Salesian Saints: Bl. Titus Zeman, SDB

26 Dec 2019


 Bl. Titus Zeman, SDB

priest and martyr

January 8, optional memorial


edited from The Slovak Spectator and Wikipedia

The prison “mug shots” of Fr. Titus Zeman. Credit:

Persecuted and tortured, now beatified

            Sticking someone’s head into a bucket of excrement was one way the Communists treated clerics. In Slovakia under Communism, speaking up openly about one’s religious feelings was a risk. Some paid the highest price for doing so. Salesian priest Titus Zeman was one of them.

On the last weekend of September 2017, Cardinal Angelo Amato, SDB, at the time prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, came to Bratislava to perform the act of Titus Zeman’s beatification on behalf of Pope Francis. The beatification Mass itself took place in St. Martin’s Cathedral on September 30, but the entire program stretched from Friday night to Sunday afternoon.

Vocational path

Titus Zeman was born in Vajnory, now part of Bratislava. He announced his decision to dedicate his life to the Church at the age of 10 when he was healed after long years of suffering from various diseases. He never looked back after making the decision.

When he applied for the Salesian school in Sastin, the provincial of the Salesians, Fr. Jozef Bokor, examined him at the request of Zeman’s parents. Because they were poor, Fr. Bokor discouraged him from joining the Congregation.

“We don’t have small boys like you here,” Bokor told the little boy, according to the official account of Titus Zeman’s life story. “What are we going to do when you cry and want to return to your mother?”

But Titus argued that the Virgin Mary was going to be his mother, and he was admitted.

Years later, in 1937, Bro. Titus Zeman headed to Rome to study theology. Later he continued his studies in Turin. He was ordained in Italy on June 23, 1940. After his studies he returned to Slovakia and worked with the youths in the Salesian youth center on Mileticova Street in Bratislava.

He became chaplain one year later in the Bratislava’s Tehelné Pole parish. Fr. Bokor persuaded him to apply for his studies again, this time for chemistry and biology, so he could then teach those subjects in Trnava. Fr. Zeman was released from parish office in 1943 to become a teacher in Trnava’s secondary school.

“Barbaric” night

Pope Francis kisses a relic of Bl. Titus Zeman. Credit: ANS

When the raid of the Communist secret police took place, Fr. Zeman was at the parish in Senkvice. On the night of April 13-14, 1950, members of the police and militia, and in some places the army, invaded monasteries around Czechoslovakia. They arrested 881 religious and began to send them to concentration camps.

Fr. Zeman arranged for young Salesians to travel clandestinely to Turin – despite its being a grave risk since it was illegal – so that these religious could complete their studies without fear of persecution or suppression. He organized two such expeditions, one in August 1950 and another on  October 23, 1950, for over 60 Salesians. The third attempt in April 1951, however, resulted in capture and arrest for Fr. Zeman and others. He was subjected to a severe trial, was described as a traitor to the nation, and risked the death sentence. In consideration of some attenuating circumstances, on February 22, 1952, he was sentenced instead to 25 years’ imprisonment. He was paroled on March 10, 1964. Despite being free he was still scarred from the suffering that he had endured in prison. He was granted permission in 1968, during the “Prague Spring,” to celebrate religious services.

Fr. Zeman died on January 8, 1969, due to heart failure, caused at least in part by the harsh conditions of his imprisonment. In 2016 the Congregation for Saints’ Causes declared he was a martyr who had suffered “in hatred of the faith,” opening the way for his beatification.

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