Košice, Martyrs of, Ss.
KOŠICE, MARTYRS OF, SS.
Melichar Grodziecký, Marek Križín, and Stefan Pongrácz; priests, martyrs; d. Sept. 7 and 8, 1619 at Košice in the far eastern portion of Slovakia; beatified 1905; canonized by Pope John Paul II, July 2, 1995 at the airport of Košice.
Košice was a Calvinist stronghold in the early seventeenth century. These martyrs came from three countries in order to offer the sacraments to Catholics who were otherwise without priests. The king's deputy petitioned the Jesuits to send priests to tend to the minority population and gratefully housed the two respondents in his official residence outside the city. Protestant antipathy toward Catholicism increased. Upon hearing that the Calvinist prince of Transylvania was approaching Košice under Georg I Rákóczi, the Jesuits hurried back to the city to be with their flock and were joined by the canon Križín. On the morning of September 7, soldiers tried to force them into apostasy. Upon their refusal, the priests were brutally beaten and killed. Their bodies were thrown into a sewage ditch, where they remained for six months before a pious countess was given permission to bury them. Immediately after death, they became the objects of veneration. Their relics are now housed in the Ursuline church at Trnava, Croatia.
Melichar Grodziecký, also known as Melchior Grodech or Grodecz, Jesuit priest; b. ca. 1584, in Grodziec (a village between Biesko and Cieszyn), Silesia, Poland. Melichar was born into a noble family and had Bishop John of Olomouc as an uncle. Melichar was educated by the Jesuits at Vienna, Austria. After joining the Society of Jesus at Brno, Moravia (1603), which was founded by his uncle John, he studied philosophy and theology, was ordained (1614), and worked as a teacher in Prague. At the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War, he passed through Moravia and Slovakia, finally settling in Košice. Following the initial beating, Fr. Melichar was stripped, tortured, and finally he was mercifully beheaded.
Marek Križín, also known as Mark Crisin, Korosy, or Križevčanin, diocesan priest, administrator of Széplak Abbey; b. 1588 at Križevči, Croatia. Born into a noble Croatian family, he was educated by the Jesuits in Vienna and Graz, where he earned a doctorate in philosophy, and at the Germanicum (1611–1615) in Rome. Following ordination in Rome, he ministered for two years in his homeland. Then his former professor in Graz, Cardinal Pázmány, appointed him head of the Trnava seminary and a canon of the Esztergom Cathedral (Hungary). In 1619, he accepted assignment as administrator of the property of the former Benedictine abbey of Krásna near Košice in the hope of stimulating the faith there. In the face of persecution he remained at the service of his
flock, offering an example of fidelity to Christ. Križín, to whom the attention of the soldiers had first turned, suffered the same tortures as Grodziecký. When Križín fainted from the pain, he was beheaded.
Stefan (Stephen) Pongrácz, Jesuit priest; b. ca. 1582 at Alvincz Castle, Transylvania, Hungary. Born into a noble family, he studied classics in his homeland, then attended the Jesuit College at Cluj, Romania, and abandoned the prospect of a brilliant, secular career in order to enter the Society of Jesus at Brno, Moravia (1602), where he first met Grodziecký. Following his studies in philosophy at Prague (Bohemia) and theology at Graz (Austria), he was ordained in 1615. He taught for a time at the Jesuit college at Humenné, Slovakia, before accepting the invitation to minister in troubled Košice. Despite
savage and prolonged torture, Pongrácz' was alive when the soldiers threw him into the sewage ditch with his dead companions. He suffered in pain for another 20 hours before giving up his spirit.
During the canonization ceremony the Holy Father noted: "This canonization was also an important ecumenical event, as was evident both at my meeting with representatives of the Protestant denominations and during my visit to the place that commemorates the death of a group of the faithful of the Reformation." He prayed at the monument commemorating their death.
On first glance it is difficult to reconcile Pope John Paul II's efforts toward Christian unity and this canonization of three martyrs of the Reformation. But as he explained it in his homily:
Today's liturgy invites us to reflect on the tragic events of the early seventeenth century, emphasizing, on the one hand, the senselessness of violence relentlessly visited upon innocent victims and, on the other, the splendid example of so many followers of Christ who were able to face sufferings of every kind without going against their own consciences. Besides the three Martyrs of Košice many other people, also belonging to Christian confessions, were subjected to torture and suffered heavy punishment; some were even put to death. How can we fail to acknowledge, for example, the spiritual greatness of the 24 members of the Evangelical Churches who were killed at Presov? To them and to all who accepted suffering and death out of fidelity to the dictates of their conscience the Church gives praise and expresses admiration…. May [the example of the three new saints] renew in their fellow citizens of today a commitment to mutual understanding.
Feast: Sept. 7 (Jesuit calendar).
Bibliography: L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 27 (1995): 1–3; 28 (1995) 6, 11; 29 (1995) 9. j. n. tylenda, Jesuit Saints and Martyrs (Chicago 1998) 290–292.
[k. i. rabenstein]