Franciscan Capuchins among Croats
The arrival of the Capuchin brothers to southern Slavic (and then Croatian) regions was largely influenced by the founding of the monastery in Graz in Styria (Austria) in 1600. Namely, early 1599, Duke Ferdinand II of Styria approached the Apostolic Nuncio in Graz with the aim of having Fr. Ludovik of Saxony deployed to found the new monastery. It was only in 1608 however, owing to the efforts of St. Laurence of Brindine that the monastery was founded. It is from this monastery that the Capuchin brothers then came to Ljubljana in 1606. The founding of these and later other monasteries in these regions signifies the starting point for the arrival of the Capuchin brothers to Croatian regions. Styria was then part of the Hapsburg Empire and encompassed Corinthia, Croatia, Slovenia and Istria. In 1600 the Capuchins came to Styria and other Austrian lands (they had arrived in Bohemia a year before that), founding the Czech-Austrian-Styrian commission which was divided in 1608, so the commission was raised to the level of a Province, or rather into two provinces forming the Czech-Austrian Province and Styrian Province. As new monasteries were founded the Slovenian and later Croatian monasteries were annexed to the Styrian Province.
The first Capuchins in Croatia
Even before the official arrival of the Capuchins to our regions, many Croats joined the Order outside the border of their homeland, most often in Italian provinces that bordered with Croatian regions) e.g. Venice, Ancona, Naples…)
According to some historical sources and findings, it seems that Fr. Ivan Dalmatinac and Fr. Vinko Predojević were the first Croats who entered the Order of Capuchins. Historical documents refer to Fr. Ivan as: Dalmata, Illyricus, Slavus and most often to the Italian version, Schiavone. He was born around 1508 in Dalmatia, which was then intensively connected economically to the Italian city of Naples. He was a Franciscan observant and transferred to the Capuchin brothers and became a member of the Napolitano Province. Records indicate that he was a highly reputed priest known for his virtue and repentant life. During his life he already enjoyed the repute of a saint and it was believed that he possessed the gift of prayer and counselling and was able to forecast the future. Many people came to him searching for help. He died in Naples in 1588.
Fr. Vinko was born in Dubrovnik and was a member of the Napolitano Province of Capuchins. He entered the Capuchin brothers in 1560.
In 1610 however, in Ljubljana two Capuchins from Dalmatia entered the monastery community: Fr. Mihovil from Šibenik (†1616 in Gorica) and Fr. Nikola from Split (†1625).
The first Croat to have entered the Order in our regions was Andrija Bare, who took the name of Fr. Benedict upon entering the Order. He was born around Krapina and put on the Capuchin habit in Veinna in 1606. He died a martyr’s death in 1635 in Radkersburg.
The second Croat from the coastal regions to be accepted to the Capuchin Order was from Senj: Grgur Riljanović, who was given the name of Fr. Damjan when he entered the Order. He put on the Religious habit in Gorica in 1613 and died as a priest in Ljubljana in 1660. By then, the Styrian Province had its first monastery on Croatian territory – in Rijeka, where the Capuchins began to build their monastery in 1610.
First contacts with Zagreb
Several years later the Capuchins arrived in Zagreb. The foundation stone for the monastery in the Upper Town, near the current cable car, was laid on 5 May 1618. The first Zagreb resident to enter the Order was Franjo Čunko, who was given the name Filip when he entered the Order. He died a preacher in Zagreb in 1673.
Arrival to other Croatian regions
During the golden era of the Order (the period from 1625 to 1789) the Capuchin brother spread to other Croatian cities.
Since the very founding of the Styria Province (1608), the Venetian Province was in charge of the superior and care over the Styrian Province. As such, the founding of new monasteries was conducted under the auspices of the Venetian Province and this Province was responsible for assigning new personnel to the new monasteries until new monks were recruited and educated from these regions themselves. The first Provincial of the Styria Province was Fr. Fortunat from Verona, a member of the Venetian Province. In 1613 these ties were severed because at the general capitule held that year, the Venetian Province renounced it supremacy and care over these regions and so this role was taken over by order of the Supreme Minister Fr. Paul from Ceseno by the Anconca (Marche) Province.
Contacts with the Anconca Province and its influence in our regions are closely related to the name of the great Dubrovnik Capuchin Fr. Mihael Anđelo Boždarević. He was born on 22 June 1652. He entered the Order through the Ancona Province. He was professor of Theology of many years. In 1702 he became the Provincial Minister of his province and was once again elected to this title in 1709. At the general capitule that same year on 17 May, he was elected as the General Definer (advisor), while on 13 May 1712 he was appointed the General Minister of the Order. He was known as a theologian and preacher. He died in Potenza Picena (Italy) on 28 April 1729.
In 1688 a monastery was founded in Herceg Novi and in 1691 in Split. The Capuchin’s came to Zadar in 1732. Their work in these regions similarly to other Franciscans, on the most part was directed to offering spiritual help and social assistance to the people caught up in the war turbulence of the Turkish onslaughts. The monasteries in Rijeka and Zagreb were pillars of penance and their activities expanded over upper Croatia. Even though not one more monastery was founded in northern Croatia throughout the entire 17th Century, there were many young men who accepted religious life, particular those around Rijeka and Zagreb. An important centre near Zagreb for the Capuchins with regard to the number of new novices was Krapina and on the coast, Senj.
XVIII & XIX centuries
In the early XVIII century, with the mediation of the Croatian Sabor (parliament), the Capuchins came to Varaždin and on 25 April 1701, Zagreb Bishop Stjepan Zeliščević laid the foundation stone for the Capuchin church and monastery of the Holy Trinity. The church and monastery were built with the gracious donations of the nobility. In 1703, the Capuchin Religious came to Osijek where they built a monastery in honour of St. Jacob the apostle and in 1718 they opened a monastery in Belgrade. From 1724, for a while they had a monastery in Zemun. With the arrival of the Capuchins to Varaždin and under their influence the town rapidly became a spiritual centre. The town itself and surroundings brought forth many young men to the Capuchins.
Lika and Krbava were large fields ripe for Evangelisation by the Capuchin brothers in the past and the most significant figure in the religious and cultural life of that region was Fr. Marin from Senj. Prior to the end of the XVII century he was deployed to Lika and Krbava with the necessary ecclesiastic and state authority. He managed to raise the religious life and belief of entire towns like Perušić, Budak, Bilaj, Ribnik, Novi and others. With his reverend and holy endeavours he managed to build two chapels: in Perušić and Ribnik. At the invitation of the emperor’s court in 1710, he took charge of building a monastery in Karlobag. Later, in 1716, he built a small hospices in Kaniža near Gospić which was an affiliate monastery to that in Karlobag and a worthwhile centre to develop the apostolic activities of the Capuchin brothers throughout Lika and Krbava.
In the midst of their growth in numbers and progress in their spiritual work the Capuchins in Croatia came under the influence of the rule of the enlightened absolutist Emperor Joseph II. The then ‘Styria Province’ (to which all the Croatian monasteries belonged to) was at its height in strength. It counted about 800 Religious and 34 monasteries. One of the emperor’s orders regarding the Religious was to sever all ties between the monasteries in Croatia and Slovenia with those located in Austria (including today’s Slovenia). The emperor’s decree of 18 May 1738 then rendered Croatia’s monasteries an independent custodian, ‘Croatian-Coastal’. The first to become a custodian in the region on 19 November 1738 was the former Provincial Minister of Styria, Fr. Severin from Varaždin, a Religious who was reputable and reliable. The rule of Joseph II in Austria and later the French Revolution had negative effects on religious orders and monastic communities. The monastery in Zagreb, the second oldest in Croatia was dismissed in 1788 and the Province itself invested huge efforts to help the other communities to survive. The situation was not any better in other parts of Europe where the life of the Religious overall was faced with a huge crisis and so the Capuchin Order was no exception. The second heavy drawback to the Order was the stagnation of vocations. The emperor’s orders required state run education for priests and priests were in fact just the Emperor’s civil servants.
In those towns where the Capuchins still existed (Rijeka, Varaždin, Karlobag) there were not any of their schools and so new recruits could not be accepted. On several occasions the custodian Fr. Modest Laurenčić.
Fr. Angelik Bedenik († 1865.) from Rijeka mediated on their behalf with Zagreb Bishop Maximilijan Vrhovac and Croatia’s Duke Erdoedy and even with the Hungarian primate, Cardinal Battiani, but to no avail.
However, the Capuchins managed to overcome these circumstances and managed to organise their own school headed by Fr. Tom Csakasy, who was born in Gyoera in Hungary. This worthy Religious managed the custody for twelve years (1809-1821). He died in 1824. That same year a youth aged just sixteen entered the Order, Juraj Bedenik from Koprivnica, who was given the name Fr. Angelik and it was he who was to mark a new era in the development of the Croatian Capuchin order.
Fr. Angelik became the custodian in 1845. One of his first achievements was to obtain a decree from the General Minister of the Order, Fr. Venanci from Torino, which raised the custody to the rank of a province in 1847. The Emperor’s approval of that promotion arrived following the mediation of Zagreb Bishop Juraj Haulik on 21 September 1848 and Fr. Angelik became the first provincial in 1848. As provincial he endeavoured to increase the number of Religious and monasteries in the province. He managed to found a hospices and built a monastery in Trieste. Towards the end of the XIX century the entire Order, like many Religious movements in Europe, stagnated following the abolishment of monasteries and the expelling of the Religious. This fall in numbers was reflected in Croatia too amongst the Capuchins. One of the novelties the Order introduced that year was the founding of a seraphim seminary. This initiative was adopted by the Venetian Province too where another seraphim seminary was soon opened in Udine and one of the first positive fruits of this initiative was our St. Leopold Bogdan Mandić.
Unfortunately, this initiative was not introduced in the Croatian Province because priests in Croatia were still just civil servants in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, which required that they attend state run schools and it seems that there was not too much interest at the time to change matters in this regard.
In 1884 a great Religious from Switzerland was elected as General Minister of the Order Fr. Bernard Christen from Andermatt, who inspired new life into the entire Order.
St. Leopold Bogdan Mandić, an apostle in the confessional
XX. Century and re-establishment of the Province
A little later don Nikola Škrivanić a priest from the Split Diocese and parish priest in Kaštel Sućurac, entered the Order on 18 May 1889, and was given the name Fr. Bernardin. In 1901, he was elected as the Provincial Minister for the Croatian Province and remained at its helm until 1918, first as Provincial and then from 1910, as a commissioner since the renewed Constitution did not allow for provinces to remain without sufficient numbers.
Fr. Bernardin was responsible for the expansion of apostolic activities particularly in Rijeka. He built a new church to Our Lady of Lourdes. He was the initiator of many a grandiose venture which made this a special centre for the Capuchins in Croatia (with the founding of their own modern printing office 'Miriam')
Fra Bernardin Škrivanić († 1932.) 'The house of good printing’, a renown publishing house. He was responsible for organising pilgrimages to Lourdes and Rome and elsewhere).
The monastery in Rijeka became a strong point in Croatia’s Catholic movement, headed by Krk Bishop Anton Mahnič. Rijeka was where Mahnić’s 'Hrvatska straža', was published and printed and the 'Riječke novine' were launched and which came out daily during an entire year. The province itself grew in number. In 1905, Fra Bernardin founded the 'Seraphim college’ in Varaždin for junior high school students. Early 1913, the Croatian commissioner was charged with the care of the Capuchin mission in Bulgaria.
Seeing that the Italian Capuchins had abandoned almost all the Dalmatian monasteries, except the one in Zadar, Split Bishop Filip Franjo Nakić called Fr. Bernadine in 1908 and asked that the Croatian Capuchins take over the well known Split shrine ‘Our Lady of Pojišano’ and so that year the Capuchins arrived in Split. Similar circumstances occurred in Dubrovnik too where the Capuchins settled following an invitation by Dubrovnik Bishop Josip Marčelić in 1913.
World War I, the departure of the Croatian Capucihns from Rijeka and the internal crisis caused by the lack of interested people and disorientation of the Fra Pavao Ivakić, mučenički ubijen 1945.
clergy in Croatia, as well as the lack of forethought and flexibility of Fr. Bernadin’s successors in the commission’s management halted the positive aspects of Fr. Bernadin’s ventures and the rapid expansion of the Capuchins in their numbers and their presence in new cities in the country.
Following the establishment of the new state order – Yugoslavia – in 1918, there were eight Croatia commissions within its borders: Varaždin, Karlobag, Dubrovnik, Split and the Slovenian monasteries in the 'Styrian Province’: Celje, Škofja Loka, Krško and as of 1920 in Maribor (Studenci).
Apart from that there was a monastery in Osijek too.
The Capuchins came to Osijek in 1704 as pastoral carers for German migrants. In 1920, the Order placed the monastery under the management of Slovenian Capuchins who were trained sufficiently to be pastoral carers in the native tongue of the new settlers, in German.
In an effort to arrange the proper distribution of administration in 1921 the ‘Styrian Province’ was abolished and Slovenia’s monasteries were united with the Croatian commission into a new province to be known as the ‘Illyrian Province’. The Bulgarian mission which too was served by Croatian Capuchins was put under the administration of the Tyrol Province in 1926.
In these new circumstances it was possible once again for Croatia’s Capuchins to increase their numbers once again.
With the efforts of Fr. Anzelmo Canjuga a seminary was built in Varaždin (St. Joseph’s Convent) which housed the hospital following World War I until 1970. The Convent was once again then returned to the Capuchin’s and was used for its initial purpose. After a full 150 years the Capuchins once again returned to Zagreb following the just deserves of Zagreb’s Archbishop and Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac.
Fra Anzelmo Canjuga, croatian church musican
In the Zagreb suburb of Dubrava, Cardinal Stepinac commissioned the Capuchin’s with the newly founded parish of St. Michael Archangel. Here, they built a monastery and church in 1941. The construction was headed by Fr. Maks Mašić. Following World War II the Croatian Capuchins were re-instated with their monastery in Rijeka in 1948 in reality and legally in 1954.
In 1967, the 'Illyrian Province' was divided into the Croatian and Slovenian commissions and in 1974, the Croatian commission was proclaimed a separate province following a decree on 18 October 1974, by the General Minister of the Order Fr. Pashal Rywalski.
* * * * * * * * * *
In the period following the Second Vatican Council Croatia’s Capuchin brothers invested a great deal of effort to meet the huge demands and needs of the time and to act as the Evangelic yeast of the Church in modern society. Apart from that, they are constantly working on spiritual renewal and are actively involved in the efforts of Evangelisation by the Church but also, seeking for ways to remain faithful to their Franciscan-Capuchin charisma.
* * * * *