Memories of Uršula Pilná, née Lešková, a native to Vajnory
It happened on 3 August 1940, Matej tried to help with corn harvesting despite his not feeling very well. They put him onto a wagon for sheaves of straw on their way back. When he returned home he was sad and told: “I do not feel well, I do not want any dinner, I am going to the bed so that in the morning I can go to the great ceremony tomorrow – to a first Mass celebrated by a newly-ordained priest Titus Zeman.” He could not stand up from the bed in the morning; however, he made the effort to do it and put on a folk costume. I was very morose and told him: “How is it possible for you to go if you spit blood?” But we went there. I stayed in the back and Matej went to an altar. I saw that after a while Matej went aside and sat on a rock under a pear tree, where he stayed until the end of his first Mass. When we came home he could not eat a lunch, he had to go to his bed. We agreed that he would go to see the doctor on the next day. In the afternoon, after the Litany, the first blessing of a newly-ordained priest was supposed to be. Matej said to me again: “I will go there.” I replied to him: “How can you go there if you have no strength?” “I have to go there!” he answered me. Well, we went there. After this blessing by Titus Zeman, he was miraculously healed. He came home in a good mood, went to a stable and worked as usually. It was not possible to see on him that he was so ill a day ago. It is a holly truth.
Memories of an actor Anton Baláž
I categorize Fr Titus among the most important persons of Slovakia. I was personally meeting him on the street Miletičova in Bratislava during the years 1940-1944. I have such a beautiful memories concerning these meetings. He treated me as a second dad. He was my spiritual father. I usually went to assist him in the Church in the morning. And then singing or theatre extra-curricular activities usually took place. Fr Titus was a good organizer and when talking about the theatre plays he was in charge of the technical stuff.
Memories of a Salesian priest Bernardín Šipkovský
I knew Titus Zeman very well. We were meeting in Trnava maybe for six years – I was a student (he was teaching me Chemistry) and later on I was his confrère and a Salesian. I remember one history from that period. It happened during the Second World War. I went to a theatre for some reason in the evening. I saw a man standing on the balcony and smoking a cigarette. When he saw me he immediately hid behind a door of the balcony. I worked in the theatre as an assistant; however, I have never been behind the door. Nobody lived in that wing of a building which was relating to a secondary grammar school. I confessed to my confrères what I had seen. Then told me it was a young Jew. Fr Titus was hiding him and taking care of him. Simultaneously they warned me not to tell anybody about it. (…) He was an exemplary priest-Salesian and a martyr.
Memories of a Salesian priest Andrej Pauliny
I knew Professor Titus as a student at the bishop secondary grammar school in Trnava. He was simple-hearted and very funny, young, and a great sportsman. I remember times when the Red Army was crossing our country and we were hiding some religious stuff and nuns so the Russians could not find women. I admired Fr Zeman a lot, because he was able toeffectively solve everything with prudence. We had to clear out the Institute on the street Hollého after the war for twenty-four hours. It was a time of Easter and Holy week what brought joy to us. Fr Zeman sang before the Mass during the procession the Gregorian melody of the Gospel in such a beautiful and exceptional way that he created beautiful Easter atmosphere. We admired his beautiful singing. I got to know him better when the Russians went away from the Institute and we had to clean it all up. Three or four of us had to do it under the supervision of Fr Zeman. Everything stank there as a big toilette. Each toilette was clogged and water with excrements was running on the corridors. Fr Zeman as a professor of chemistry tried to fix it. There was a big hole on the yard. We filled it up with some sand. I saw there his great love and tenaciousness for this work. He told us: “We cannot accept the applications of students of theology for now. It needs clean air. Otherwise they would think they came to live in a toilette.” He was a true Salesian who did everything in a humble way. It was clear that he liked us, the young students of theology, a lot. He saw us as the hope for the Salesian congregation on Slovakia.
Memories of a student of a Burgher´s School in Šenkvice Anna Strašiftáková
I was a student of the 4thYear of a Burgher´s Primary School in Šenkvice and Professor Titus Zeman was teaching us the Religious education. We were looking forward to every lesson. He was a very pleasant person, he won our hearts and caught our attention thanks to his way of teaching. We taught us many priers and religious songs in Latin, e.g. Ave Maria. His approach towards us was very human. He could also attire the attention of fifteen-years-old boys who have many interests in that age and they had respected him. We had a photo shoots at school at the end of May or at the beginning of June. Fr Zeman is there with us in the photography. It is very special for me.
Memories of a student of Secondary Grammar School in Trnava Ing. Karol Peško
I met Fr Zeman when I was a student at the Secondary Episcopal Grammar School in Trnava in 1943. He was teaching me a Chemistry and we also met when playing social games. We had a nice friendship and I think he liked me a lot. I got to like him because of his human approach – so typical for the Salesians – to us, the students. When doing some experiments for lessons at a laboratory, he often called me to assist him. I moved to a Chemical school after two years. When I accidentally met Fr Titus at the beginning of August 1950 I was surprised he was at a presbytery. We considered those priests who were not arrested in camps but were at presbyteries for “patriot priests, minions of the Communist regime”. When I expressed my astonishment he explained nothing but asked me for a help. I agreed. At our next meeting he asked me to deliver a thick sealed envelope to Ft František Reves. I knew him since my studies in Trnava. Fr Zeman told me the date and time of the delivery. He completely trusted me. At the agreed date and time I went to the park at Avion Shopping Park. Far away, I could see Fr Reves sitting on a bench. When I approached he stood up. I came to him, handed him the envelope and went away without a word pretending that nothing happened. I realised what was possibly in the envelope only after a few months after Fr Titus´s sentence.
Memories of a Salesian priest Štefan Šilhár
I am very thankful to Fr Titus that he preached us the spiritual exercises and so he prepared as for a vocation of a priest in Svätý Beňadik. When I was seventeen-years-old I was interned in Šaštín, in Podolínec and in Kostolná. We, the students of theology too young for military service, were sent home. They told us: “We will re-educate you and make you communists.” We incognito entered various secondary grammar schools and continued our studies. I was helping during the liturgy outside of Pezinok on the Good Friday (in 1951; the editor´s note). I had a phone call to return home immediately. When I came I found completely exhausted Fr Titus having a rest at our place. He asked me to contact him with a parish priest Paulen in Šenkvice; I did so. So far my mother took care of him to heal him. I got him Sacramental bread and wine. Fr Titus celebrated Mass at our place with a little glass. My mother cherished it with awe. I asked him to take me with him through the frontiers. He replied to me: “Other Salesians are hiding because of the Police. They are priority. You are young. You will go later.” It was good that I obeyed Fr Titus. Otherwise my life would take another direction.
Memories of a Salesian priest Professor Klement Poláček
I was saved because I decided to follow Fr Titus Zeman with a student of theology Alojz Pestún (during the retreat of the third crusade on 8 April 1951; the editor´s note). It was almost 5.00 a.m. when we escaped from the frontier area. We could see the towers of the Basilica of Šaštín from forest. After having a short rest, Fr Titus told me and Alojz: “Go to the station in Leváre, return to Bratislava and then go home. The rest of us (three persons) do not have an ID card. We will wait here during the night and we will try to hide somewhere here.” The two of us got on a train and we arrived in Bratislava at 7.00 a.m. We went to visit Fr Sandtner in a hospital. The doctor´s round just began. We waited at Fr Viliam Vagač and when the doctor´s roundwas finished, we told Fr Sandtner what had happened. We said to him: “The escape was not successful. It seems that the majority of us was arrested. Just Fr Titus, Fr Dermek, and Fr Pobiecky managed to escape.” We did not know that they were caught, too. I am personally thankful to Fr Titus for saving me. I illegally left the republic with a small group in December.
Memories of a Salesian priest and a fellow-prisoner Andrej Dermek
During the interrogation I did not want to confess what they claimed being the truth even after they had bet me. So they took me in a different room. Suddenly I saw Titus. He was thinned and his face was bloodied. They wanted to force us to confess to the thought-out facts by the means of personal confrontation. They wanted us to see what we are beaten like as a proof they would stop at nothing.
Memories of a Salesian priest and a fellow-prisoner Štefan Sandtner
We were taken back to our cells after the interruption of the interrogation (which took place in the Palace of Justice in Bratislava on 21 February 1952). Each of us had two “guards”, one on one´s left side, the other on one´s right side. It reminded me of Jesus Christ when he was hanging on his cross between the two thieves. Were they penitents or not? Prisoners were saying that there is a rope waiting for Titus or at least a life imprisonment. After three months of torturing inquiry Fr Titus had to cope with killing before the delivery of the judgement. It lasted for seven months. I do not know how it happened but when we were taken out of the courtroom after the first hearing, I suddenly found myself next to Tituswithin this armed escort. We had to wait for the door to the prison to be opened and we will be free from the hands of “justice”. Titus told me at that moment: “I want to confess.” I did so in a flash. It could or should be his last confession in a life. Fr Bosco taught us to do the confession each month as the last one in our lives and to treat the Communion as a viaticum – the provision for the eternal life. I eventually could tell him that I would bring him a Communion the next day.
Memories of a Salesian priest Ľudovít Suchán
His funeral was exceptionally touching. I do not exaggerate. It was exceptionally moving not only because of its outer aspects (it was a true triumph of sympathy, astonishment, and gratefulness) but mainly because such unity of emotion expressed by words or by tears is truly rare. There was not only a homily at the Mass but also several speeches and funeral oration. All of the speakers emphasized great qualities of the deceased: conscientiousness, strength of his spirit, profound faith, strong will, transcendental devotion into God´s will but mainly absolute self-sacrifice for the priestly ideal and effort to save young priest vocations for the Church and the Salesian association. The most touching sentence for me was the one by the Salesian inspector which was very pertinent: “Father Bishop, we stood in front of the opened tomb of a priest again. I know that you would rather ordain a priest than burry a priest…” When we put the body of Titus into the tomb the words of Gospel came on my mind: “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.” Yes, we entombed him like a kernel of wheat; however, more than fifty monks and priests have aroused from him. He saved them for the Church in Slovakia. If each priest that die in Slovakia left such a religious descendants, the funerals of Slovak priests would not mean the decrease but the increase of priest ranks. Shall God reward his heroic sacrifice and that what he did for the Church and the nation.
Memories of a Salesian priest and a university classmate František Teplan
We studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He was very outgoing and had a lot of friends among Salesians. I was cold and he was a hardy fellow, so that he gave me his warm underwear. Then we were together in Trnava, he worked there as a professor. He worked as a catechist and I worked as a school counsellor. I assigned a severepunishment to the students of theology once because they broke discipline. His diplomacy helped me so I could forgive the punishment. Later on, I admired him because of his courage. He was one of the most courageous Salesians. I bend down to his memory. He was always kind and willing to help. Lord has surely given him reward for his devoted life.
Memories from the day of his burial
It is 11 January 1969 and the cold is freezing. The snow covers everything. The Salesian inspector Andrej Dermek is standing below the tomb which was dug out at the cemetery in Vajnory. He speaks to those who are present: “We are meeting at the cemetery. It reminds me of times of the first Christians, at least when speaking about us friars. The life has dissipated us, the death gathers us. And yet I could not say that it is the death´s victory over life.
The death is a secret even if we encounter with it on daily basis. It is not a tragedy, it is a natural law. It is not an exception, but a rule. It is here – simple and clear as a lightning. We just can accept it with despair or with faith, in hope, and in peace. And we accept the secret of the death of our dear confrère – which concerns us so directly – with faith, in hope, and in humility!
A warrior rests today at this place. He finished his battle. A priest who finished celebrating his lifelong Mass. This is a departure. This is a return to out Heavenly Father bus also to his earthly dad and mum who preceded him. Nobody of us andnobody of you, even he himself did not suppose what the life would bring to him. Just one thing is for sure that there would be not only the joyful mysteries in this life Rosary but also the sorrowful ones. And there will be as much of the sorrowful ones as the joyful mysteries, but all of them would end with his resurrection! We can say that everything between his first Mass of a newly-ordained priest and his funeral was a full priestly, monastic and Salesian life despite the fact that he lived eighteen years out of twenty-five years in total of his priesthood out of his vocation. Moreover, he spent thirteen years from those twenty-five in a prison. However, it was always a priest-like life; the place did not matter.