Alojz Tkáč (1934)
“Young generation should feel interest in events that occurred in the totalitarian and normalization era. At least as a mark of their respect for all those who spent several years in prisons, labour camps or even in gulags.”
Msgr. Alojz Tkáč was born on March 2, 1934, in the village of Ohradzany in Humenné district. He grew up in the Christian family, his parents were peasants. Since his childhood he longed for the study of theology and thus on the threshold of adulthood he was decided to become a priest. However, he was admitted to school only after his fourth attempt. He studied in Bratislava between the years 1956 and 1961, in the tough period of totalitarianism. As a young theologian he knew about the danger of being excluded from school, so he dodged the conflict with the state power bodies. After his ordination in 1961 and the first liturgy, which was limited by the state authorities as well, he enlisted the military service as a member of the Auxiliary Technical Battalion in Bohemia. He acted as a notary at the Episcopal office in Košice for twenty years. In 1974 he was present at the meeting of Association of the Catholic Clergy Pacem in Terris, where he made a twelve-minute speech about the restrictions that the regime placed on the church and about a false charge of some priest. In a hustle and bustle of interrogations he had to be suspended from his priestly duty. Despite it, simultaneously with being employed at the State Forests and in the Public Transit Company in Košice, where he worked as a tram driver, he secretly pursued his pastoral work. In 1983 he finally got an approval to do his pastoral work officially. His educational background enhanced by his self-study helped him a lot at managing Košice archdiocese that Pope John Paul II vested to him in 1995.
Arrival of Soviet Army
“When I was a child, you know when I attended the public school, it was from the first to fifth grade and it was the time of war. And all the events that were happening from the very beginning of war were completely unknown to us. Of course, we were informed in some childish way that there was a war and soldiers went to the front, but at first it didn’t touch us. The first time that I heard about the war was when I attended the fourth grade at the public school. And I recall there was said and written something about the Battle of Stalingrad. Moreover, I also experienced the end of war and arrival of Soviet army. I remember very well that the group of armies lingered in our country for a long time. It was about two or three months, I think enough time to make friends with boys, Russian boys, soldiers, Soviet soldiers. I mean also Ukrainian, Byelorussian and Russian boys because we understood their languages quite well. It wasn’t a problem, soldiers were mainly young boys who understood us and vice versa.”
Carefulness in Seminary
“It was a horrible period of totalitarianism. We knew that nobody of us, seminarians, could have been an informer, rat or something like that. I can say that we trusted each other. Men in all classes, from the first to fifth class and also in our class were reliable. We didn’t have any problem. But we felt some danger from the side of the church secretary, who worked at the faculty. If somebody had lost his favour, he could have sent him for consultation… We didn’t feel any extraordinary pressure because we knew how to behave to avoid it. We could adapt somehow to the changing conditions because we were aware of our situation. We knew that we couldn’t afford so-called anti-state behaviour as we also knew what could happen to us afterwards.”
“It was a problem of building of churches, teaching religious education and then we had a case here that one priest was falsely accused and suspended from his duty. Although he was retired, they accused him and gave him a choice: ‘Either there will be a trial or we will forgive you, but only under one condition. You have to go into retirement.’ This is how I remember it. And as for that meeting… there were even two church secretaries and it really lifted them up. They reacted immediately and very tough, but as the time passed the situation calmed down. Priests were happy that somebody said aloud what annoyed them and what they feared to express. And I expected that I could be punished for it, so later I wasn’t surprised when they deprived me of the state assent. And I am convinced that they would have forgotten about it, but it was broadcasted on the Radio Free Europe. Firstly the Radio Free Europe, then the Voice of America and at last Vatican Radio broadcasted it. It was in May 1974. At least I think it was like that. And when it was once on the radio, the State Security noticed it, of course. They called me four times. The first interrogation took eight hours; the second one was four hours long. And they just wanted to know how my speech could ripple outwards.”
Secret Pastoral Work
“I didn’t celebrate holy masses in public. However, I celebrated the holy mass every day, but behind the close doors. I had keys from the church, mainly from the Church of Christ the King. Then I celebrated holy masses for the sick. I used to visit them and I usually brought the communion to them. It was permitted to celebrate holy masses for the sick. And, of course, I used to meet young people. There were small groups of families and young people. Moreover, we usually had secret spiritual meetings, mainly on Saturdays; or rather on Friday afternoons and on Saturdays and Sundays. I even had some groups of nuns. I used to go to the town of Zlaté Moravce three or four times per year because the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters lived there. I organized spiritual retreats there. This way I was in contact with the faithful. It means that even though I was suspended from my duty, I didn’t give up my pastoral work at all. However, I must admit that I couldn’t do it publicly.”
How a Priest Could Transform into a Tram Driver
“When I worked at the Public Transit Company in Košice, I met a lot of good-hearted people there who respected me as a priest. I can say that I experienced several dramatic moments there as well. Once when I was driving, some lady told me: ‘Oh, you have already run somebody down!’ Can you imagine how I felt? But, of course, it was only a false alarm because she didn’t see it well. But I shuddered when I saw a man sitting on the traffic island which I drove over.”
Príchod Nežnej revolúcie
“When we went from Rome through Prague, we walked along the Wenceslas Square and we saw that it all was probably collapsing. We knew that it wasn’t easy situation at all. It could reverse because Soviet Union existed. Though, we didn’t perceive the danger. And immediately after that, you know, it was actually surprise for us. The talks between Vatican and the Holy See started right away. At first Msgr. Colas Suano came, later Msgr. Bukovský was here and then the process of placing bishops to dioceses started finally.”
The story and videoclips of this witness were put together and published thanks to the financial support of EU within the programme Europe for Citizens – Active European Remembrance.