Five Marian martyrs on the road to canonization

By Chris Sparks

They died for the faith. Let us make sure they’re remembered, and ask for their prayers, especially during November, the month of saints and Holy Souls.

With the consent of the Holy See and in collaboration with the Archdiocese of Warsaw, Poland, the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception has opened the cause for canonization of the Servant of God Fabian Abrantowicz and four companions, Andrew, Eugene, John, and Vladas. All five Marian Fathers were martyrs for the faith, suffering and dying at the hands of the Communist Soviet regime. The opening of their cause came during the jubilee celebrations of the 350th anniversary of the founding of the Congregation of Marian Fathers.

Sons of the Church
“They gave their lives in prisons and were buried either in mass graves or graves which are impossible to identify today,” explained the Very Rev. Fr. Andrew Pakula, superior general of the Marian Fathers. “As sons of the Church, we have a duty to undertake the effort of unearthing from the past and proposing such confreres of ours who, remaining strong in the faith until the end, gave their lives for Christ in the service of men.”

Here, in brief, are their stories.

Servant of God Fabian Abrantowicz 
(Sept. 14, 1884–Jan. 2, 1946)

While serving as ordinary apostolic administrator for Russian Catholics of the Eastern Rite in China, Archimandrite Fabian was traveling in Poland when Germany invaded on Sept. 1, 1939. While trying to leave the portion of Poland occupied by Soviet forces, he was detained by German forces and delivered to the Soviets, who arrested him on Oct. 22, 1939. Archimandrite Fabian was transported to the local Soviet police (NKVD) headquarters, where he was charged with membership in a Catholic religious congregation, actively opposing the Soviet authorities, and activities opposed to communism. In Jan. 1941, Archimandrite Fabian was transported to Butyrki prison in Moscow, suffered at the hands of the communists, and died there on Jan. 2, 1946, faithful to the end.

Servant of God Andrew Cikoto 
(Dec. 5, 1891–Feb. 13, 1952)

When Archimandrite Fabian was imprisoned by the NKVD in 1939, Fr. Andrew was chosen by Pope Pius XII as his replacement as apostolic administrator of the Eastern Rite Catholics in China. On Dec. 22, 1948, Chinese forces surrounded the Marian Fathers’ mission house in Harbin and arrested all the Marian Fathers and lay collaborators there. Three days later, they were all handed over to the NKVD. Father Andrew was imprisoned in the city of Chita, in Siberia, and accused of inciting people against the Soviet Union and espionage for the Vatican. On Sept. 28, 1949, he was sentenced to 25 years of forced labor. While in the camps, Fr. Andrew tried to celebrate the Eucharist daily, heard confessions, distributed Holy Communion, and was a model for other priests and the imprisoned faithful. His health had been ruined from the beginning of his incarceration by severe interrogation, and he died as a result in the prison hospital in Ozernoye on Feb. 13, 1952.

Servant of God Eugene Kulesza  
(March 8, 1891–June 30, 1941)

Father Eugene joined the Congregation of Marian Fathers on Jan. 1, 1915, and was ordained a priest on Oct. 2, 1921. Beginning in 1926, he served in the Bielany College of the Marian Fathers in Warsaw, teaching and serving as a confessor. Appointed superior of the Marian house in Druya, Belarus, in 1938, Fr. Eugene served well and faithfully as a good superior and a talented director, earning a reputation as a man of great personal holiness. When the Soviets occupied Belarus, he heroically continued his ministry, instructing priests and nuns on how to defend the faith and the faithful who were being persecuted by the Bolsheviks, and warning against political involvement. Father Eugene was arrested on June 30, 1941, and murdered by Soviet soldiers fleeing the German forces. A few days later, the faithful found his body and buried it at the church in Druya. He was immediately and spontaneously declared a martyr by the faithful.

Servant of God Vladislovas “Vladas” Mazonas  
(June 24, 1881–Jan. 1945)

Ordained a priest in 1906, Fr. Vladas joined the Marian Fathers in 1924. Serving repeatedly as editor of the Catholic magazine “Šaltinis,” Fr. Vladas wrote about the persecution of Christians under the Soviet Union. After the Soviets occupied Lithuania, the NKVD arrested Fr. Vladas on June 14, 1941, and deported him to Siberia. He was interrogated and tortured, which ruined his health. Sent to Moscow for further interrogation, he was immediately placed in the prison hospital of Butyrki, where he died in Jan. 1945, faithful to the end.

Servant of God John Mendriks 
(Jan. 21, 1907–Aug. 1, 1953)

On Oct. 25, 1950, he was arrested by the Soviet secret police, and on March 24, 1951, was sentenced to 10 years forced labor at a camp in Vorkuta for “anti-Soviet activism.” While in the camp, Fr. John continued his pastoral work among his fellow prisoners. During the political thaw after Stalin’s death in 1953, the prisoners began a protest, seeking to regain their freedom. The camp authorities called in the armed forces, who surrounded the camp on Aug. 1, 1953. Convinced that, as a priest, he should be where the people were in greatest danger so he could prepare them to meet God, Fr. John moved to the first row of prisoners. He was shot dead while reciting the formula of absolution.

Seek their intercession
“I encourage you to learn more about the lives of these Servants of God,” said Fr. Pakula, especially to study their lives and teachings.

“Atheistic Communism has been one of the greatest persecutors of Christians in history,” said the Very Rev. Chris Alar, MIC, interim provincial superior and director of the Association of Marian Helpers. “How powerful that our Congregation includes these heroes of the faith! We must remember our brothers who suffered for their fidelity to Christ and to His Church, and we should turn to them for their intercession as we confront the culture of death, the dictatorship of relativism, and an atheistic cancel culture being spread through globalization to every corner of the world. These brothers in Christ who suffered and died, whose final resting places are essentially unknown to us, remind us that even those whom the world treats as disposable are infinitely precious in the eyes of God.”

Almighty and merciful God, You granted Your servant Fabian and four companions — our confreres — Andrew, Eugene, John, and Vladas, the grace of martyrdom and called them to be witnesses of Your Son’s Passion and Resurrection. May they be raised, we pray, to the glory of the altars, while we, living out the charism of our Congregation, may faithfully devote our lives until the end in the service of the Church, for the salvation of the world. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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