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Czech cardinal who survived Nazi death camp’s “clergy barracks” is finally going home

JOSEF BERAN,ARCHBISHOP PRAGUE
CTK Historic | Alamy Stock Photo
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Remains of Servant of God Josef Beran will be transferred to Prague.

Pope Francis has given consent to the transport of the remains of a cardinal-archbishop of Prague, Josef Beran, to the Czech Republic, the Czech ambassador to the Vatican announced last week. In his last will, the cardinal asked to be buried in the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague or in his native town of Pilsen. His final wishes have been granted and, after 49 years, Servant of God Cardinal Josef Beran is going home.

Josef Beran was born in the town of Pilsen (in Bohemia) on December 29, 1888. His dad, Josef, was a schoolteacher in the only Czech school in the city and his earnings were meager. His mom, Maria Beranova, managed the household and their four children. Josef was the oldest, and he was followed by his brothers, Karel and Slavo, and one sister, Marie.

Young Josef was very smart and had been thinking about studying medicine. However, a religious instructor at the local school believed that Josef would make a fine priest. He used his influence to help get his prodigy admitted to the Czech college located in Rome.  

Josef Beran was ordained a priest on June 11, 1911. One year later Father Beran was awarded his doctorate in theology. He began doing pastoral work in Pilsen and in 1917 became a professor and then the director of a teaching institute in Prague.

Father Beran became not only recognized as a fine educator but also for his deep devotion to his faith. He was in church and at prayer every morning by 4:30 a.m. In 1925 he was made director of all Catholic schools in Prague and eventually became the director of the main seminary within the Diocese of Prague.

It was during this time that Father Beran gained a reputation as a proponent of women’s higher education. The well known Czech historian, Jaroslev Sebek, reported, “His activity was mainly in the area of upbringing and education. And if we can use today’s language we could say that he was concerned with gender stereotypes because he devoted himself to the role of women from a Christian viewpoint.”

Trouble was festering within the seminary walls as the mix of German and Czech seminarians was beginning to show the political differences between the two groups. Tempering the political climate that was being fanned by Nazi propaganda was to be a great challenge for Father Beran. He demanded that all politics be put aside upon entering the seminary gates. As Nazi power and propaganda increased, his mission to keep peace within the seminary walls became harder and harder.  

On April 21, 1941, Cardinal Karel Kasper passed away. The Nazis, seizing the moment for their own propaganda, insisted that Father Beran make the radio announcement of Cardinal Kasper’s death. Having to do this placed Father Beran near the top of the list of “religious radicals.” He was now a prime target on the Nazi “watch list.”

When the evil Obergruppfuhrer and Chief of Reich Security, Reinhard Heydrich, was assassinated by Czech commandos who parachuted in from Britain in 1942, thousands of Czech citizens were rounded up by the Gestapo. Among them was Father Beran. Father counted his blessings because he was not among the 2,300 Czechs wantonly executed as retribution for Heydrich’s death.

Father Beran was sent to the “clergy barracks” at Dachau, the very first concentration and death camp opened by the Nazis. It was here that a typhoid epidemic almost killed him, but he managed to survive. Father Beran, with thousands of others, was liberated from Dachau by American forces in May of 1945. Upon returning to Czechoslovakia, Father was awarded the nation’s two highest honors: The Iron Cross and The Medal of Hero of the Resistance.

On November 4, 1946, Father Beran was appointed archbishop of Prague, becoming the leader of the church in Czechoslovakia. He was ordained archbishop on December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Less than two years later, the Communists took over Czechoslovakia, and in 1949 Archbishop Beran was placed under arrest for ordering all clergy in Czechoslovakia NOT to take the pledge of loyalty to the Communist regime. The archbishop remained imprisoned until 1963.

It was widely rumored that Archbishop Beran had been elevated to the College of Cardinals by Pope St. John XXIII “in pectore” (in secret—only the pope knows) before the Good Pope passed in 1963.

He was officially elevated to the cardinalate by Pope Paul VI in 1965.

Josef Cardinal Beran passed away on May 17, 1969. The beatification process is underway. Cardinal Beran was declared a Servant of God in 1998.

We ask Servant of God Josef Cardinal Beran to please pray for us.

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