he tried to lead a profoundly spiritual life. While still a seminarian, he was directed by his spiritual director on these lines: “Life is not difficult, but it is a serious matter”– words that were to guide him throughout his life. Having finished his studies on 27 August 1911 he was ordained priest at Prešov by Bishop Dr Ján Valyi. After his ordination he worked for a short period as assistant parish priest with his father. After a year he was appointed prefect of the eparchial seminary and at the same time taught religion in a higher secondary school. Later he was put in charge of protocol and the archives in the diocesan curia. He was also entrusted with the spiritual care of the faithful in Sabinov as assistant parish priest. In 1919 he became director of the episcopal office.
To everyone’s surprise on 20 July 1922 he joined the Order of St Basil the Great at Černecia Hora near Mukačevo, where, taking the habit on 27 January 1923 he took the name Pavol. He took this decision as a sign of modesty, humility and a desire to lead an ascetic life in order to better serve God. But God willed otherwise and had ordered him to a higher office as bishop. On 14 September 1926 he was nominated Apostolic administrator of the eparchy of Prešov. During his installation as Apostolic Administrator he announced the programme of his apostolate: “With the help of God I want to be a father to orphans, a support for the poor and consoler to the afflicted”.
The first official act of Pavol Gojdič in his office as newly appointed administrator of the eparchy of Prešov was to address a pastoral letter on the occasion of the 1100st anniversary of the birth of St Cyril, apostle of the Slavs. Thus he began his activity in the spirit of the apostle of the Slavs, always faithful to Rome, as they were. He was a Slav and was very fond of his oriental rite.
A short time later, on 7 March 1927 he was nominated bishop with the title of Harpaš (Church of Harpaš – in Asia Minor). The episcopal consecration took place in the basilica of San Clemente, Rome, on 25 March 1927, the feast of the Annunciation of Our Lady. After his episcopal ordination he visited the basilica of St Peter in Rome, where he prayed on the tomb of the Apostle. On 29 March 1927, together with Bishop Nyaradi, he was received in a private audience by the Holy Father Pius XI. The pope gave Bishop Pavol a gold cross saying: “This cross is only a faint symbol of the heavy crosses that God will send you, my son, in your work as bishop”.
For his episcopal programme he chose as a motto the following words: “God is love, let us love Him!” As bishop he was engaged in the promotion of spiritual life of both clergy and faithful. He insisted on the proper celebration of the liturgy and of church feasts. He erected new parishes, for instance, in Prague, Bratislava, Levoča and elsewhere. Thanks to his hard work the orphanage at Prešov was built and entrusted to the local sisters. His activity in the scholastic field was outstanding, as is proved by the foundation of the Greek-Catholic school in Prešov in the year 1936. He supported also the teaching academy, the seminary, colleges etc. He was interested in every aspect of spiritual reading, which resulted in the launching of the review Blahovistnik (Messenger of the Gospel), Da prijdet carstvije Tvoje (Thy Kingdom Come) and various prayers etc., published by the PETRA publishing house. For his kindness, caring and charitable relationship with the people he was described as “the man with a heart of gold”.
An important characteristic of the bishop was also his strong affection for the Eucharistic Saviour, which he continually strengthened through his visits to the Blessed Eucharist in the chapel at his residence. Another characteristic, not less evident, of his spiritual life, was his devotion to the Sacred Heart. Already as a Seminarian in Budapest he had consecrated himself to the Sacred Heart and this he confirmed every morning with the words “All the prayers, sacrifices and crosses, I offer, in reparation for the sins of the whole world!”. One must not forget that the bishop had great devotion to the Mother of God and as as a Marian devotee held in his residential chapel a picture of the Virgin of Klokočov, in front of which he prayed every day and to whose protection he entrusted himself and the whole eparchy.
On 13 April 1939 he was appointed apostolic administrator in Slovakia of the Apostolic Administration of Mukačevo. In the difficult situation of the Slovak State he became a “thorn in the flesh” for the representatives of the government of the time and so offered his resignation from the post – in fact the Holy Father refused his resignation but also made him residential bishop of Prešov. And so on 8 August 1940 he was solemnly enthroned at Prešov and then on 15 January 1946 confirmed in his jurisdiction over the Greek-Catholics in the whole of Czecho-Slovakia.
The progress in religious and spiritual life in the eparchy that followed the personal example and fervour of Bishop Pavol was interrupted by the events of war and especially with the coming to power of the communists in 1948. Their ideological programme made itself felt above all against the Greek-Catholic Church. Bishop Gojdič resisted any initiative to submit the Greek-Catholics to Russian orthodoxy assisted by the communist party and the power of the State, even though he knew he was risking persecution and arrest, maybe even death. Gradually he was isolated from the clergy and the faithful.
Even though put under severe pressure to renounce the Catholic faith and break unity with the Pope, he refused every attractive offer and exclaimed: “I am already 62 and sacrifice all my goods and residence but I will not deny my faith in any way because I want to save my soul. Do not even speak to me.”
During the sad event of Sobor of Prešov, 28 April 1950, when the State outlawed the Greek-Catholic Church and forbade her activity, Bishop Pavol Gojdič was arrested and interned. Thus began his via crucis in many prisons of what was Czecho-Slovakia, which ended with his death. In the days from the 11 to the 15 of January 1951 in a trial set up against the so called high treason Bishops (Vojtaššák, Buzalka, and Gojdič) he was given a life sentence; fined two hundred thousand crowns and deprived of all his civic rights. Transfers from one prison to another followed. Blessed Pavol suffered physical and psychological punishments, humiliations; he was forced to do the most difficult and degrading jobs. However, he never complained and never asked to be relieved. He made use of every available time to pray and celebrated the sacred liturgy in secret. Following the amnesty in 1953, given by State President A. Zapotocký, his life sentence was changed to 25 years detention. He was then 66 and his state of health deteriorated continuously. Yet all further requests for amnesty were refused.
Bishop Pavol Gojdič could only leave prison at the cost of his faithfulness to the Church and to the Holy Father. Various offers were made to him, as is proved by an event that he himself recounts: In the prison of Ruzyň he was received in an office, where he had been brought from his cell, by a high official in uniform. They informed him that from that office he could go straight to Prešov, on condition that he was willing to become patriarch of the Ortodox church in Czecho-Slovakia. The bishop refused this offer excusing himself and explaining that this would be a very grave sin against God, a betrayal of the Holy Father, of his conscience and of his faithful, most of whom were then suffering persecution.
Even in the most difficult situation he abandoned himself to the will of God, as can be seen from these words of his: “I do not really know whether it is a gain to exchange the crown of martyrdom with two or three years of life in freedom. But I leave the good Lord to decide”. On the occasion of his 70° birthday even the Holy Father Pius XII sent him a telegram in prison. In it he assured him he would not forget his heroic son. For the bishop this was one of his best days of his life.
A great desire of Blessed Pavol was to die comforted by the sacraments on his birthday. Both desires were fulfilled.
Father Alojz Vrána was transferred to the room of the prison hospital of Leopoldov (Slovakia), where the Bishop passed his last days and could hear his confession. The chalice of suffering of Blessed Pavol was about to overflow. An eye-witness of the last moments of his life was his fellow prisoner – the nurse František Ondruška, who has given a unique testimony. He confirmed that the desire of the bishop had been fulfilled – he died on 17 July 1960 that is on the day of his 72nd birthday. He died in the hospital of the prison of Leopoldov as a result of illness resulting from the ill treatment he had suffered. He was buried without ceremony in the prison cemetery in a nameless tomb, with the prison number 681.
As a result of the easing of the political situation in Czecho-Slovakia in 1968, the state autorities after many delays gave permission for exhuming the mortal remains of Blessed Pavol. This happened in the cemetery of Leopoldov on 29 October 1968 and was followed by the transfer of the remains to Prešov. By a decision of the authorities set up after the soviet occupation, these were transferred to the crypt of Greek-Catholic Cathedral of St John the Baptist in Prešov. From 15 May 1990 they are to be found in a sarcofagus in the chapel of the cathedral.
Bishop Pavol Gojdič was legally rehabilitated on 27 September 1990. Subsequently he was decorated posthumously with the Order of T G Masaryk – II class, and with the Cross of Pribina – 1st class.
The Holy Father, St John Paul II during his historic visit in Slovakia, while visiting Prešov, prayed at the tomb of this bishop-martyr in the chapel of the cathedral. He Beatified him on 4 November 2001.