This coming January 31st, in the auditorium of the Faculty of Theology in Presov (Slovakia), Archbishop Jan Babjak will open the canonization process of the Redemptorist Fr. Ján Ivan Mastiliak (1911-1989) of the Vice-Province of Michalovce.
Brief biographical profile
FR. JÁN IVAN MASTILIAK
Ján Mastiliak Ivan, was born on November 5, 1911 in Nižný Hrabovec (in the Vranov nad Topľou district of Slovakia). He was the second of three children. He spent his childhood in poverty, following the death of his father. In 1916, as an immigrant in the United States, he worked to support the family.
In June, 1922, after hearing a mission preached in a nearby village, he was accepted by the Redemptorists. In the formation house of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, Ján Ivan not only had the opportunity to continue his studies. He also demonstrated an excellent memory, which aided him especially in the study of languages.
Having entered the novitiate in Stropkov, he made his religious profession on August 2, 1929. During his years as a student in Obořište, in addition to maturing in the spiritual life and in the study of philosophy and theology, he was also able to develop his interest in the ideas of union with the Russian Orthodox Church.
After being ordained a priest in Užhorod on August 12, 1934, he set out to exercise an apostolate in favor of this union. In June, 1935, however, he was called to do his required military service, during which time, as had happened in the past, he became ill with pneumonia.
His poor health and aptitude for study, led his superiors, in 1937, to send him to Rome to attend the Oriental Institute where, on June 19, 1941, he defended his doctoral thesis entitled “Fuitne Vladimirus Soloviev catholicus.Inquisitio in eius vitam et personam.”
Obliged to remain in Italy because of the outbreak of World War II, he frequented the Faculty of Theology at the Gregorian University, where he completed the courses with this research “La fede e la scienza in Vladimir Solovjov. Il senso cristiano e il valore del suo insegnamento.” [“Faith and science in Vladimir Solovjov. The Christian meaning and value of his teaching.”] Unfortunately, the onset of pneumonia did not allow him to publish it and he was recalled by his superiors for treatment back in his own country.
Having returned to Czechoslovakia, he first lived in Podolinec and then in Michalovce, as superior of the community. In the summer of 1945 he was assigned to the Redemptorist seminary of Obořište to teach dogma, ascetics, philosophy, foreign languages and to give courses on the Eastern Churches. In the seminary he also reassumed the role of spiritual director, especially for the Greek-Catholic students of the Vice-Province of Michalovce.
His commitment, expressed especially in the celebration of liturgy, the participation in the feasts of the Eastern saints, the publications in the student review “Alfons” and the erudite lectures on the topics of Eastern Christianity, allowed the students to understand more deeply the spirituality and liturgy of the Greek-Catholic Church.
His energetic involvement in promoting unity, already manifested since 1906 with the creation of the “Prayer for the Union of Slavic people with the Catholic Church” movement, manifested itself more effectively with his teaching in Obořište, where, moved by a sincere ecumenical spirit, he devoted himself to promoting a peaceful, theological dialogue aimed at clarifying some positions and removing the obstacles that were opposed to communion. To this end, he published many significant scientific studies.
Considering his deep knowledge of Eastern theology, the Archbishop of Prague named him a member of the Commission for Biritualism, established to consider the requests of those who wanted to join the Greek-Catholic rite.
In 1949 he was invited to teach at the Alphonsian Academy in Rome. Unfortunately, his physical health, the impossibility of finding a substitute to teach at Obořište and the advent of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia did not allowed him to accept.
Since 1948, with the Communist Party’s rise to power and the subsequent dictatorial regime, Fr. Ivan had been numbered among the enemies of the State. Arrested and imprisoned on March 14, 1950, he was forced, under torture, to endorse slanderous accusations that blacklisted him as a Vatican spy and traitor of the State. At the conclusion of the process, on the following April 5th, he was sentenced to death. But with the amnesty of 1955, his sentence was commuted to twenty-five years in prison. After fifteen years in prison, he was released in 1965.
On March 13, 1968, due to the restoration of the Greek-Catholic Church and some social transformations, he was appointed Superior of the Redemptorists of the Vice-Province of Michalovce. He held this office until May 18, 1981, when he renounced it for health reasons. During his tenure, he gave new impetus to religious life in the communities, restoring a fraternal spirit and missionary zeal in them. He made it possible for the superior general of the Redemptorists to visit Czechoslovakia. He also managed to return to Rome in order to participate in the general chapter of the Congregation. Unfortunately, with the armed repression of the brief “Prague Spring” (January 5 to August 20, 1968), the Church was once again forced to live in hiding under tight police surveillance.
Fr. Ivan, once again registered as an enemy of the state and blacklisted as a collaborator of the Greek-Catholic hierarchy, continued to devote himself secretly to the formation of religious and diocesan seminarians. To do this, he began to receive students in his apartment, dedicating himself to their theological and spiritual formation and, knowing fourteen languages, translating for them the texts of the major philosophers and theologians. Furthermore, to get them access to priestly ordination, he directed them to a bishop friend and attested to their suitability for the priesthood.
He died from myocardial ischemia on September 18, 1989. He is buried in the municipal cemetery of Michalovce.
Fr. Antonio Marrazzo, C.Ss.R.
(Translation: Fr. Joseph Dorcey, C.Ss.R.)