His story is an excellent example of faithfulness to Don Bosco's cause, especially through the zeal and love shown to save the vocations of young Salesians under the Communist regime.
Fr Titus Zeman, A Slovakian Salesian, was born into a Catholic family on 4 January 1915 at Vajnory, near Bratislava. From age 10 he had wanted to become a priest, and completed his secondary studies at the Salesian house at Šaštín, Hronský Svätý Benedikt and Frištak u Holešova; in 1931 he entered the novitiate and on 7 March 1938 made his perpetual profession at Sacred Heart in Rome.
He did his theology at the Gregorian University in Rome and then went to Chieri, where he occupied his free time at the Oratory. In Turin on 23 June 1940, he achieved the goal of priestly ordination, at the hands of Cardinal Maurilio Fossati. On 4 August 1940, at Vajnory, the town of his birth, he celebrated his first Mass.
Clandestone trips to Turin
In April 1950, when the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia banned religious and began deporting many of them to concentration camps, it became necessary to organise clandestine trips to Turin so young religious could complete their studies. Fr Zeman undertook to organise this risky activity.
The Servant of God organised two expeditions of more than 60 young Salesians. During a third, Fr Zeman, along with the other fugitives, was arrested. He then underwent a difficult trial, during which he was accused of being a traitor to his country and a Vatican spy, and he risked the death penalty. On 22 February 1952, in consideration of attenuating circumstances, he was instead condemned to 25 years in prison.
Released from prison
Fr Zeman was released from prison after 12 years on 10 March 1964. By now suffering obviously from the long ordeal in prison he died five years later, on 8 January 1969, but very much known for his holiness and indeed his martyrdom.
He lived his life of suffering from a great spirit of sacrifice and as an offering: “Even if I lose my life I do not consider it a waste, knowing that at least one of those whom I have saved has become a priest to take my place”.