‘A martyr who died laughing’: Cause of priest imprisoned by Nazis and communists advances

Fr. Adolf Kajpr. Credit: Vojtech Novotny (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Rome Newsroom, Jan 7, 2021 / 07:10 am (CNA).- The sainthood cause of a Catholic priest who was imprisoned by both the Nazis and the communists has advanced with the conclusion of the initial diocesan phase of the cause.

Fr. Adolf Kajpr was a Jesuit priest and journalist who was imprisoned in Dachau concentration camp after publishing Catholic magazines critical of the Nazis. One issue in 1939 in particular had a cover that depicted Christ conquering death represented with symbols of Nazism.

Five years after his liberation from Dachau in 1945, Kajpr was arrested by the communist authorities in Prague and sentenced to 12 years in a gulag for writing “seditious” articles.

Kajpr spent more than half of his 24 years as a priest imprisoned. He died in 1959 in a gulag in Leopoldov, Slovakia.

The diocesan phase of Kajpr’s cause was completed on Jan. 4. Cardinal Dominik Duka offered a Mass in the Church of St. Ignatius in Prague to mark the occasion.

“Adolf Kajpr knew what it meant to speak the truth,” Duka said in his homily, according to the Jesuits’ Czech province.

Vojtěch Novotný, vice postulator of Kajpr’s cause, said that the diocesan investigation file being sent to Rome included archival documents, personal testimonies, and files that had been collected for evaluation by the Vatican as to whether Fr. Kajpr died as a martyr.

Novotný wrote that in studying the life of Fr. Kajpr, “I understood why Christian saints are painted with a halo: they radiate Christ, and other believers are attracted to them like moths to the light.”

He quoted Fr. Kajpr’s own words: “May we know how intoxicatingly beautiful it is to strive in the service of Christ, to spend time in it with unforced naturalness and a smile, literally like a candle on the altar.”

As a journalist and a priest, Kajpr was committed to the idea that “the Gospel should be proclaimed on the pages of newspapers,” Novotný said.

“He consciously asked, ‘How can we bring the whole, unadulterated message of Christ to the people of today, and how to reach them, how to speak to them so that they can understand us?’”

Kajpr was born in 1902 in what is now the Czech Republic. His parents died within a year of each other, leaving Kajpr orphaned at the age of four. An aunt raised Kajpr and his brothers, educating them in the Catholic faith.

Due to his family’s poverty, Kajpr was forced to drop out of school and work as a cobbler’s apprentice in his early teens. After completing two years of military service in the Czechoslovak army in his early twenties, he enrolled in a secondary school in Prague run by the Jesuits.

Kajpr enrolled in the Jesuit novitiate in 1928 and was ordained in 1935. He served the parish of St. Ignatius Church in Prague beginning in 1937 and taught philosophy at the diocesan school of theology.

Between 1937 and 1941, he served as an editor of four magazines. His Catholic publications caught the attention of the Gestapo who repeatedly upbraided him for his articles until he was finally arrested in 1941.

Kajpr spent time in multiple Nazi concentration camps, moving from Terezín to Mauthausen and eventually to Dachau, where he remained until the camp was liberated in 1945.

On his return to Prague, Kajpr resumed teaching and publishing. In his periodicals, he spoke out against atheistic Marxism, for which he was arrested and charged with writing “seditious” articles by the communist authorities. He was found guilty of high treason in 1950 and sentenced to 12 years in the gulags.

According to his vice postulator, Kajpr’s fellow inmates later testified that the priest dedicated his time in prison to a secret ministry, as well as educating prisoners about philosophy and literature.

Kajpr died in a prison hospital on Sept. 17, 1959, after suffering from two heart attacks. A witness said that at the moment he died he had been laughing at a joke.

The Superior General of the Jesuits gave his approval to open Kajpr’s cause for beatification in 2017. The diocesan phase of the process officially began in September 2019 after Cardinal Duka obtained consent from the bishop of the archdiocese where Kajpr died in Slovakia.

“It was through the service of the Word that Kajpr irritated the followers of atheistic and agnostic humanism,” Novotný said. “The Nazis and communists tried to eliminate him through long imprisonment. He died in prison as a result of this torture.”

“His weakened heart broke when in the midst of persecution he laughed joyfully. He is a martyr who died laughing.”

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