Salesian Saints: Blessed Titus Zeman (1915-1969)

04 Jan 2018

January 8, memorial (liturgical observance omitted in 2018)

by Frs. Enrico dal Covolo and Giorgio Mocci

Following his vocation

The story of Fr. Titus Zeman is an excellent example of faithfulness to Don Bosco’s cause, especially through the zeal and love that he showed to save the vocations of young Salesians under the Communist regime of Czechoslovakia.

Fr. Titus was born into a Catholic family on January 4, 1915, at Vajnory, near Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. As early as age 10 he had wanted to become a priest. After completed his secondary studies with the Salesians, in 1931 he entered the novitiate. He professed vows in 1932, and on March 7, 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 occupied his free time at the oratory. In Turin in June 23, 1940, he achieved the goal of priestly ordination. On August 4, 1940, he celebrated his first Mass at Vajnory, his birthplace.

Saving vocations with clandestine escapes

In April 1950, when the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia banned religious orders and congregations and began to intern religious in concentration camps, it became necessary to organize clandestine trips to Turin so that young religious could complete their studies. Fr. Titus undertook this risky activity. He carried out two such expeditions for more than 60 young Salesians. During a third, 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 February 22, 1952, in consideration of attenuating circumstances, he was instead condemned to 25 years in prison.

Slow martyrdom

Fr. Titus was released from prison after 12 years on March 10, 1964. He was suffering obviously from the long ordeal in prison, and survived only five years, dying on January 8, 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.”

Fr. Al Pestun of the San Francisco Province (Corpus Christi Parish in San Francisco) is one of those whom Fr. Titus helped.