The Life of Bishop Anton Durcovici

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THE LIFE OF BISHOP ANTON DURCOVICI Martyr of the Catholic Church of Romania

Sapientia Iaşi 2014

With our benediction X Petru Gherghel Bishop of Iaşi 2 February 2014

Redactor: pr. dr. Ştefan Lupu Referent ştiinţific: dr. Dănuţ Doboş Translated from the Romanian by Daniela Doboş

CIP Catalogue Record of the Romanian National Library DOBOŞ, FABIAN Viaţa episcopului Anton Durcovici, Martir al Bisericii Catolice din România / Fabian Doboş. - Iaşi : Sapientia, 2014 ISBN 978-973-8980-90-7 282 929 Anton Durcovici

© 2014 Editura SAPIENTIA Institutul Teologic Romano-Catolic Str. Th. Văscăuţeanu 6 RO – 700462 Iaşi Tel. 0232/225228 Fax 0232/211476 e-mail


Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 1. The Childhood . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 2. The Seminary Years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 3. Anton Durcovici The Priest . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 4. Rector of the Seminary of the Archdiocese of Bucharest . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25 5. Bishop of IaĹ&#x;i . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28 6. The Martyrdom . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34



here have always been Christians who, obedient to JesusChrist`s words, have taken his example to the letter and have given their lives for their faith. Monsignor Anton Durcovici, RomanCatholic Bishop of Iaşi from 1948 to 1949, who died in the communist prison at Sighetu Marmaţiei on December 10, 1951, was one among millions who, through the centuries, have embraced martyrdom. Many people who knew him have spoken about his holy life. Numerous Catholics received the sacraments from his hands while for many young men at the Seminary in Bucharest between 1924 and 1947 he was a professor and rector. In Iaşi, older Catholics still talk reverently about Bishop Durcovici. Spoken words however are unable to record the history of the martyred bishop`s life. To this end, since 1989, several researchers – Florian Müller, Eduard Ferenţ, Anton Despinescu, Dănuţ Doboş, Wilhelm Dancă, Alois Moraru and Ştefan Lupu – have authored

We want to honour our bishop Anton Durcovici, who led our congregation with his strong faith, urging them not to lose heart and pray, whether in the sermons he preached in the diocese parishes or from behind prison walls, where he was led to suffer greatly. (HE Petru Gherghel)

The life of Bishop Anton Durcovici 


On characterizing the life of Anton Durcovici today, a few words will suffice: a life of utter sacrifice, driven by his unrelenting concern for seminarians and priests and for the souls entrusted to him as pastor, for whom he gave everything, to the final sacrifice. (HE Petru Gherghel)

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biographies of the martyr, based on archive documents, scholarly and popularization works as well as personal testimonies. This biography, which draws on the previous ones, is a straightforward presentation of the exemplary life of Bishop Anton Durcovici, aimed to inspire as many believers as possible to emulate his virtues, so that the people of God may be strengthened in their faith.

The life of Bishop Anton Durcovici



he future bishop of Iaşi was born on 17 May 1888 in Bad Deutsch-Altenburg, Austria. He was baptized on 21 May of the same year in the local church, which was dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Young Anton was born to a poor family: his father Franz was a quarry worker and his mother, Maria (née Mittermeier), a housewife. His father died of acute tuberculosis on 5 February 1893, at the age of 36. Following his death, the Durcovici family faced great hardship and deprivation. The young widow strove to The Deutsch-Altenburg town map (end of the 19th century)

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The Durcovici family house in Bad Deutsch-Altenburg

Possesing a strong Christian background from his family to which he was born 125 years ago, and also a soul predisposed to love and sacrifice, after his mother’s example, Anton Durcovici studied at reputable schools and served in several capacities, all of which made him into an important theologian and educator and brought him to the attention of his superiors both at home and in Italy. (HE Petru Gherghel, Sermon on the 125th anniversary of the birth of bishop Anton Durcovici)

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provide for her sons – Anton and his brother Franz – working as a washerwoman and seamstress. Maria Durcovici`s aunt, named Österreicher, lived in Iaşi, where she owned a restaurant. In 1894, she invited her niece to the capital of Moldavia to help her with her work: thus Maria Durcovici moved to Iaşi together with her two sons, Anton and Franz. In 1895 they were both admitted to the RomanCatholic elementary school in the Parish of Iaşi, where they learnt Romanian. From 1896 to 1898, the Durcovici family lived in Ploieşti, where the two brothers went to the Catholic school of the local parish. In 1898 Maria Durcovici and her children relocated to 81, Izvor Street in Bucharest. The same year, Anton was enrolled in the

The life of Bishop Anton Durcovici

I urged the faithfull to 4th grade at the “Saint Andrew” Archhave absolute trust in bishopric School, run by the Brothers God’s infinite mercy, of the Christian Schools, which was which is greater than close to Izvor Street. On 25 May 1899, that of the father in the for his prodigal Anton Durcovici received Confirma- Gospel son and in His sincere tion from the Archbishop of Buchawill to forgive all human sins. rest, Monsignor Francisc Xaveriu Hornstein. The mother and her two (HE Anton Durcovici, Report written while sons used to hear Mass in the chapel under arrest by the of the nuns on Pitar Moş Street, where Securitate, 26 April 1950) in 1858 the religious of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin, known throughout Europe as the “English Ladies” came from München and opened the “Saint Mary” Institute, which before long became the best-known girls` school in Bucharest. The nuns were impressed by Anton, who heard Mass every day, not only on Sundays and gladly dedicated himself to serving at the altar. After Mass he was given a snack and, thus revitalized, went to school. Winters in Bucharest were often freezing and temperatures could drop below -300 C, while the streets were blocked by snow. Anton Francisc and Anton Durcovici

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Before the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Creator and Almighty God, the furious waves of human passions turn into an inert wall, while enemy fortresses and sieges, no matter now terrible, crumble because nothing can prevent the people of God from entering Her Son’s Kingdom. (HE Anton Durcovici’s address to the clergy concerning the May devotion to the Virgin Mary)

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used to go to Mass in the dark, early morning, reaching the chapel hungry and cold. Sister Tecla, the sacristan, took pity on him and arranged for a bed for him at the convent; thus Anton was secured both food and a bed. The sister took care of him and his mother was pleased that her Toni felt at home in the convent. The nuns` spiritual director was Father Lucius Fetz, a Benedictine monk who was the rector of the Seminary in Bucharest and later Archbishop Raymund Netzhammer`s secretary. Father Fetz too was impressed by the altar boy`s piety and so, wanting to get to know him better, he often invited him to hear the Sunday Mass at the Archbishop`s Palace. Sr Tecla noticed that Father Lucius was impressed by the altar boy, so she said to her Superior: “If Pater Lucius wants to take Toni away, he should provide him with food and a bed” – and this is what eventually happened.

The life of Bishop Anton Durcovici



n 1 September 1901, at Father Lucius Fetz`s recommendation, Anton Durcovici was admitted by the future Archbishop Netzhammer to the minor seminary (secondary school level) in Bucharest. Having taken his first step on the way to the ultimate goal of priesthood, young Anton dedicated himself to his studies. The Convent on Pitar Moş Street supported him financially during this time, so that later he showed his gratitude by being a good spiritual director and confessor to the nuns. In 1906 Anton Durcovici finished his secondary education and passed his baccalaureate. On the 23 October, the rector of the Holy Spirit Seminary, Father Augustin Kuczka, handed him his diploma, which listed all the subjects young Anton Durcovici had studied – Latin, Greek, German, Hungarian, Religion, History, Geography, Mathematics, Cosmography, Astronomy, Zoology, Botany, Physics, Chemistry and Geology.

Archbishop Raymund Netzhammer

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Impressed with the young seminarian`s godliness and his intellectual capability, Archbishop Netzhammer sent him to Rome to continue his studies. On the At the “Holy Spirit” Seminary (1904) Archbishop`s recommendation, on 30 October 1906 Anton Durcovici became a seminarian of the “Collegio Urbano”. He used the three days left before the semester started to explore the Eternal City, which made a strong impression on him. His first visit was to the Saint Peter`s Basilica, where his heart filled with such spiritual joy, that athough, generally sober by temperament, in his letters home Anton, voiced the happiness that being in Rome provided him. The academic year started on 4 November 1906. Anton Durcovici This year, God`s generenrolled at the “Accademia San Tomosity is providing me maso” for a 2-year doctoral course in with a much greater grace […] my holy scholastic philosophy. Having comordination as subdeapleted this course with a diploma, he con. dedicated himself, with great diligence (Anton Durcovici to and tireless industriousness, to the archbishop Raymund study of theology at the “Urbaniana” Netzhammer, 27 December 1908)

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The life of Bishop Anton Durcovici

The closer I get to this University, where in 1910 he was step, the more I realize granted a doctorate of divinity. its sublime importance Candidates for priesthood from all and my complete unworthiness and I bethe missionary lands – Africans, Eurocome aware of the fact peans, Asians and Americans studied that I must devote all at the “Collegio Urbano”, whose Supe- my strength to preparriors would select the best and most ing myself for this decisive day, in no case promising seminarians to be educated relying on myself at the college, so that after ordination alone, but on God`s fatherly help. they might carry the universal spirit (Anton Durcovici to of the Church back to their countries bishop Raymund of origin. Thus, Anton Durcovici got Netzhammer, 29 Deto know fellow seminarians from cember 1908) around the world and the Universal Church. Being indelibly marked by the Spirit of the Roman Catholic Church, he was the epitome of the Roman priest – in word and deed conscientious about applying the tenets of the Church but kind and sympathetic to differAt the “Collegio Urbano” in Rome ence of opinion. The churches and the millennium old Christian traditions of Rome exerted an enduring influence on Anton Durcovici, whose unflagging fidelity to faith and communion

The life of Bishop Anton Durcovici 


…by receiving the holy ordination I wish to devote myself entirely to God and to His holy Church. (Anton Durcovici to archbishop Raymund Netzhammer, 30 June 1909)

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with the Holy See were lifelong; his lectures, homilies and speeches all reflected the teachings of the Church free from personal interpretation. Eventually he sacrificed his life for the Church`s teachings in the communist prison at Sighetu Marmaţiei.

The life of Bishop Anton Durcovici



ecause he was too young, deacon Anton Durcovici`s priestly ordination was postponed. He expressed his wish to spend the time until ordination at the “Collegio Urbano” and this decision was completely to the rector`s liking as he became the prefect of the first year of study although not yet a priest. Both the prefect of the Congregation “De Propaganda Fide”, Cardinal Girolano Gotti and the rector of the college, Monsignor Giovanni Bonzano, were more than pleased with the young cleric`s work. Besides his duties as prefect Anton Durcovici took up the study of Canon Law at the Seminario Romano, where he completed a degree in 1911. Meanwhile, with a 20-month age waiver granted by the Holy See, on 24 September 1910 he was ordained in the Basilica San Giovanni in Laterano. Having finished his duties as prefect at the end of the second semester, on 29 July 1911, he left Rome to return to the Archdiocese of Bucharest. Before

…my only wish is to fulfil God`s will in every way (Anton Durcovici to archbishop Raymund Netzhammer, 29 December 1909)

„Urbaniana” University

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that, however, he went on pilgrimage to Loreto and then to Austria, where he celebrated his first Mass in his native village with his family beside him. On 29 July 1911, the new rector of the College De Propaganda Fide, Monsignor Giovanni Bergamo, wrote an impressive commendation of Anton Durcovici, addressed to the prefect of the Congregazione De Propaganda Fide, Cardinal Girolamo Gotti: Cardinal Girolamo Gotti

Through the holy ordination, the Saviour has chosen me to be his instrument, and as such, I will only be able to serve as long as I submit, allied to him, to the guidance of his hand; if I were to rely on my own strength or to trust in myself alone, I would damage my position, thus betraying my vocation. (Anton Durcovici to archbishop Raymund Netzhammer, 28 December 1908)

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Your Eminence, Today the priest Anton Durcovici from the Archdiocese of Bucharest is leaving to return to his country after five years as a student of this college. Last year at the end of July he graduated in Theology with a doctoral diploma but could not be ordained on account of his age. He stated his wish to spend one more year with the college and I was happy to be able to grant him his wish. At your recommendation, I will write to his archbishop too about everything he has done for the good of our college. Ordained on September 24 with a 20-month waiver, he provided valuable service to the college as a prefect to the first year; he also studied Canon Law. Previously he had gained a doctorate in Philosophy at the “Accademia San Tommaso�. Now he is leaving us with the best wishes of his superiors and fellow students,

The life of Bishop Anton Durcovici

to whom he has set an example of conduct, eloquence, godliness and humility. I`d like to add that if the qualities he has shown as a student are carried over into the priest, he is bound to be a treasure of his diocese. To this end, may I suggest, Your Eminence, that you recommend him to his archbishop.

The young priest was warmly welcomed when he returned to Romania on 11 August 1911. Instead of conceit, his demeanour showed humility as he walked with lowered eyes. Pleased with his return, on 23 August 1911 in a letter to Cardinal Girolamo Gotti, Archbishop Raymund Netzhammer thanked the rector and the professors of the “Collegio Urbano” for their work during Anton Durcovici`s formative years, which had made him a perfect servant of God: Your Eminence, Your letter of August 7, filled with hopes and expectations for Anton Durcovici, brought me great joy. Ten years ago I admitted him to the Seminary of the Archbishopric of Bucharest, as I already held the hope that he might be a good priest, one who heard God`s calling, just like Samuel. As this praiseworthy priest, now returned to his diocese, recommended by Your Eminence as well as by his doctorate

Come to me, my priest! Your secluded life is a kind of captivity which you have accepted willingly, from love of God and for the salvation of souls. Come to me when loneliness seems unbearable; come to me as I`m expecting you so that we can partake in each other`s pains and joys. Do not look to the world to find what you can only find in me – your inner peace. Come to me, seek me as often as you can in my hidden place of confinement, during the day or at least in the evening, to account for your actions, to take from me light and advice, as well as inspiration and strength for yourself and for my sheep. (HE Anton Durcovici, Pastoral after of 28 December 1948)

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in Philosophy and Theology and his diploma in Canon Law, is about to begin his priestly ministry, I give thanks from the bottom of my heart to Almighty God for this joy and to Your Eminence for the work and care you have devoted to the preparation of this alumnus. I also pray God to keep Your Eminence in good health for many years and to bestow his grace and the gifts of the Holy Spirit on the superiors and professors of the Collegio Pontificale De Propaganda Fide.

August 1914

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Father`s Durcovici`s first pastoral mission was that of prefect and professor at the Holy Spirit Seminary in Bucharest, where the seminarians were impressed by his vast knowledge, extensive theological expertise and spiritual life. At the same time he was “parochus currens” (administrator) of the parishes in Târgovişte, Giurgiu and Buzău. From 1911 to 1920 he was the rector of the chapel of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion and until 1916 a teacher at the Saint Andrew and Saint Joseph Catholic schools in Bucharest. The First World War broke out in 1914 and two years later Romania entered the war against Austria-Hungary. Consequently many Austrians and Germans in the country were interned. On 27 August 1916 Father

The life of Bishop Anton Durcovici

Anton Durcovici was arrested as an Austrian alongside all the other foreign priests and interned first at Frăţileşti in county Ialomiţa and later transferred to the Notre Dame De Sion convent in Galaţi, where he served as chaplain. Following Archbishop Netzhammer`s appeal to King Ferdinand and other authorities, Father Durcovici was able to return to the capital in December of 1917. Later he reminisced about his internment in Galaţi:

I would like say that if the qualities he showed as a student are carried over into the priest, he [Anton Durcovici] is bound to be a treasure of his diocese. To this end, may I suggest, Your Emi-nence, that you recommend him to his archbishop. (The Rector Giovanni Bergamo to Cardinal Girolamo Gotti, 29 July 1911)

I had been almost a year in Galaţi, as a result of the ruthless war, alongside eight devout brothers of the Catholic schools for boys in Bucharest. We had long got used to the roaring artillery on the nearby front and the frequent visitations of airplanes harassed by The “Notre Dame de Sion” Convent in Galaţi

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…speaking about the Ascension…I emphasized that the Crucified Christ has God`s power to redeem humankind from sin, from the devil`s enslavement and death without resurrection; all who believe in the Crucified Christ, place their trust in him, love him with all their hearts, and obey his commandments will save their souls, despite any contrary actions by the enemies of the Cross – the devil, evildoers and our own wicked inner drives. (HE Anton Durcovici, Report written while under arrest by the Securitate, 26 April 1950)

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the barking anti-aircraft cannons. Of late the enemy shells had been targeting the town and we`d got used to this as well. But on 11 October 1917 we were aroused from our quasi-indifference to what was going on around us. At about 11a.m. the enemy bombardment of the town began again. The whizzing of the shells was growing louder and the explosions were closing in on our lodgings in the High Street, a house in the garden of the Institute of Notre Dame de Sion. Despite this at noon we sat down at the table, but after a few minutes a shell exploded inside the Institute. Everyone except me and another brother jumped to see what had happened. We two did not deem ourselves to be in any real danger when all of a sudden an explosion at the window and a cloud of smoke and dust brought us to our senses. We left the house and headed for the military and civil hospital that had been set up in a wing of the main building. Blind panic had swept through everyone inside as several shells had hit the building and others continued to whizz, against the smashing of breaking windows. The patients – on their own, or supported by nurses and convalescents and the children carried in arms – were all jammed in the middle corridor on their way to the underground shelter.

The life of Bishop Anton Durcovici

We helped out so that we might all escape the fire hell. As I was passing the room where the typhus patients lay, a sister called me in and I blessed those poor souls who were too sick to be carried out; they escaped unscathed. Then another sister came sent by the Superior to tell me that I had better take the Blessed Sacrament from the chapel to a safe place because the chapel seemed threatened. So I ran up the stairs to the first floor, followed by the sister who had been sent with the message. We got to the sacristy, where the sacristan was waiting for us. Each of the two sisters got hold of a lantern and accompanied me to the altar where they kneeled before the rails separating the sanctuary from the rest of the church. I went up the steps to the altar, opened the tabernacle, retrieved the two ciboria and set about moving the Blessed Sacrament from the monstrance to one of the ciboria. All of a sudden I felt as if I`d been hit on the head although there was no pain; I couldn`t see or hear anything and then I either jumped or was thrown on the right over the altar steps. As I was standing there after some time, I`m not sure how long, I heard one of the two sisters call me – “Father, come!” I replied that I couldn`t see anything, I didn`t have the Blessed Sacrament and could not follow. Then

Let us keep in mind, regarding the sadness of the Sacred Heart due to our indifference, that this situation is not long past, does not belong centuries ago, being unrelated to our present day attitude. Rather, our current as well as future attitude, down to the smallest details, was a concurrent cause of what Saviour`s Heart felt as effect; because in his vision the future belongs to the present. Thus Jesus` waiting in his Eucharistic confines and our response are concurrent. Our attitude to Him is the cause of His feelings. Our rejection saddens Him, while our visit makes Him happy and comforts Him. (HE Anton Durcovici, Pastoral letter of 28 December 1948)

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Only God can be the absolute master of life, because He gave us life and He supports us. We have a duty to use this godly gift in accordance with the holy purpose that He intended. (Anton Durcovici, “Thou shalt not kill”, Farul Nou 2 [14 January 1934]

The Church of “Saint Helena” in Bucharest

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the sister`s voice became faint and one of my ears was ringing terribly. As light was streaming in and the smoke and dust were clearing I could see the disaster. The ciborium lay overturned on the altar and the Blessed Sacrament lay scattered on the altar steps and in the sanctuary all covered in dust and rubble. That was all I could see at the time. I quickly picked up the uncovered Blessed Sacrament within reach and holding the ciborium in one hand I headed for the sacristy door. This had been jammed shut and I was unable to open it. As I didn`t know the way to the shelter I went down the middle of the church toward the main entrance, where I came across the traces of the two sisters – big stains of blood on the marble steps. I descended, walked down a long corridor and at its end I found the sacristan slumped in an armchair, white-faced and bleeding from several wounds: she seemed close to death. The physician, with a few other people, was tending her, and when I approached they looked at me as if I`d risen from the dead as they thought I`d passed away. I was shown the way to the vaulted cellar and the dying sister was taken there too. I placed the Blessed Sacrament on a makeshift table of two crates on top of one another and gave her Holy Viaticum. That emotional scene unfolding

The life of Bishop Anton Durcovici

there in the semidarkness of the cellar with only a few lanterns glowing was reminiscent of the first Christians driven into the catacombs by the brutal persecution, who nevertheless had their God with them.”

In 1918 Father Anton Durcovici was appointed as teacher at the Saint Andrew Archdiocesan School and “parochus currens” of the S.S. Redentore Italian Church in Bucharest. In 1919 he became “parochus currens” of the Church of Saint Helena as well as a member of the Administrative Council of the Archdiocese. In 1920 he was appointed director of the Convent of St Andrew as well as vice-president of the Men`s Marian Congregation in Bucharest and from 1921 its president. On the reopening of the Archdiocesan Seminary in 1922, he was appointed once more professor and prefect. At various times until 1930 he was “parochus currens” of Târgovişte and also spiritual director of the Christian Mothers Association and The Women`s Third Franciscan Order; he was a member of the board of the Catholic Action, the Ecclesiastical Tribunal, the Archdiocesan Administrative Council and the Archdiocesan Council for Schools, as well as

The S.S. Redentore Italian Church in Bucharest

Those who believe in the actual presence of Christ in the holy Eucharist, as the Catholic faith teaches us, cannot be understood or forgiven if their life does not match their faith; even worse, they play into the hands of the enemies of faith, who judge us not so much by our words as by our deeds. (HE Anton Durcovici, Sermon preached at Câmpulung-Muscel, 19 June 1949)

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Censor of books and examiner for the clergy (examinatore cleri). In 1919 Father Anton Durcovici and Father Alexandru Theodor Cisar were proposed for the bishopric of Iaşi; the latter was finally appointed. In 1923 Father Durcovici was designated Canon of the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Bucharest.

Canon of the Cathedral of “Saint Joseph”

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n September of 1924 Anton Durcovici was appointed rector of the Holy Spirit Seminary in Bucharest, a position in which he exercised his characteristic conscientiousness until 1947, when he was appointed Bishop of Iaşi. For close to a quarter of a century, he put all his energy into this mission and participated to the best of his ability in the formation of good servants of God. By now Father Durcovici was making a major contribution to the life of the Diocese. The archbishop and the clergy often sought his sensible judgement and advice. On 15 July 1924 Archbishop Netzhammer resigned his position and left Romania. His appointed successor was the bishop of Iaşi Alexandru Theodor Cisar, whose first new mission was to encourage native vocations to priesthood; he also thought Anton Durcovici could best reorganize the Holy Spirit Seminary. The new archbishop sold the Archbishop’s Palace to the Holy See, which made it

Archbishop Alexandru Theodor Cisar

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Only God can be the absolute master of life, because He gave us life and He supports us. We have a duty to use this godly gift in accordance with the holy purpose that He intended. (Anton Durcovici, “Thou shalt not kill”, Farul Nou 2 [14 January 1934]

the seat of the Apostolic Nunciature. In 1925-1926, the money from the sale was used to erect a large concrete building next to Saint Joseph’s Cathedral to serve as seat of the archbishopric and of the parish, as well as seminary. The Apostolic Union of Clergy, a member of which he had been since 1923, played a major part in Father Anton Durcovici`s spiritual life. From 1926 to 1947 he was the national director of the union. On 6 May 1930 he became a naturalized Romanian. Beginning in 1930, he taught at the Holy Spirit Theological Academy; 1926 – Târgovişte

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two hours of Philosophy, four hours of Moral Theology and two hours of Canon Law weekly, all in Latin. His the lectures were well-grounded and edifying, informed by the Holy Scripture and the Teachings of the Church. In 1934 he was elected “praelatus domesticus” by the Holy See. From 1934 to 1944 he edited the magazine “Farul Nou”, a publication of the Archbishopric of Bucharest and the Marian Congregation. On 24 September 1935, on the 25th anniversary of his ordination, Father Durcovici was congratulated by the Holy See and the Seminary held a special celebration. Moreover, the Archbishop of Bucharest, Monsignor Alexandru Theodor Cisar, designated him Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Bucharest. From 1939 he was also the national director of the Congregation “The Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Christian Families”.

Vicar general

Goodness is all-conquering: an invisible current of love radiates constantly from the manger in Bethlehem, which is a fount of God`s love. (Anton Durcovici, “God`s Great Gift”, Farul Nou 8 [1 April 1934]

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Pope Pius XII

Those who pray will certainly be redeemed, while those who don`t pray will certainly be damned. (HE Anton Durcovici, Report written while under arrest by the Securitate)

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nton Durcovici had been nominated for the Bishopric of Iaşi in 1945, but as a result of the Romanian Communist Government`s opposition, his appointment was postponed until 30 October 1947, when Pope Pius XII signed the nomination document. His consecration being yet again opposed by the communist government, it was delayed five more months and took place on 5 April 1948, in the cathedral of Saint Joseph in Bucharest. He was ordained bishop by Archbishop Gerald Patrick O`Hara, the Apostolic Nuncio in Romania, assisted by Monsignor Alexandru Theodor Cisar and Bishop Marcu Glaser, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Iaşi. After the ceremony, Archbishop O`Hara invited the bishops, the priests and the lay people to the Apostolic Nunciature for the official reception. The apostolic nuncio`s speech was joyless since he was well aware of the hard times that lay ahead for the new bishop`s pastorate in communist Romania. Archbishop Cisar, the

The life of Bishop Anton Durcovici

former bishop of Iaşi, described vividly the beauty of the diocese in Moldavia, while bishop Ioan Suciu, speaking for the Greek Catholic Church, congratulated the new bishop imassionedly. At the end, in his own speech Bishop Anton The procession before the Consecration Mass. Durcovici told the asLeft to right: nuncio Gerald Patrick O`Hara; sembled company HE Anton Durcovici; HE Alexandru Theodor Cisar; that two years before HE Marcu Glaser) he had been sumShake off the lethargy moned by Nuncio Andrea Cassulo, that has taken hold of who had asked him whether he was you while you still willing to bear the episcopal cross. have time! Listen to I asked if I could say no. He said I could not. I replied like Jonah in the Bible, but to no avail. So like Jonah, I had no choice but to accept my lot. If it is God`s will – non recuso laborem (I don`t refuse to work). With the help of Jesus and Mary I will overcome all difficulties for the glory of God and the eternal salvation of souls.

The priests Gaspar Bachmeier and Ioan Mărtinaş, professors at the diocesan seminary in Iaşi, paid tribute to the new bishop:

Christ`s wailing cry: He is eager for your soul and for the thirst in it! Alleviate once and for all his burning anguish by your sincere unflinching return to his commandments! Give him your soul! Bring even more souls to him, so that your brothers might get to know and love him too! (Anton Durcovici, “Sitio”, Farul Nou 15-16 [16/17 April 1938] Addressing the congregation after the enthronement Mass)

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That is why the deprived Church of Moldavia has felt immeasurable joy and hope on these historic days, the nomination (30 October 1947), consecration (5 April 1948) and enthronement (14 April 1948) as Catholic bishop of the diocese of Iaşi of His Excellency Monsignor Dr. Anton Durcovici, over whom may the kindness of The Almighty extend its merciful Right Hand.

HE Anton Durcovici addressing the congregation

When Jesus called and appointed the twelve Apostles, he thought of the future ones as well. Then he thought of me too; he thought he would elevate me once and send me as the first shepherd of Moldavia to lead his beloved flock to redemption. (HE Anton Durcovici, Nunciature address on consecration day)

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Bishop Anton Durcovici was enthroned in the cathedral of Iaşi on 14 April 1948. The cathedral choir accompanied by the local philharmonic orchestra welcomed him with Ecce sacerdos magnus. From the pulpit, Father Ioan Mărtinaş read the papal document nominating Anton Durcovici as episcopus Iassiensis and Pope Pius XII`s message to the faithful of the diocese. Bishop Marcu Glaser welcomed the new pastor in the name of the entire diocese and handed him the keys to the cathedral. The priests came to the bishop in pairs and pledged obedience by kissing his ring. The new bishop made a short speech, which ended with these words: God has sent me, his humble servant, to the diocese of Iaşi in order not that I may be served, but in order that I may serve everyone with all my might until I breathe my last.

The life of Bishop Anton Durcovici

The sermon was delivered by Father Ioan Mărtinaş. After the Mass, the bishop walked down the middle of the cathedral blessing the congregation. The streets of Iaşi had never seen so many Catholic priests and laity gathered. The coat of arms of Bishop Anton Durcovici features a ship that carries the Lamb of God with the banner of victory, set on a stormy sea; above it, in the middle, is the cross between the crozier and the mitre and at the bottom is the bishop`s motto: Beatus populus cuius Deus Dominus (Ps 144,15) (Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord). The new pastor set about his work without delay. On the day of his enthronement he sent both clergy and laity a pastoral letter with the following words:

In the guise of bread, the Lamb of God is present day and night in the tabernacle of our churches, as a throne of grace and mercy, always willing to bestow heavenly gifts on those of his subjects who come to ask for them. Such measureless godly love! What a kindly, beneficent master! (HE Anton Durcovici, Pastoral letter of 14 April 1948)

The coat of arms of bishop Anton Durcovici

From the day our Holy Father Pope Pius XII nominated me as bishop of the Roman Catholic Eparchy of Iaşi, my thoughts and my heart have turned to you, my beloved eparchiots. Like the shepherd among his sheep, like the father among his dear children, I have longed to be among you as soon as possible. With God`s help, my fervent wish has been fulfilled today, on the day of my entrance as bishop into the seat of my eparchy. The life of Bishop Anton Durcovici 


This Roman Catholic eparchy of IaĹ&#x;i, with its age-old history and its faithful flock, comprising mainly rural population, has been entrusted to us for spiritual guidance. Recalling the compassionate protection that the Romanian voivodes of the past centuries provided for this eparchy, I stand before Your Majesty`s throne with unflinching trust, while fully aware of my duties to the faithful people and to Your Majesty. (HE Anton Durcovici, Speech before King Michael I)

The pastoral ended with an appeal to people and clergy to support him in his pastoral mission: I beg you then, my beloved spiritual sons, to open your hearts to my words and support my frail endeavours with your daily prayers; and you, most pious brethren, to give me your constant cooperation, so that on Judgment Day we may all stand fearless before the Lamb of God, the Great Shepherd of souls and Judge of all the earth, our Lord and our God, Jesus Christ!

After the enthronement, Bishop Anton Durcovici went from parish to parish to consecrate them to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Through his trust in the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a strong religious spirit took possession of the Catholic communities in Moldavia, which wel-

Among the clergy in attendance at the Enthronement Mass

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comed him as a messenger from God sent, like the prophets, to herald salvation. The people were fascinated by his ascetic, spiritualized persona, whose celebration of mass was like a mystical epiphany – his sermons, straightforward but edifying, touched everyone. This was the pastor sent by God to guide the flock in the terrible times of communist persecution. Little wonder, then, that the Securitate (secret police) began to take note and placed him under constant surveillance. At first, however, they did not act because the he was always surrounded by his congregation. One day he returned to Iaşi after a pastoral visit only to learn that he had been summoned by the Securitate; he refused to go. The following day a general arrived at the bishop`s palace to arrest him, but was so impressed by him that he left as he had come. Despite this, the surveillance continued as they were waiting for an opportunity to have him arrested. After 1948, many priests in Moldavia were arrested. Several parishes – Fărăoani, Prăjeşti, Valea Mare, Fundu Răcăciuni and others – set up guards around the churches and the houses to protect their priests.

Bishop Anton Durcovici

I am pleased to mention Monsignor Durcovici, vicar general of Bucharest, who deserves respect in every way, being praiseworthy, pious, erudite and held in great esteem by both clergy and laity. (Nuncio A. Cassulo to Cardinal D. Tardini)

The life of Bishop Anton Durcovici 


6. THE MARTYRDOM Lord Jesus, stay with us always, as you promised (Mt 28, 20) and from the peace of your holy abode send forth your never-ending rays of light, power and grace over this eparchy and its shepherd. (HE Anton Durcovici, Pastoral letter of 14 April 1948)

The church of Popeşti-Leordeni

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On 26 June 1949 the Sacrament of Confirmation was to be administered in the parish of Popeşti-Leordeni, near Bucharest. Six hundred and fifty young people were inside the church, expecting the bishop, but because Monsignor Alexandru Cisar had resigned as Archbishop of Bucharest, he was replaced by Bishop Anton Durcovici from Iaşi. Bishop Durcovici had spent the night in the archbishop`s palace in Bucharest and planned to ride to Popeşti-Leordeni in the morning in the Archbishop`s car. At 7a.m. on the Sunday morning the Archbishop`s driver informed him that the palace was surrounded by Securitate forces and that the car was not allowed to leave. The parish priest in Popeşti was apprised on the telephone that the Securitate prevented the Bishop from leaving Bucharest and that Confirmation had better be postponed. Suspiciouslooking men had been spotted around the church in Popeşti as well. Bishop Anton Durcovici consulted with Archbishop Cisar and Canon Jovanelli; braving the danger, he decided

The life of Bishop Anton Durcovici

to go to Popeşti. Together with Father Rafael Friedrich, a professor of Theology, he left the palace, on foot, passing in front of the cathedral, where many people had already gathered for Holy Mass. They took a tram to the last stop, near the Bellu Cemetery and set off to Popeşti, 2 kilometres away. As soon as they were out in the open fields a car caught up with them and three Securitate men got out and forced Bishop Durcovici inside. Father Friedrich attempted to defend him and so was hit on the head with an iron crank and pushed inside as well. Thus on 26 June 1949 Bishop Durcovici disappeared into the prisons of the Securitate and on 10 December 1951 died in Sighet. Confirmation, that June day, was finally administered by the nuncio, Archbishop O`Hara, in the afternoon. After his abduction, Bishop Durcovici suffered months of abuse while in custody of the Securitate in Bucharest; he was interrogated and tortured night after night, accused of being a Vatican spy and an American agent. Father Leopold Nestmann, who was a colleague of Father Rafael Friedrich at the Seminary in Iaşi where they taught, retold the following scene from the latter`s recollection:

Reverend Rafael Friedrich

Mary is as she has always been the Christians` help in case of need or trouble. At the same time she is also a shining example of virtue and holiness for all, for young and old, for the poor and for the rich, for servants and for masters, particularly in trying times of sacrifice. (HE Anton Durcovici to the clergy about the May devotion to the Mother of God)

The life of Bishop Anton Durcovici 


Greek Catholic bishop Ioan Ploscaru in the Sighet prison

A state which neglects or hinders the fulfilment of God`s wishes and tolerates the spreading of irreligion among its citizens thereby undermines its own authority. (Anton Durcovici, “What is a concordat?”, Jugendfreund 2 [1921])

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An inmate from another cell approached the food hatch of his cell and asked: ‘Does anyone know Bishop Anton from Iaşi?’ To which we called: ‘Yes! Is there anything the matter with him?’ ‘He`s in the death cell!’ Professor Friedrich volunteered for sweeping and so reached the death cell, where he said: ‘Ego sum Friedrich’ (to shut out any unwanted listeners). A faint voice was heard from the inside: ‘Morior fame et siti’ (I`m dying of hunger and thirst). ‘Da mihi absolutionem’ (Give me absolution).

Greek Catholic bishop Ioan Ploscaru, who was also imprisoned in Sighet, reminisced about Bishop Durcovici: After he was brought to the Sighet prison, Anton Durcovici suffered great distress. For one thing, the food could only aggravate his stomach problems. Even before I was isolated, while I was sharing my cell with six others, I learnt that Bishop Durcovici was in cell 13. While sweeping the corridor, when I reached his cell I would ask him how he was – “I`m dying of hunger – I can`t eat anything they`re giving me”. Following my isolation, I found myself on the same floor as him, close to his cell and we were able to talk on several occasions. The only thing he asked was that I pray for him. Through a sympathetic guard who had no idea

The life of Bishop Anton Durcovici

who he was he sent me the bread and jam that he could not eat. The prison authorities held him in solitary confinement after learning that he was dying; in fact he was left to starve to death in isolation, so as to maintain concealment. What a vicious lack of conscience those prison authorities showed; nothing less than murderers, ruthless, utterly devoid of any respect for human beings or old age. In the 20th century, the same atrocities as in antiquity! ... If Bishop Durcovici had shared his cell, the others could have helped him in the last moments of his life‌Several times, while sweeping, I asked him again how he was, and got the same

The redeeming power of the Cross is invincible as it has always triumphed over its various enemies – pharisees, Roman emperors, heretics, the irreligious and unworthy Christians. (HE Anton Durcovici, Report written while under arrest by the Securitate, 26 April 1950).

Photos of bishop Anton Durcovici from his detainee file

The life of Bishop Anton Durcovici ď‚Ž


I asked the Christians to take the utmost care to preserve brotherly love, peace and understanding. Faith demands perfect convergence; instead love allows brothers to give free rein in church to their devotion, prayers and hymns in whatever language, while love itself is not thus damaged. (HE Anton Durcovici, Report written while under arrest by the Securitate, 26 April 1950)

answer: ‘I`m dying of hunger!’, but in his last days he could no longer speak… On 11 December 1951 I heard Father Ioan Deliman, who was shovelling up coal in the yard, speak loudly in French: ‘Monseigneur Durcovici est décédé!’.

Here, by way of conclusion, are a few precious recollections from Father Otto Farrenkopf, a Jesuit, who shared a cell with Bishop Anton Durcovici at Sighetu-Marmaţiei: Like a monastery

The five of us were left together and so formed a community with a rigorous daily schedule of prayer, study and recreation. His Excellency Bishop Anton Durcovici lectured us on Philosophy and Theology; the truths of faith were a real delight as expounded by his clear mind and warm heart. […] The Sighet Penitentiary His noble soul was fired by great apostolic zeal. He worked for the fulfilment of the wish of the Saviour who, at the Last Supper, prayed these words: “That they may all be one, even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us” (John 17, 21). His Excellency told us that in the past neither the Roman Catholics nor

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the Greek Catholics had been equal to the task; we had not worked enough for there to be one flock and one shepherd. And he quoted the righteous Tobias`s words: “Because he hath therefore scattered you among the Gentiles, who know not him, that you may declare his wonderful works, and make them know that there is no other almighty God besides him. He hath chastised us for our iniquities: and he will save us for his own mercy. (Tobias 13, 4-5). Monsignor Aloiziu Boga, who headed the Roman Catholic diocese of Alba Iulia after bishop Márton Áron`s arrest, informed us of the situation of the Roman Catholic Church: the government was set to sever it from the Holy Father. Father Aladár Vasvári from Braşov had been summoned by Petru Groza, the Communist Party leader, and offered a high position in The Church but he refused to turn traitor. He preferred the disgrace of being imprisoned to the communists` promises […]. Saint Pius X is listening to us In October, the Holy Rosary month, all five of us did spiritual exercises. Every day I taught three meditations, and the Good Lord sent us his blessing as a special gift. One day, the former Holy Father Pius X appeared in Father Vasvári`s dreams. Given that this Pope had made such efforts in order that believers should take Holy Communion

His body is drained and exhausted, his holy head bleeding, his eyes pleading, his burning lips wide open…I`m thirsty! My heart is like wax under a flame – the psalmist prophesied and my entrails are melting. My strength is as drained as on old cracked pot and my tongue has stuck to my palate; you have condemned me to the dust of death. I have been fed bile and my thirst has been quenched with vinegar…The Son of God redeemed our greediness and intemperance in the most terrible manner! (Anton Durcovici, “Sitio”, Farul Nou, 15[16/17 April 1938]

The life of Bishop Anton Durcovici 


Remain strong and steadfast in your devotion, beloved brothers in Christ! Worship sincerely the Lord God of your forefathers, as our Mother, the Holy Church teaches us! Partake in the Lamb`s godly sacrifice during Holy Mass as often as possible! Approach God`s holy altar with a pure heart; strengthened by that food (1 Kings 19, 8) you will certainly be on your way to happiness, the perfect everlasting happiness of Heaven, the Kingdom of the gentle Lamb of God; as well as to true contentment in this life inasmuch as the earth, this vale of tears, allows. (HE Anton Durcovici, Pastoral letter of 14 April 1948)

often, the parish priest from Braşov hoped that God, through the action of his faithful servant, would grant us our wish to celebrate one Holy Mass, to which end he prayed a novena. On its last day, a commission arrived from Bucharest and Monsignor Durkowicz, who was gravely ill, was allowed a phial of tonic wine. On examining the label we learnt that, besides other ingredients, 70% of the contents was natural wine, exactly what we needed for our purpose. We celebrated six Holy Masses – secretly, like in the catacombs, and in fear of being discovered. Instead of vestments, prison uniforms. Without missal. The Altar was a bed – there was no table or chair in the cell. The chalice pall, a handkerchief. The chalice, a mug. The paten, a spoon. In place of a wafer, our daily bread. Good God, we give thanks because through the action of Saint Pius X, you have brought us this joy. For Monsignor Durkowicz, these Holy Masses were the viaticum itself. Enter into the joy of your master His Excellency Durkowicz had fallen severely ill ever since his time in the Jilava prison. He suffered from intestinal disorders and phlebitis in the legs and needed a special diet. At Sighet he got semolina prepared with water once a day. The male nurse told him

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flatly that he would last until Christmas at most. The sick man was always kind, patient and grateful for any service. Until his last day he was ever ready to share with us his vast knowledge. He offered his sufferings for the glory of the Holy Church. […]. His preparations for death were as thorough as could be. He spent a month in meditation doing spiritual exercises and confessed every day. As for his last will, he told me: “I have no money. I leave my books to the Seminary in Iaşi, and my other things to the Bishopric of Iaşi […]. In mid-November he was moved into solitary confinement so that he would die alone and his death would remain completely unknown to everyone else. We asked for him to remain with us, we wanted to look after him. To no avail. On or near 10 December 1951 he received from God the reward for his work and for the sufferings he endured for the cause of Christ and the Holy Church. “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master” (Mt 25, 21). It is of no consequence that no one was there during the night when he was buried in the Jewish cemetery. Even from there he will rise gloriously at the end of the world, when Jesus comes in all his greatness to judge the living and the dead.

It`s not often that you have the occasion to visit your brothers in Christ who are in jail. I have quoted these words – “in carcere eram et venistis ad me” and “non visitastis me”, because they mean much more than they appear to mean. Don`t they make reference first and foremost to Jesus himself? Did he not willingly accept confinement – for the sake and benefit of us people – in the confines of his own love, the holy Eucharist? (HE Anton Durcovici, Pastoral letter of 28 December 1948)

The life of Bishop Anton Durcovici 


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The life of Bishop Anton Durcovici