After a long illness, Fr. Viktors Pentjuss, MIC, died in the rectory of the Parish of the Sorrowful Mother of God in the Old City of Riga at the age of 91 on February 19, 2007. A Holy Mass was celebrated for the deceased Fr. Viktor on February 22 at the Church of St. Francis at the Seminary in Riga. The Funeral Mass took place on Friday, February 23 in Vilani.
Viktors Pentjuss, son of Adam and Sophia Uzuls, was born on September 7, 1915 in Meza Vepri, Latvia (about 30 miles from Rezekne). In 1931, he entered the Marian Fathers in Vilani where he was accepted on May 18, 1932 into the novitiate, which was under direction of Fr. Stanislaw ·Skutans. He made his First Vows on May 26, 1933. He made his Final Profession on September 5, 1937. From 1932-1937, he attended the Catholic High School in Aglona. He then went to the Seminary which became the department of Catholic Theology in 1938 at the University of Riga. Deacon Viktors Pentjuss was ordained a priest in the Church of St. Francis in Riga on March 9, 1942, by Bishop J. Rancan. He celebrated his first Mass in the Marian Parish in Vilani on March 25, 1942. The new priest remained at the parish, at first as the Vicar and then after four years as the pastor. Near the end of 1947, the authorities ordered him leave Vilani. He was transferred to become the pastor of the Parish of Lamini and Tukums in Kurlandia, while also serving in Kandava and Zante.
After World War II, when Latvia became occupied by the Soviet Union, intense persecution of the Church began: many priests being arrested, some disappearing and some suffering a martyr’s death. Fr. Viktors was arrested on October 25, 1948 in the Parish of Tukums and put into prison in Riga. After four months of interrogations, on March 5, 1949, he was convicted to 10 years of forced labor for “assistance to the German occupation and for Anti-Soviet Agitation”. He was deported to the Republic of Komi to work with coal. He had the opportunity to offer Holy Mass, despite great difficulty, in some periods even daily. He worked as a priest among his fellow prisoners. He received the decision of discharge from camp on July 17, 1956 after the death of Stalin. However, he left the camp on August 3, 1956. The General Procurator’s Office in Latvia, canceled the unjust sentence only on December 3, 1989 and Fr. Viktor Pentjuss’s name was restored.
From September 1956 till March 1957, Fr. Viktors Pentjuss was a parish priest in Lamini in Kurlandia. He spent the next four years in the Marian Parish in Vilani. However, in this time the Marian priests were removed through trickery for several months, because of having blessed the houses of their parishioners. Therefore, he had to leave the Marian Parish and return to Kurlandia. During the next year, he was a parish priest in Arlava-Ciruli, then for five years in Saldus and Silaine, and then for nine years in Grenga and Eglaine.
Father Pentjuss was appointed to work at the Seminary in Riga on July 5, 1972 by Archbishop Julian Vaivods, nominating him an instructor of moral theology. He became substitute of the Pastor of the Cathedral of St. Jacob in Riga simultaneously. In 1991, he became the Spiritual Father in the Seminary. On November 27, 1992, he was nominated Vice-Rector of the Seminary and Instructor of several theology courses. He concluded his role in 1996 as the substitute of the Pastor of the Cathedral, but he became the Vicar Priest in the Parish of the Sorrowful Mother of God situated in the Old City of Riga. He also led a study for the Archdiocesan Centre of the Catechism for the laity. During the period of Soviet occupation, he clandestinely accepted candidates for the Marian Community, hidden from the authorities, and many Marians were fostered from the whole former Soviet block.
For the last several years, Fr. Viktors Pentjuss, because of his illnesses, which he endured with patience and good humor, did not leave the Rectory of the Parish of the Sorrowful Mother of God. He offered his service until the end as a priest and spiritual father. When he could not offer the Holy Mass in Church, the faithful came into his room to participate in the Eucharist. We commend our deceased Fr. Viktors to the Mercy of God.
A Double Funeral: Vilani, Latvia, February 23, 2007
Father Viktors Pentjuss, MIC
(09.07.1915 – 02.19.2007)
Father Janis Vaivods, MIC
(03.30.1926 – 02.20.2007)
The Lord Jesus used to call His disciples in twos. He also sent them out two by two, to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Sometimes, He also summons them home, two by two, such as with Sts. Peter and Paul. In His unfathomable Providence, God called to Himself two holy priests – a Marian and a Marian Associate from Latvia. And who knows? Maybe it’s been done so that they may support each other on this last road to eternity?
It’s very rare to have two people buried at the same time, even more rare to have the double funeral of two priests. What does the Lord God wish to tell us through this? It is a very sad circumstance, especially in the light of the great need for priests for the Church in Latvia and for our Congregation, the loss of a Marian and an Associate Member, who faithfully served till the end, in spite of old age and illness. On the other hand, this funeral was a triumph of the grace of faithfulness to the priestly and religious vocation. For how many are those who receive their priestly ordination and make religious vows, and yet let their vocation “die” during their lifetime?!
On May 26, 2007, Fr. Viktors Pentjuss would have celebrated the 75th Anniversary of his Religious Life. He entered the Marian novitiate on May 18, 1931, or exactly on the 300th Anniversary of the birth of our Founder, Fr. Stanislaus Papczyński (who will be beatified on September 16, 2007). May we perceive a hidden message in that date? Undoubtedly, this man was a great gift to our Congregation. And he believed in Fr. Papczyński’s holiness. Father Rinalds Stankevics, M.I.C., a Latvian, told me that when he called Fr. Viktors on the phone a few days before the latter’s death to give him the joyful news about Fr. Papczyńśski’s Beatification, Fr. Pentjuss literally gave a great shout of joy and said that he never doubted that our Founder would be elevated to the altars! He was enormously pleased that he lived to see this moment, displaying something like the “joy of Simeon.”
Viktors made his novitiate under Fr. Stanislaus Skutans’s direction (who was the Superior General of our Congregation from 1957-1963). Later, the demanding Fr. Bronislaw Valpitrs became the educator of the young student. After a rather severe opinion given about his charge in 1934, Fr. Bronislaw wrote on May 22, 1937, another, a very positive one, in which he asked the General Council to admit seminarian Pentjuss to perpetual vows: „Quoad mores Pentjuss ultimis duobus annis ostendit magnum progressum spiritualem: est obediens, satis devotus. castitas sine obejctione, superbia opugnatur per orationem et exercitia in virtute humilitatis, diligentia in comparanda scientia plus quam sufficiens, progressus in scientiis bonus, vacatio solida […]”.
Deacon Pentjuss was ordained a priest on March 9, 1942, at St. Francis’s Church in Riga located right next to the Archdiocesan seminary, which means that he served as a priest for almost 65 years! His Funeral Mass was also celebrated at St. Francis’s Church on February 22, 2007.
His Eminence Janis Cardinal Pujats was the main celebrant at the Funeral Mass, which was concelebrated by two bishops – Bishop Stanislaus Shyrokoradziuk from the Ukraine and Bishop Vilhelms Lapelis, OP, from the Diocese of Liepaja in Latvia, along with 30 diocesan and religious order priests (Marians, Dominicans, and Capuchins). Before the Mass, seminarians sang the exequies in Latin. Among the large crowd in attendance, there also was Bishop Emeritus Janis Cakuls and numerous religious sisters (Carmelites, Sisters of Mother Teresa of Calcutta). The liturgy was enhanced by a choir. In his homily, the Cardinal emphasized Fr. Viktors’s great merits for the Church in Latvia and thanked him for his long, humble, and very fruitful work as a spiritual director and Moral Theology professor at the Seminary of Riga (almost 25 years). The Cardinal also spoke of Fr. Viktors’s painful experiences in the coal mines in Vorkuta, where he did eight years of forced labor in terrible conditions.
After the Mass, Bishop Stanislaus Shyrokoradziuk, a pupil of the Departed, took the floor. On behalf of six bishops – alumnae of the Seminary in Riga – he gave thanks to Fr. Pentjuss for his truly fatherly care given to vocations from the Ukraine. He also recalled that, Fr. Viktors’s material support and educational work, had sustained generations of priests from Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus, and Russia during Communist times. Everybody simply called him, “Spiritual Father,” which was sort of his second name.
Let us note here that, Bishop Jan Pawel Lenga, a Marian, presently serving in Kazakhstan, was also Fr. Viktors’s pupil, and that the late, Fr. W. Vanags, MIC had also been taken “under the wings” of Fr. Pentjuss many years ago.
Then Fr. Kazimierz Pek, M.I.C., the Rector of the Marian Seminary in Lublin, spoke on behalf of our Congregation. He particularly underlined that Fr. Pentjuss, since he was a model Marian religious and priest, became a great gift for the Church in Central and Eastern Europe. He recalled a saying of Fr. Viktors’s, that every time is good for evangelization, be it the difficult Communist times or our present, uneasy times of neo-liberalism.
Let us mention here that Fr. Pentjuss had gathered around him many pious people and that he had given a “hefty” purse with golden kopeks, for the construction of the Marian Seminary in Lublin. This “treasure” had been miraculously brought over to Poland by Fr. Jozef Pietuszko, MIC.
On the part of our Congregation, the following participated in the Mass: the Latvian Provincial Superior Fr. Pavils Zeila, Fr. Jazeps Sitnieks, Fr. Andris Sevels, Fr. Rinalds Stankevics, as well as the above mentioned, Frs. Jozef Pietuszko (a representative of Belarus), Kazimierz Pek, and myself. Among the Diocesan priests there was Fr. Andrejs Trapucka who left our Congregation in 2005 and joined the Diocese of Riga’s clergy.
After the Mass, the casket was solemnly brought out of the Church and then the earthly remains of Fr. Viktors were transported to Vilani.
Father Juris Jelinskis, the Riga Seminary Rector, invited all of the priests and religious sisters to lunch at the seminary. A very hospitable reception was given to everyone.
On February 20, 2007, we learned of the death of Fr. Janis Vaivods who was a cooperator agregatus of our Congregation since November 1, 1999. Our Latvian confreres decided to bury him at the same time with Fr. Viktors. In his capacity as a priest, Fr. Janis served the Church in Latvia for over 57 years. He was a very well educated man (fluent in eight languages). For many years, he was a professor at the Riga Seminary. He spent the last seven years of his life in our monastery in Vilani. Father Janis wanted to undergo the novitiate and make religious vows, however, his health did not allow for it. Although he remained only a cooperator agregatus, he considered himself in his heart to be fully a Marian.
On the evening of February 22, 2007, two coffins were laid side by side in the dimly lit Vilani Church. A cross and a burning paschal candle stood between them. That same night, a pastor came from the nearby parish along with his parishioners to celebrate a Mass for the departed priests. Marian Fathers from the monastery in Vilani joined in the celebration. On the same day, some Marian confreres from Lublin also came: Fr. Andrzej Jerominek, spiritual director of the Seminary, Br. Stanislaw Bednarz (driver), Dc. Krzysztof Orlowski, and three seminarians from the Latvian community – Ervins Jaudzems (2nd year of philosophy), Dmitrij Artjomovs (5th year), and Imants Medvickis (5th year, a perpetually professed member).
On Friday, February 23, 2007, the liturgy of Christian Burial began at 11:30 AM at the Vilani Church. The exequies in Latin were sung before the Mass, His Excellency, Janis Bulis, Bishop of the Diocese of Rezekne-Aglona, to which Vilani belongs, was the main celebrant. Bishop Vilhelms Lapelis, O.P., Bishop of Liepaja, Latvia, also participated. In addition, 73 priests concelebrated, and four of them assisted at the confessional. Representatives of the Lithuanian Marians also came to the funeral: Frs. Tomas Miliauskas and Linas Sipavicius. Also, a member of the Lutheran Church from Riga was present. More than a half of the Latvian clergy attended the funeral, which speaks of the great respect that Frs. Pentjuss and Vaivods enjoyed. The Church was filled to the brim (almost 300 faithful attended). The multi-voice choir created a prayerful ambiance.
In his homily, Bishop Bulis recalled some biographical moments from the life of the two Departed. He emphasized their faithfulness and their sacrifices in working for the Church and he made them an example for other Religious and priests. The Bishop specifically stressed Fr. Pentjuss’s great merits in the formation of seminarians from the former Soviet block.
At the closing of the Mass, on behalf of the Superior General and the entire Congregation I thanked all the assembled for their presence and prayers. I also emphasized the important role played by Fr. Viktors in our Congregation, working in the areas occupied by the former Soviet Union. For his courage and dedication, he deserves the title, pater congregationis. In the history of illustrious Marians from Latvia – such as Frs. Benedict Skrinda and Janis Mendriks – his name is inscribed in capital letters. The upcoming Beatification of our Founder and the sanctity of life exhibited by many of his spiritual sons, proves that our Congregation can be a school and a way to holiness. I encouraged the Vice Postulator, Fr. Rinalds to begin gathering testimonies about the deceased Fr. Pentjuss.
At one time, Fr. Viktors said that he had spent the most beautiful retreat while incarcerated for two days in a prison cell without food or drink. Among the grafitti covering the prison walls, he found a cross which inspired him to zealous prayer and conversation with God.
One of the Diocesan priests told me that the students from the Riga Seminary had given Fr. Pentjuss a nickname “Giena.” That was the name of a benevolent crocodile from a children’s cartoon. This way the students wanted to emphasize the special characteristics of their “Spiritual Father”: his good humor and large grin with which he disarmed and attracted everyone.
I closed my speech, asking the Lord that those “two grains” planted in the Latvian soil give a bountiful harvest in the form of new and holy priestly and religious vocations. The Marian Community in Latvia has a great history and the young confreres have wonderful role models to follow. This is why we are convinced that this presently small, but spiritually vibrant community will also have a great future.
The ceremony closed with prayers at the caskets and the singing of the “Marian Hymn.” The bodies were then transported to the cemetery grounds. I was full of admiration for the Bishops and many priests who, in their indoor dress and with bare heads, heroically withstood the bitter cold of negative 22°F, scrupulously completing all the prescribed funeral rites!
After the ceremony, a lunch awaited all the priests, seminarians, and religious sisters. The pastor from the Lutheran Church in Riga spoke during the meal, stating that for many Protestant groups, Fr. Pentjuss’s advice served as a point of reference and orientation. Our Latvian Community ought to be recognized for the outstanding organization and execution of the funeral ceremonies.
That night, when all funeral rites had been concluded, Fr. Rinalds proposed to Fr. Andrzej Jerominek and me, a short trip to the National Marian Shrine in Aglona (43 miles from Vilani). The Church had exposition of the Blessed Sacrament that night. Under the Image of Our Lady with the Infant Jesus, there is an inscription: “Mostra te esse Matrem.” We prayed, asking Mary to show us that she truly is a tender Mother for our departed brethren, for our Latvian Community, and for the entire Congregation.
Saturday, February 24, 2007, on my way back to Warsaw, I visited the apartment where Fr. Viktors spent his last years. There I met Fr. A. Trapucko, whom I asked to assist our Latvian Community in the taking possession of Fr. Pentjuss’s personal belongings, documents, letters, and books. Those things will be placed in the Congregation’s Archives, while some of them will be displayed at the museum that Fr. Rinalds Stankevics plans to organize in Vilani.
May our brother, Viktors and our associate, Janis rest in eternal peace. Amen.