Sarkander, Jan, St.

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Martyr of the seal of confession; b. Skoczów (Skotschau), Austrian Silesia, December 20, 1576; d. Olomouc (Olmütz), Moravia, March 17, 1620. He attended Jesuit schools at Olmütz and Prague where he completed his course of philosophy (1603). In 1606 he interrupted his course in theology to marry Anna Platska, a Lutheran, but his wife's death the following year strengthened his resolve to become a priest. Following his ordination (1609) he undertook pastoral ministry in the diocese of Olmütz.

After Baron Ladislaus Lobkovič (Lobkowitz) bought the estates of Holešov (Holleschau), Moravia, previously in the control of the Bohemian Brethren, he returned the church to the Catholics. Cardinal Franz von Dietrichstein appointed Sarkander pastor in 1616. Lobkovič also established a Jesuit College, formerly occupied by the Bohemian Brethren. The many converts made by Sarkander and the Jesuits increased the rivalry between the baron and his anti-Catholic neighbors, especially Bitovsky of Bystrzyca (Bystritz).

At the beginning of the thirty years' war

(16181648) the Protestants seized power in Moravia. Sarkander made a pilgrimage to the Polish shrine of Our Lady of Czȩstochowa and remained in Cracow for some months before returning to his parish.

In 1620 Sigismund III, King of Poland, sent Cossacks into Moravia to support Emperor Ferdinand II in his struggle with the Protestant Estates. They pillaged Protestant lands, but spared Holešov when they met Sarkander carrying the Blessed Sacrament. Bitovsky accused him of conspiracy with the Poles, and imprisoned him while awaiting questioning.

At his trial Sarkander denied any treasonable acts and defied his judges, who, in an attempt to implicate Lobkovič, demanded that he reveal confessional secrets. Sarkander was tortured for several days and a month later he died in prison. Sarkander was venerated as a martyr immediately afterward.

The Silesian bishops opened his cause for sainthood under Benedict XIV, and Pius IX beatified him on May 6, 1860. Sarkander's relics are in an altar dedicated to his name in the cathedral of Olomouc. On May 21, 1995, during his sixty-fourth international pastoral visit, John Paul II canonized at Olomouc's airport Zdislava Berka and Jan Sarkander. He is the patron of Moravia and Silesia.

Feast: March 17.

Bibliography: birkowsky, Positio super martyrio. (Rome 1825). f. liverani, Della vitae della passione del ven. servo di Dio, Giovanni Sarcander (Rome 1855). f. seibt, "Sarkander, Johannes," Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, 2d. ed. 9:330.

[f. j. ladowicz]