Titus Zeman was born on 4 January 1915. His parents Ján Zeman and Agneša née Grebečiová had ten children. Titus was the oldest one. He was raised in the religious family, so we should not be astonished by the fact that when he was only ten years old he decided to become a priest.
Nobody was able to discourage him. Neither Fr Bokor who was testing Titus before his admission to the Salesian Institute. Titus´ parents asked him to discourage their son because of their poverty. Fr Bokor was asked to tell him that he is very young and he wouldnot be his mother with him and he would not be able to cry when being homesick.
Young Titus replied to him:
– Why do you tell me that my mother will not be here? Yes, of course, my earthly mum will not be here with me; however, Mary Help of Christians will be here. And I promised her to come after her when I will regain my health. She will take care of me. I will not cry, because my heavenly mother will be with me.
Fr Bokor gave up at that moment and said:
– It is not possible to talk with this boy. He cannot be dissuaded, he is called to this life. It is God´s will, we cannot fight it.
So nothing stood him in the way to make his dream come true – to become a priest.
He finished the Secondary Grammar School in the Institutes in Šaštín, Hronský Svätý Beňadik and in Frišták at Holešov respectively. Midyear exams and final exams took place at Roman Catholic Real Secondary Grammar School in Kláštor pod Znievom where he also passed his school leaving examination. As a Salesian assistant he worked in Hronský Svätý Beňadik and in Moravská Ostrava.
He started to study the theology in Rome at the Pontifical Gregorian University in 1937. He continued his studies of theology near Turin in Chieri at the Institute of Theology. During the school year and holidays he was helping as an assistant in the oratory. Titus´ desire to become a priest came true in Turin on 3June 1940, when he was ordained as a priest by Cardinal Maurilio Fossati. His first Massof a newly-ordained priest took place in his birthplace Vajnory on 4August 1940. After having finished his studies he returned to Slovakia to spread God´s word and to work with the young. He set his heart on this task in his youth. So that he started to work in the Salesian oratory in Bratislava at Miletičova Street.
On 1 July 1941 as a chaplain he was assigned the parish of Bratislava – Tehelné pole.
The superintendent of Salesians Fr Jozef Bokor persuaded him to go to study the chemistry and mathematics on the Faculty of Science in order to be able to teach these subjects at the Episcopal Secondary Grammar School in Trnava. Titus Zeman was released from his ministry in the parish in 1943. He was moved into Trnava where he taught on the above mentioned school.
The night from 13 to 14 April 1950, so called Action K,had a huge impact on Titus. During this forceful concentration of monks, when the state power took over the cloisters and transported monks and nuns into reception camps Titus was at the presbytery in Šenkvice thanks to God´s foresight.
The thought about his confrères tormented him and he was thinking about how to help them. He was considering the idea of the illegal transport of young confrères and students of theology into Turin to finish their studies. He visited Fr František Reves at the presbytery in Brodské and told him about it. They went together to see the river Morava, more precisely the beginning places of frontiers where some fords could be. However, they had no experience of the illegal crossing of the borders so they agreed on looking for a human smuggler.
Fr Titus returned to Šenkvice in order to meet his confrères as soon as possible.
In the summer on 2July 1950 Fr Ernest Macák visited Fr Titus Zeman in Šenkvice. He suggested him a motion that he could be the one who would smuggle students of theology and young confrères abroad. Fr Macák promised Titus to make him an acquaintance with a human smuggler. Fr Titus immediately agreed on that. He did not hesitate even for a second, because he himself was looking for such a man.
Together, they left for Borský Svätý Mikuláš because the meeting with Jozef Macko, one of the most experienced human smugglers, was arranged for Fr Titus there.
Fr Titus Zeman became the organizer of a very risky and dangerous activities. Since that moment he began to prepare for the crossing of boarders.
Neither the bad experience nor the possibility of danger during the first two illegal journeys to Turin did not discourage Fr Titus from the preparation of next crusade. He hoped that those who will be able to study in Turin will return to Slovakia as priests one day and they will spread the God´s word as missionaries to the world.
Fr Titus returned from Italy into the Salesian Institute in Linze and he found out that Jozef Macek and František Totka were arrested by the Austrian Police. However, Fr Titus was still thinking about crossing the borders with anext group. While waiting for setting them up free, Fr Titus was preaching by the means of Radio station Biele légie (The White Leagues) regularly on Saturdays and Sundays. In March 1951 Jozef Macek was still arrested. So Fr Titus and František Totka decided to organize the next crusade on their own.
In quest of helping his confrères, Fr Titus did not realize the risk. František Totka was not as experienced human smuggler as Jozef Macek and moreover he could not swim. František Totka came to Linze on 22 March. Together with Fr Titus they travelled to Vienne and then to Sierndorf. Unnoticed, they went through the whole soviet area and reached the river Morava. It was swollen. Despite that they blew up the boat and passed the river. It was 1 a.m. of 23 March when they reach the area of Slovakia. At the borders, there were a patrol that surprised them; however, they managed to escape. So they could prepare the next group for leaving the republic.
Fr Andrej Dermek, Fr Leonard Tikl, Fr Pavol Pobiecky, Fr Jozef Paulík, parish priest Justín Beňuška, ThDr. Štefan Koštiaľ, lay brother Jozef Baťo; the students of theology: Jozef Bazala, Anton Kyselý, Augustín Lovíšek; young confrères: Ján Brichta, Anton Srholec, Anton Semeš, Anton Hlinka, Alojz Pestún and Klement Poláček met in Šaštín on 7 April 1950. Before the dawn of the 8 April they started their journey. They headed towards Lakšarská Nová Ves through the forest. They meet there with a priest Anton Botek, prof. František Minarový, Dr. Emil Šafár and Dr. Viliam Mitošinka.
There were a storm during the night and the terrain they had to pass was muddy. Fr Titus instructed the others on how to behave in the forest and later on at the river Morava. The journey was very long and exhausting. The older priests did not have sufficient strength to march through the muddy terrain at the set pace and fell behind. They reached the river Morava on 9 April. Their delay was significant – more than three hours. They found out the river is still swollen. Furthermore, four or five people were missing.
Despite the Fr Titus´ assurance that the crossing of the river in the intended manner is safe, the chaos prevailed. Some of the priests, mainly the non-swimmers could not bear it neither physically nor mentally. They were afraid.
It was already at dawn and there were no warranty that all of them will make it to the other bank of the river in the dark. Fr Titus urged:
– At least, we have to try to pass the river. We must do it, even if some of us will catch a cold or get pneumonia. We have to do it at all costs.
Despite his assurance they were afraid to continue in the journey through the swollen river. They eventually decided to return. The group gradually crumbled. After their departure they were noticed by the frontier guard. The frontier guard caught sixteen men of twenty-two group members with the help of the army and the police.
On 9th April the information about unsuccessful crossing of the boarders spread. It was clear to everybody that they were in great troubles. The sorrowful news reached Rome and Turin, too. The other confrères were horror-stricken. They prayed to Lord and Mary the Help of Christians. They pleaded for saving their confrères from death.
Fr Titus told Augustín Krivosudský about the period of inquiry, torture and imprisonment this:
– When they caught me, the Calvary began for me.
I experienced spiritual and physical most difficult moments in the pre-trial detention. In fact, it lasted for two years. There was a place of execution under a window of my jail cell. People were brought there each day. I heard horrible inhuman cries and lament. Moreover, they were tortured there. I lived in a constant fear that in any moment the door of my cell can be opened and I would be taken to the execution place. Look at me; that is one of the reasons why my hair turned grey.
When I have to come back to this time of unimaginable torture in my mind I have to frankly admit that only the thought of it makes me shudder. They used inhuman methods of beating and torture of the most horrible level. For example they used to bring the bucket full of excrements from a cesspit, they stacked my head into it and hold me until I started to suffocate. They kicked me everywhere, beat me heavily with some object, and slapped across my face. After having received one such hit I turned deaf.
The court hearing against Fr Titus Zeman and his companions started on 20 February 1952 at 9:00 a.m. with the presentation of accusations. The made-up events in the confessions extracted under torture in custody were the base was the prosecution. The prosecutor constantly attacked Vatican, the Church and the faithful. In the prosecution, Fr Titus was described as a convinced enemy of the state, an agent in the secret service of Vatican and CIC and as a traitor who illegally transferred the other enemies of the state from the republic. The prosecutor required the absolute test for Fr Titus Zeman, the death penalty.
The defense of Fr Titus Zeman:
I do not feel any guilt in my conscience. Everything proclaimed as a guilt I did of my love for the Church, especially of my love for the Salesian Society. Thanks to it I am who I am.
I felt the urge to accompany the priests who were prevented from doing the ecclesiastic service here to the “west”. As my special vocation I considered to help the young Salesian students of the Theology and the young confrères to leave for Turin in order to finish their studies because they could not do it here after closing the monasteries. They could not made their desire of becoming priests come true. My conscience does not blame me for anything. I am satisfied.
In the morning on 22 February the Chairman of the Trial Chamber Pavol Korbuly read the final judgement: On the behalf of the Republic the following are condemned: Fr Titus Zeman. The court is not imposing the absolute penalty for the reasons known for himself and the Court is condemning him for the deprivation of liberty for up to twenty-five years. The whole of the sentence was 308 years of imprisonment including a priest ThDr. Koštial.
The delivery of the judgement for Fr Titus and his companions was an impulsion for a nun called Zdenka (Cecília Schelingová) and a group of people from the State hospital in Bratislava to try to save the convicted from the prison of the Regional Court. However, all of them were arrested on 29th February.
In the testimonial of Fr Titus, which was written on 21 March 1956 in Jáchymov, there is written:
– His attitude concerning the work was very good and we could rely on him. He worked in a team which was classified among the best ones of those in the forced labour camp. His performance was always more than 100%! His attitude towards the today´s people´s democratic establishment is absolutely negative and he does not hide that fact. He considers the imposed punishment unjust and over-represented. He subscribes to the daily press and reads it but it does nothing to his re-education.
After having passed the half time of the punishment, Fr Titus asked for a conditional release. He had to sign the declaration of discretion on 9 March 1964 and two days later there was a court hearing at the District Court in Jičín. Its result was that Fr Titus was conditionally released from the prison but the length of his punishment was not shortened.
Fr Titus was finally conditionally released from the prison (for the period of seven years) inpoor health on 10 March 1964. It happened exactly at 11:25 a.m.
The political situation in the Czechoslovak Republic started to loosen in 1967. Fr Titus was given the permission to celebrate Mass at a side altar in the Church in Vajnory. He had to wear his civil clothes and no faithful could be present there. He went to the church to celebrate Mass at the altar of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus on his own every day after work and on each Sunday before 10:00 a.m.
He was given a permission to hear a confession few months later. He was often so eager to do it that he sometimes did not have breakfast and ran to a confessional. He did not want anybody to wait for him. He used to say:
– I have to be the waiting one there, not a penitent.
He was so happy, when he finally received a permission to celebrate Mass in public and to serve as a priest at the beginning of the year 1968. Day after day he was getting better. He started to forget the torture to which he was unreasonably exposed in the prison. He was gaining the self-confidence. Also the changes of the political situation gave him the courage. But still he had to work as a storeman.
Fr Titus did not feel well, he felt a burden on his heart at the night on 7 January 1969. And his generous and self-sacrificing heart stopped beating on the next day, 8 January. His body died but his soul full of love started its journey into the eternity. He was buried in Vajnory – the place where he was also born – on 11 January 1969.