Friday a week ago, the 24th of August, saw the passing of 93-year-old Bishop Dominik Kalata in Bratislava, Slovakia. It was the end of a life spent for the major part in exile, a life marked by the Church’s attempts to serve the faithful in Communist-dominated lands during the Cold War. Born in Poland, Bishop Kalata was consecrated in secret for the Church in what was then Czechoslovakia, spent 26 years of his life in Germany, only to return to what had then become Slovakia, where he died.
Bishop Kalata, who came from southern Poland, joined the Jesuits in 1943, the middle of the Second World War, and began his studies in the town of Tetschen, in the Nazi German Sudetenland, now Děčín in the Czech Republic. After the war the Communists came to power, and in 1950 all monasteries were closed, which made Kalata’s studies significantly more difficult, as he was first imprisoned and then served for three years in the Czechoslovakian military. In 1951, he was ordained a priest for the Society of Jesus. His priesthood still illegal in Czechoslovakia, Father Kalata earned a living as a carpenter, joiner, lorry driver, electrician and photo lab technician. He was nonetheless imprisoned for a further six years. As by that time, all the bishops in the country were either in prison themselves or else under constant guard, Fr. Kalata was consecrated as bishop in secret, which allowed him a certain measure of freedom of movement, that the known bishops lacked. He was one of a number of bishops thus consecrated. In 1968, Bishop Kalata received amnesty, although any public exercise of his office remained forbidden. A year later, he was allowed to travel to Austria, to complete his studies in Innsbruck. In 1976, he was made responsible for the pastoral care of Czech faithful outside their homelands, in all of Europe and North America. In 1985, his episcopal office was made sort of official by Rome, as he was appointed as titular bishop of Semta . He was never appointed to a diocese in the Czech republic or Slovakia, unlike some of his brethren. For example, the bishop who had originally consecrated him, Ján Korec, was himself secretly consecrated in 1951, and would become bishop of Nitra in 1990 and a cardinal in 1991.
During his time in Germany, from 1976 to 209, Bishop Kalata served the Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau, conferring confirmations and consecrating altars, clocks and organs in behalf of the archbishop. As such, he served as an unofficial auxiliary bishop, although he had no role in the archdiocesan curia. In 2009, Bishop Kalata returned home to Slovakia.
In remarks made on the occasion of Bishop Kalata’s death, Msgr. Axel Mehlmann, vicar general of Freiburg im Breisgau said:
“He was steadfast in his faith and trust in God. In times of persecution he was for many a sign for the fact that God is among us and does not abandon us. In our time, when the unity of Europe is at risk, as marginalisation, demarcation and oppression become increasingly prevalent, we remember Bishop Kalata with gratitude and respect.
An overview of the Czechoslovakian bishops during the Communist dictatorship can be found, in German, here.
Bishop Kalata was the second-longest serving bishop in the world, having been consecrated on 9 September 1955.