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Servant of God Fr. John Mendriks (1907-1953)

Fr. J. Mendricks

Fr. John as born on January 21, 1907, in the village of Logocki, the parish of Kalupe near Aglona in Lithuania, of father Antoni and mother Anna nee Plocins. After entering the Congregation of Marians, he began his novitiate in Vilani on December 8, 1926, under the direction of Fr. Benedict Skrinda. He made his first vows on December 9, 1927. After the profession, he continued his studies in a Catholic gymnasium in Aglona. On January 6, 1933, he pronounced his perpetual vows. In the same year he began his studies at the Riga Seminary. On Sunday, April 3, 1938, he was ordained a priest by Archbishop Antoni Springowicz at St. Jakob's Cathedral in Riga.

After his ordination to the priesthood, he served as a vicar at the Marian parish in Vilani, commuting to nearby churches that also were under the Marians' care. For some time he served in the parishes of Lamini, Kandava, and Sabile in Kurlandia (the southern part of the historical area formerly called Inflanty on the shore of the Gulf of Riga). He fulfilled his vocation with zeal.

At the end of 1942, serving at the parish of Ostone, he refused to perform the rite of Christian burial for a policeman in the German service who was killed by the partisans because the man was known to have a concubine. Fr. Mendriks had to flee from the parish because the Nazis wanted to kill him. He remained in hiding until the end of the war.

After the end of the war he was able to do pastoral work openly under the Soviet occupation. On February 19, 1948, he became pastor of the Jaunborne and Elerna parish. After almost three years of ministry, on October 25, 1950, he was arrested by MGB in Jaunborne and then sent to prison in Riga. He was sentenced on March 24, 1951, to 10 years of forced labor in a camp for "organizing anti-Soviet nationalist gangs and for anti-Soviet propaganda." He was then deported to the Republic of Komi and worked at a coal mine in Vorkuta.

During his stay in the labor camp, Fr. Mendriks secretly fulfilled his priestly service among prisoners: celebrating at times Holy Mass, hearing confessions, and giving Holy Communion. For this he used to carry with him a small box in the form of a cigarette case, in which he kept the Eucharist.

After Stalin's death, the deportees thought that the situation was hopeful for their liberation from the camp. When this did not happen, they began a strike on July 25, 1953 and did not go to work. The camp authorities, being unable to convince the prisoners to go back to work, called for army reinforcements. They arrived on August 1st and surrounded the camp. Fr. Mendriks believed that he had to stay with the other prisoners exposed to mortal danger in order to prepare them for death. Thus, he placed himself in the first row. Soldiers began to fire at the prisoners, and those in the first row fell dead on the ground. Among them was also Fr. John Mendriks who was killed while reciting the formula of absolution.

The General Public Prosecutor's Office in Latvia rehabilitated Fr. Jan Mendriks on July 5, 1991.

On May 31, 2003, at the Major Seminary of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, in St. Petersburg, Russia, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the Metropolitan of Moscow, officially opened the beatification process of the Martyrs slaughtered by the Communist authorities of the Soviet Union. Among the candidates for the honor of the altars to be officially declared a Blessed Martyr of the Soviet regime is Father John Mendriks.

Testimony by Hipolit Razbadauskas about Fr. Jan Mendriks, M.I.C., his ministry, and death:

"December 25, 1976

Archipelago Gulag, Republic of Komi, Vorkuta, shift no. 23, 1950-1955

On August 1, 1953, Father Jan Mendriks, M.I.C., was shot to death in the shift no. 19. Relics were gathered and stored by the departed's closest coworker, political prisoner Hipolit Razbadauskas.

1. Small metal box for hosts. The Most Holy Sacrament was kept there.
2. Corporal.
3. Small metal crucifix.
4. Four images (prayer cards?).

I, the undersigned, Hipolit Razbadauskas, son of Jan, a Roman Catholic, born in 1903, former political prisoner, testify as follows:

On February 1, 1945, I was sentenced by the Military Tribunal of the Soviet Union to 10 years of forced labor in a camp and 5 years of exile. For doing my time I was sent to the Vorkuta camp, to work in a coal mine, shift no. 29.

I stayed at that camp from 1950 to 1953 and I met another man there, who shared with me the destiny of a political prisoner. He was a Latvian, Catholic priest by the name of Jan Mendriks. He was marked by a profound intellect, joyful and kind attitude, patience, compassion, and apostolic spirit. He was a truly holy priest.

Every month Fr. Mendriks got us together and gave us Holy Communion.

It was not easy for the believers to fulfill religious practices, but it was far more difficult for priests to perform pastoral ministry. Everything had to be well masked and take place in great secret.

The Most Holy Sacrament was hidden in a small box, which looked like a cigarette case so that the camp authorities would think that it contained cigarettes. This cigarette case was the best solution for keeping the Most Holy Sacrament safe. In case of necessity it was possible to take it along to work, where we were driven in foursomes in a row surrounded by camp guards with dogs. We were exhausted and hungry, but at the same time we prayed because among us there was a priest carrying Jesus Christ.

People went to confession and accepted Holy Communion in different ways: when bringing water to the shack, in the dining area, during walks, at the squares while removing the snow; everywhere else where they could not be seen by a "squealer" — a denunciator, a traitor.

Conditions for religious practices improved when I became an orderly at the dispensary. I had at my disposal a small, but heated storeroom, which contained both dead and live inventory: 20 rabbits, white rats, and guinea pigs.

The sick were also sent to that place, where tests were done. No one could tell in the prevailing commotion what exactly was treated there: body or soul. The entire dispensary staff: doctors, practicing nurses, pharmacists, orderlies, all were prisoners. There were no traitors among us, and everyone went to confession. After the morning command "to rise" we all rushed to the dispensary to make a fire in the furnace and complete other jobs before the sick would come. The dispensary was deserted until the sick arrived, so we, the orderlies, had it to ourselves. Somewhat later the priest would come, Fr. Striniukas and others, and celebrate the Holy Mass at my storeroom. Once, a priest leaving my storeroom, petted a big rabbit and said: "You are good, better than a man — traitor, "squealer". We are not afraid of you, because you won't betray us."

One day during a search conducted because of Sunday, Fr. Mendriks was in our barracks. Upon learning about the search, he brought to me the Most Holy Sacrament and hid it in my storeroom, in the medicine cabinet. The officials came also to that room, took a look at it and said: "This is the medical supplies storage."

This is the way our days flowed: from the command "to rise" until the order "to go to sleep." Such was our daily schedule, this was way our miserable time was spent.

When the camp relaying system brought us the news about Stalin's death on March 5, 1953, the entire camp was swept with joy. The terrible figure of Beria disappeared along with Stalin's demise. Door locks in our barracks vanished along with window grates and numbers on our clothes. Prisoners began to feel again like human beings, but they expected something more, they expected freedom. However, our hope for regaining freedom let us down. There was no freedom for us. Stalin's music kept on playing and the musicians were the same: Malenkov, Khrushtshev, and others.

Prisoners, incapable of waiting any longer for liberation, decided to claim their freedom. They refused to go to work and announced a strike.

On July 25, 1953, no crew went to work. The camp and mine officials were terrified. This was the first time such an incident happened in the Soviet Union.

Local bosses tried to persuade the prisoners to return to work, but their attempts failed. Yet, they still could exercise violence.

July 30 approached. The prisoners got organized and calmly awaited further developments. A Mass was celebrated with a great number of people in attendance. People also went to confession and to Communion; they stayed in prayer and were ready for anything.

The camp's life seemed to run its normal course, although an unusual activity among soldiers could be noted. One group was attaching loudspeakers to the posts, another was digging trenches, yet another was putting up mine-throwers. Evidently, an attack at the camp was being prepared.

Then came the dawn of August 1 — a bloodstained day, on which the sword of death fell on our camp. A military squad armed with machine guns arrived, followed by a firefighters' brigade. High-ranking officials were also noted. Cameramen were everywhere. Movements of prisoners were filmed.

Fr. Mendiks came to see me at 7 in the morning. He had already received Holy Communion. He told me that he was prepared for anything. During our conversation we heard, broadcasted through loudspeakers, the official ultimatum that said, as far as I remember, that all prisoners had 30 minutes to gather at the camp's main entrance, which was controlled by soldiers. The center part of the camp had to be taken by doctors, orderlies, the sick, and kitchen staff.

I asked Fr. Mendriks to hear my confession, and then delivered it kneeling right there, in the dispensary.

While preparing to give me Holy Communion, the priest stopped and thought for a while, and then ordered me to consume all the hosts that he had with him. There were more than 10 of them. Being deeply moved, I sobbed, while receiving Holy Communion as if a viaticum, getting myself ready for the road to eternity. The final minutes went by very quickly. I wanted to talk with the priest, but there was no time: the ultimatum was reaching its end. I brought a white frock for the priest and begged him to remain in the dispensary as if he were an orderly. He did not consent to it, saying that, as a chaplain, he had a duty to be where people were dying to save their souls. He handed me the attributes of his priesthood and asked me to keep them safe as long as I remained alive. I guarded those relics for 24 years, keeping them in proper order, to which I hereby testify.

Fr. Jan bid me a fraternal farewell and went to the line of fire. That was his last good-bye.

A crowd of prisoners, numbering about a thousand, stood by the main gate (the sentry gate). They were holding hands thus preventing anyone from crossing the gate. Upon seeing that, the commanders ordered the chief of the camp security and 50 soldiers to enter the campgrounds and to forcibly open a passage to the gate. Prisoners resisted and with all their strength, using fists, threw soldiers back past the gate.

When soldiers were already on the other side of the gate, gun shots came. A series of shots from the machine guns was heard and people standing in the first row fell to the ground, lifeless. Among them was Fr. Mendriks.

I learned from a dying compatriot that in the very last moment Fr. Mendriks was giving absolution to the dying, reciting the formula: Misereatur vestri omnipotens Deus.

I learned about Fr. Mendriks's death from doctor Suslin who performed the autopsy. Suslin said that the priest's body looked as if it was sawed.

Thus ended his days this venerable priest. He was buried at the cemetery of shift no. 29. He was bereaved by all the faithful: Latvians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians. He was a dear and holy priest to everyone.

We asked ourselves if we would have another priest. We did not have to wait for long. Several days later Divine Providence sent us Fr. Antoni Szeszkiewicz, a priest full of pastoral zeal.

I wrote this testimony myself. I testify to its authenticity with my own signature.

H. Razbadauskas"

We encourage you to seek the intercession of Fr. John for your needs, we would also like for you to pray for the beatification of Fr. John. If your prayers, through his intercession, are answered, please contact the Postulator General for the Marian Causes of Canonization.

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