Stepinac, Alojzije Viktor, Bl.
STEPINAC, ALOJZIJE VIKTOR, BL.
In English: Louis or Aloysius Victor, cardinal, archbishop of Zagreb, martyr; b. May 8, 1898, at Brezaric (near Krašić), Croatia; d. Feb. 10, 1960, in Kraší.
Stepinac was the eighth of twelve children of wealthy farmers, Barbara Penic and Josip Stepinac. Upon graduation from the Gymnasium in Zagreb (1916), he was drafted into the Austrian army. As second lieutenant he fought on the Italian front (1917–18). Taken prisoner by the Italians (September 1918), he joined the South Slav volunteers to fight against the Hapsburg rulers. Returning to croatia (1919), by then a part of Yugoslavia, he studied agriculture in Zagreb. In 1924 he enrolled in the German College, Rome, and attended classes at the Gregorian University. In 1930, he obtained doctorates in philosophy and theology and was ordained a priest in Rome (October 26).
After returning to Zagreb in 1931 he was assigned to the chancery office, from which he administered several parishes and initiated the establishment of Caritas in the archdiocese. He became coadjutor of Zagreb in 1934 (the youngest bishop in the world at the time), and archbishop in 1937.
As archbishop he promoted Catholic charities and Catholic Action, defended the Church's rights, and denounced Communism and National Socialism. On Dec. 31, 1938, he founded the Relief Action for Refugee Jews under his protection. In April 1941 he welcomed the Croatian State, but continuously opposed the regime of Ante Pavelić, especially for its forced conversions and racial persecution. Thousands of persecuted Jews, Slovenes, and Serbs received his help.
After the government was taken over by the Communist party in 1945, Stepinac and his fellow bishops refused to accede to the new regime's desire for a "national Catholic Church," independent of Rome, and spoke out against the persecution of the Church by the communists. He was arrested for denouncing the execution of priests by militant communists and later released.
Josip Tito's government arrested him again in 1946 and tried him on trumped-up charges of collaborating with the Germans, Italians, and the fascist Ustasha regime. He was sentenced to 16 years' imprisonment. For five years he was kept in Lepoglava prison; in 1951 Tito released him on house arrest in Krašić because of his health.
Systematically harassed and urged by Tito to leave the country, Stepinac remained with his flock. When he was made cardinal by Pope Pius XII in 1953, he declined to go to Rome to receive the cardinal's hat, fearing that
he would not be allowed back into Yugoslavia. He did not attend the conclave after Pius XII's death, for the same reason. During these years of internment and isolation he continued his practice of exercising his ministry in part through extensive letter-writing (more than 5,000 letters in all).
Stepinac's faith was nurtured by daily meditation on the whole rosary and Holy Scripture—practices he recommended to the faithful. His spirituality is marked by gratitude for God's gifts, a desire to compensate for the sins of blasphemy and abortion, zeal for the Eucharist, and filial devotion to the Blessed Mother. He predicted that "Russia will be converted, and the statue of the Mother of God will be put in the Kremlin."
He died in 1960 of a rare blood disease (polycythemia rubra vera ) from which he suffered acutely since 1953. He was buried behind the main altar in the cathedral in Zagreb. Stepinac was beatified by John Paul II when the pope visited the Marian shrine of Marija Bistrica, near Zagreb, Oct. 3, 1998.
Bibliography: Alojzije Kardinal Stepinac, Nadbiskup Zagrebacki, documentation for canonization (Zagreb 1996). s. alexander, The Triple Myth (New York 1987). d. baton, Mladi Stepinac. Pisma zarucnici (Rome 1975). e. bauer, Aloisius Kardinal Stepinac (Recklinghausen 1979). t. dragoun, Le Dossier du Cardinal Stepinac (Paris 1958). f. eterovic, Aloysius Cardinal Stepinac: A Spiritual Leader (Chicago 1970). n. istranin, Stepinac-un innocenta condemnatio (Vicenza 1982). a. h. o'brien, Archbishop Stepinac: The Man and His Case (Westminster, Md. 1947). r. pattee, The Case of Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac (Milwaukee 1953). e. pezet, Stepinac-Tito (Paris 1959). m. piovanelli, Un vincitore all'Est (Milan 1962). i. prcala and s. skrtic, The Man of God and His People (Cleveland 1961). m. raymond, The Man for this Moment: The Life and Death of Aloysius Cardinal Stepinac (New York 1971). m. a. rivelli, L'arcivescovo del genocidio (Milan 1999).
[g. j. prpic/
k. i. rabenstein]