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

Fr. Janis was born on January 21, 1907 to the family of Antoni and Anna Plocins of the Logocki village in the parish of Kalupe, near Aglona in Latvia. He joined the Congregation of Marian Fathers on October 26, 1926 and on December 8 of the same year he began his novitiate In Vilani under the direction of Fr. Benedict Skrinda. Janis made his first vows on December 9, 1927. Following the profession of vows, he attended the Cathlic high school in Algona. He made his perpetual vows on January 6, 1933, upon which he entered the Riga Seminary. On Sunday, April 3, 1938 Archbishop Antoni Springowicz ordained him to the priesthood at St. James’ Cathedral in Riga.

After the ordination, Fr. Janis served as a vicar in the Marian Fathers’ parish in Vilani as well as several nearby parishes. For a period of time he served in the parishes of Lamini, Kondawa and Savile in Courland,[1] always carrying out his ministry with zeal and dedication.

When the German army occupied Latvia, he was the pastor in Ostrone (Latvia). During his ministering in that parish, partisans killed a policeman who had collaborated with the Germans. The occupying authorities ordered a solemn Catholic funeral, but the Servant of God refused, because the man openly lived in sin with a concubine without entering into the sacrament of marriage. On the night before the funeral, unknown people filled the prepared grave with dirt and dug another one outside the cemetery grounds. The occupying authorities placed the blame on Fr. Janis – the parish priest. He was subjected to multiple interrogations and threats to be sent to a concentration camp. With his religious superiors’ consent, the Servant of God fled and went into hiding for about two years until 1944, when the Soviet re-occupation began and Fr. Janis was able to resume his service as a parish priest.

On February 19, 1948 Fr. Janis was appointed pastor of the Jauborne and Elerna parish. After nearly three years of service, on October 25, 1950, he was arrested by the Soviet secret police and sent to a Riga’s prison. On March 24, 1951, he was sentenced to 10 years of forced labor for “anti-Soviet activism and organizing of anti-Soviet nationalist groups.” He was sent to Komi Republic to work at a coal mine near Vorkuta.

While in the labor camp, Fr. Janis continued his pastoral work among the prisoners secretly and devotedly. He celebrated Holy Mass, heard confessions and administered Holy Communion. He always carried with him a small metal box fashioned as a cigarette case, where he kept the Eucharist.

In the wake of the political thaw after Stalin’s death on March 5, 1953, the prisoners began a strike to regain freedom. The camp authorities called in the armed forces, which surrounded the camp on August 1, 1953. Convinced that he, as a priest, should be where the people were dying to prepare them to meet God, the Servant of God Janis moved to the first row of the prisoners. He was shot dead while reciting the formula of absolution: “Misereatur vestri Omnipotens Deus …”.

On July 5, 1991 Fr. Janis Mendriks was fully vindicated by the Office of Prosecutor General of Latvia.

Testimony given by Hippolyte Razbadauskas about Father Jan Mendriks, his pastoral ministry and death:
“December 25, 1976
Forced labor camp in the Komi Republic, near Vorkuta, Russia, Pit No. 29, 1950-1955.

On August 1, 1953, Father Janis Mendriks, MIC, was shot dead at Pit No. 29. The following keepsakes were collected and stored by the closest associate of the deceased, a political prisoner named Hippolyte Razbadauskas:
1. Metal box for hosts. The Blessed Sacrament was kept in it.
2. Corporal.
3. Metal crucifix.
4. Four prayer cards.
I, the undersigned, Hippolyte Razbadauskas, son of Janis, a Catholic, born in 1903, former political prisoner, declare the following:

On February 1, 1945, the Military Tribunal of the Soviet sentenced me to 10 years of forced labor at a camp and 5 years of exile. In order to serve my sentence, I was taken to Vorkuta, to a labor camp – a coal mine, pit number 29.

I was there from 1950 to 1953, and it was then that I met a Latvian Catholic priest by the name of Janis Mendriks, another political prisoner who shared my fate. He was sharp-minded, joyful and energetic, endowed with a kind disposition, patience, compassion, and an apostolic spirit. He was truly a holy priest.

Every month Fr. Mendriks would hear our confessions and administer Holy Communion.

It was not easy for the faithful to fulfill our spiritual practices, but it was even more difficult for the priests to perform their religious services. Everything had to be well concealed and done in great secret.

The Blessed Sacrament was hidden in a metal box that looked like a cigarette case, so that – in the event of search – the camp staff would think that there were cigarettes inside. This cigarette case turned out to be the best device for protecting the Blessed Sacrament. If need be, it was possible to take it along when going to work, where we were marched in rows of four men, surrounded by camp guards with wolfhounds. We were exhausted and hungry, and yet we prayed because a priest carrying Jesus Christ was with us.

People went to confession and received Holy Communion under various covers: when bringing water to the barracks, in the dining room, during a stroll, while removing snow from squares, anywhere they could not be seen by a guard or a “rat” – an informer, a traitor.

When I was appointed to help in the infirmary, it became easier to perform religious services. I was in charge of a small, but slightly heated storeroom where they kept both supplies and animals: 20 rabbits, guinea pigs and white rats.
Also, patients for tests were sent to this storeroom. In the reigning tumult, no one would know whether the body or the soul was being healed. The entire infirmary personnel was composed of prisoners: doctors, paramedics, the pharmacist, and paramedics. There were no traitors among us, we all went to confession. As soon as the command to rise was given in the morning, we hurried to the infirmary to light the stove and do other chores before the sick arrived. Until the sick came, we had the infirmary to ourselves since only we, the nurse’s aids, were there. Then the priests – Striniukas and others – would come and celebrated Mass in my storeroom. Once, upon leaving the storeroom, the priest stroked a large rabbit and said: “You are O.K., better than a human “rat” – the traitor. We don’t’ fear you, because you won’t betray us”.

One Sunday Father Mendriks was in the barracks when he learned of the oncoming general shakedown (frisk). At once he brought the Blessed Sacrament to me and we hid it in my storeroom, in the medicine cabinet. Guards came here also, looked it over and said: “This is the pharmacy storage.”

So, this is how the days passed, from the command to rise until the command to sleep. Such was the daily order, the manner in which our miserable time passed.

On March 5, 1953, the camp public address system reported the death of Stalin, and the whole camp was overwhelmed with joy. The terrible figure of Beria also disappeared with Stalin’s demise. Gone were locks on the barracks doors, bars on the windows and the numbers on the prisoners’ clothes, which made them feel again like normal people. But they expected something more: they wanted freedom. However, their hopes were futile. Freedom was not granted. Stalin’s “tune” was still playing, and the musicians were the same: Malenkov , Khrushchev and others.

Deceived in their expectations of prompt release, the prisoners decided to demand it. They refused to work and started a strike.

Not a single crew went to work on July 25, 1953. The pit and labor camp supervisors were gripped by fear. This situation arose for the first time in the history of the Soviet Union.

Lower rank managers tried to persuade the prisoners to resume their work, but their efforts failed. Just one option was left: to use force.

The day of July 30 was approaching. The prisoners organized themselves and waited calmly for further developments. The Holy Mass, attended by many people, was celebrated. They went to confession, received Holy Communion, prayed and were ready for every outcome.

The camp seemed to function normally, although unusual activities among the soldiers were noticeable. One group attached loudspeakers to the poles, another dug trenches, the third set up mine throwers. This left no doubt that an attack on the camp was being prepared.

Then came the dawn of August 1 – a blood-stained day, when the sword of death fell on our camp. A company of soldiers armed with assault rifles arrived, a fire brigade also came. High-ranking officials made their appearance. Photographers were everywhere. The prisoners’ movements were filmed.

Father Mendriks came to me at 7 in the morning. He received Holy Communion and said that he was ready for anything. As we talked, loudspeakers delivered the government’s ultimatum, the content of which, as far as I remember, was as follows: all prisoners had 30 minutes to gather at the main entrance to the labor camp, controlled by soldiers. Doctors, orderlies, the sick and kitchen workers were ordered to gather at the middle of the camp.

I asked Fr. Mendriks to hear my confession, which I made kneeling right there, in the infirmary.

As he was about to give me the Holy Communion, Fr. Mendriks paused for a moment and then ordered me to consume all hosts he had with him. There were more than 10 of them. Crying with emotion, I received Holy Communion as Viaticum, getting ready for the road to eternity. The next minutes flew by quickly. I wanted to talk more with the priest, but there was no time: the reading of the ultimatum was coming to an end. I brought a smock for the priest and begged him to stay in the infirmary as if he were an orderly. He refused, saying that he had a duty – as a priest – to be where people were to die, to save their souls. He gave me his priestly paraphernalia and told me to safeguard them if I stayed alive. I have protected these objects for 24 years, keeping them in good order, to which I hereby testify.

Father Janis bade me a fraternal farewell and went to the line of fire. It was his last goodbye.
A thousand-strong crowd of prisoners stood by the front gate (the checkpoint). They held hands, thus preventing anyone from passing through the gate. Having realized this, the men in command ordered the camp guards and 50 soldiers to enter the camp and use force to open a passage through the gate. The prisoners resisted with all their might, using fists to drive the soldiers back past the checkpoint.

As the soldiers were driven to the other side of the gate, shots from the assault rifles were fired and prisoners in the first line fell down lifeless. Father Mendriks was among them.

From a dying compatriot, I learned that Father Janis was giving absolution to the dying until his last moments, reciting: “Misereatur vestri omnipotens Deus …”

A doctor by the name of Suslin, who performed the autopsy on Fr. Mendriks told me afterward that his body looked as if it had been sawn in half.

This is how this venerable priest ended his difficult days. He was buried in the cemetery of Pit No. 29. He was mourned by all the faithful: Latvians, Lithuanians and Ukrainians. He was a dear and holy priest to everyone.

We wondered if we would have another priest. We didn’t wait long. A few days later, Divine Providence sent us Fr. Antoni Szeszkieiwcz.

I wrote this testimony by my own hand and I confirm its authenticity with my signature

H. Razbadauskas “

By the letter of February 9, 2021 the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints opened the process of the Servant of God Fabian and four companions – one of whom is Fr. Janis Mendriks, MIC. The official title of the process is: “Varsaviensis Beatificationis seu Declarationis Martyrii Servorum Dei Fabiani Abrantowicz et IV Sociorum, Sacerdotum Congregationis Clericorum Marianorum ab Immaculata Conceptione Beatæ Virginis Mariæ in odium Fidei, uti fertur, interfectorum.”

Almighty and merciful God, You granted Your servant Fabian and four companions – Andrzej, Eugeniusz, Janis and Vladas – the grace of martyrdom and called them to be true witnesses of Your Son’s Passion and Resurrection. May they be raised to the glory of the altars, so that we, after their example and through their intercession, may faithfully fulfill God’s calling in our own life. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

We encourage you to pray for graces through the intercession of the Servant of God Fabian and Companions – Martyrs. Please send information about healings or other graces received from God through the intercession of Archimandrite Fabian and Companions to:

Postulatore Generale dei Chierici Mariani
Casa Generalizia
Via Corsica, 1
00198 Roma, Italia
Tel.: 011-39-06-853-703-1
Fax: 011-39-06-853-703-22

[1] Courland is one of the historical and cultural regions in western Latvia. The largest city is Liepāja, the third largest city in Latvia. The regions of Semigallia and Selonia are sometimes considered as part of Courland as they were formerly held by the same duke (from Wikipedia).