Saint of the Day – 8 January – Blessed Titus Zeman SDB (1915-1969) Priest and Martyr, a professed member of the Salesians of Don Bosco, Professor, Catechist, Defender of the Faith and of the oppressed. Born on 4 January 1915 in Vajnory, Bratislavský, Slovakia and died on 8 January 1969 in Bratislava, Slovakia of heart failure, aged 54. Patronage – Persecuted Christians.
Blessed Titus studied in Italian cities prior to his ordination and worked in Slovakia to protect fellow Salesians after the communist regime outlawed religious orders. He was arrested after attempting to send Salesians out of the country and was imprisoned from 1952 until 1964 and died due to poor health sustained from the prison conditions. He has been acclaimed as a Martyr and Defender of religious liberties.
Fr Titus was born into a Catholic family on 4 January 1915, at Vajnory, near Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. As early as age 10 he had wanted to become a priest. After completing his secondary studies with the Salesians, in 1931 he entered the novitiate. He professed vows in 1932 and on 7 March 1938, made his perpetual profession at Sacred Heart in Rome.
He did his theology at the Gregorian University in Rome and then went to Chieri, where he spent his free time at the oratory. In Turin in 23 June 1940, he achieved the goal of Priestly Ordination. On 4 August 1940, he celebrated his first Mass at Vajnory, his birthplace.
After his Ordination, he was assigned briefly to the Salesian youth centre in Bratislava but then the provincial sent him to University to take a degree in chemistry and natural sciences, which he did. He was then sent to teach in the diocesan high school at Trnava in 1943. There, he was loved and respected by the students because of his cheerful, calm but no-nonsense yet fatherly disposition. Always ready to assist people, he made many friends. On at least one occasion he gave a place of safety to protect a Jewish youth.
After the war the high school was nationalised and the government ordered that Crucifixes be removed from the classrooms. Fr Titus and two other teachers procured and put up new ones, to the displeasure of the principal.
Fr Titus moved to the Salesian school in Trnava and was prefect of studies in 1946-1947, then Catechist in 1947-1949 while also helping in several parishes.
Saving Vocations with Clandestine Escapes:
In mid-April 1950, when the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia banned religious orders and congregations and suddenly arrested and began to intern religious in concentration camps, on the night of 13-14 April —“the night of the barbarians”—the Slovak provincial believed it was necessary to organise clandestine trips to Turin so that young religious (both clerics and coadjutors) could complete their studies and he asked Fr Titus to undertake, the risky activity of smuggling them across the border to Austria. He carried out two such expeditions for more than 60 young Salesians, giving the credit for their success to Mary Help of Christians and winning the admiration of Fr Peter Ricaldone and the other superiors in Turin.
During a third expedition in April 1951, he and the other fugitives were caught and arrested. He then underwent a difficult trial, during which he was accused of being a traitor to his country and a Vatican spy and he risked the death penalty. On 22 February 1952, in consideration of attenuating circumstances, he was instead condemned to 25 years in prison.
A Slow Martyrdom:
Fr Titus was released from prison after 12 years on 10 March 1964. He was suffering obviously from the long ordeal in prison and survived only five years, dying on 8 January 1969. He was very much known for his holiness and, indeed, his martyrdom. He lived his life of suffering with a great spirit of sacrifice and as an offering: “Even if I lose my life, I do not consider it a waste, knowing that at least one of those whom I have saved has become a Priest to take my place.”
Zeman was acclaimed a Servant of God in 2010 under Pope Benedict XVI after the Canonisation process commenced in Bratislava – the cause was taken with ascertaining whether Zeman had died “in odium fidei” (in hatred of the faith). Pope Francis approved his Beatification on 27 February 201 – the Beatification occurred in Bratislava on 30 September 2017.