The Presentation Sisters came to Slovakia in 1992 and up to ten sisters from Ireland have served there at the one time. There are currently eight sisters from the three Irish provinces; they are engaged in a wide range of ministries.
Our mission statement in Slovakia expresses our hopes and dreams for our Mission here:
“We walk among the Slovak people in joyful hope, being a listening reflective presence and accompanying them on their journey. We give encouragement and support in challenging injustices, empowering people to live with dignity and freedom“.
A Word about Slovakia
Slovakia is a new state in Europe populated by old national groups. The majority of the 5.3 million inhabitants of the Slovak Republic are Slovak (86%). Hungarians are the largest ethnic minority (11%), and are concentrated in the southern and eastern regions of Slovakia. Proportionately, Slovakia has the highest population of Roma in the region, estimated at around 500,000 people. Other ethnic groups include Czechs, Ruthenians (or "Rusins"), Germans, and Poles. Recent and unregistered immigration has been mainly from the poorer Eastern European countries, with significant Russian, Ukrainian, Serb and Bulgarian groups concentrated in the larger cities.
Christianity was first brought to the region in its Eastern form in the 9th century by the Slavic missionary activity of Saints Cyril and Methodius. From the 11th until the early 20th century, present-day Slovakia was under Hungarian rule, and became a predominantly Catholic territory. The Slovak national revival was begun in the 19th century by intellectuals seeking to revive the Slovak language and culture.
The formation of the Czechoslovak Republic in 1918 following World War I satisfied the common aspirations of Czechs and Slovaks for independence from the Habsburg Empire. On November 17th, 1989, a series of public protests known as the "Velvet Revolution" began, including the much celebrated fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9th 1989, which led to the downfall of communist rule in Czechoslovakia, which began in 1948. In 1992, negotiations on the new federal constitution deadlocked over the issue of Slovak autonomy, and in the latter half of 1992, agreement was reached to peacefully divide Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. On January 1st 1993, the Republic of Slovakia came into being. In Sept 1992 the New Slovak Constitution was passed stating in its preamble that:
We, the Slovak nation, mindful of the political and cultural heritage of our forebears, and of the centuries of experience from the struggle for national existence and our own statehood, in the sense of the spiritual heritage of Cyril and Methodius and the historical legacy of the Great Moravian Empire, proceeding from the natural right of nations to self-determination, together with members of national minorities and ethnic groups living on the territory of the Slovak Republic, in the interest of lasting peaceful cooperation with other democratic states, seeking the application of the democratic form of government and the guarantees of a free life and the development of spiritual culture and economic prosperity, that is, we, citizens of the Slovak Republic, adopt through our representatives the following Constitution….
This was the background and historical situation that the Presentation Sisters, in the footsteps of Nano Nagle found, when the new mission to Slovakia started in 1992. Sr. Rita Carberry came to research the possibility of a new foundation in Eastern Europe just as communism had fallen and a whole generation of Slovaks paid a price in blood for their fidelity to the church under Communism, what Pope John Paul II called on Sept. 12th 2003 Banska Bystrica, on his Papal Visit to Slovakia, the “bleak regime of not so many years ago”. As symbols of that sacrifice, John Paul II beatified on 14th September, a Greek Catholic bishop, Vasil Hopko, and a Slovak nun, Sr. Zdenka Cecilia Schelingova, calling them “radiant examples of faithfulness in times of harsh and ruthless religious persecution.” Both died after being incarcerated and tortured in the 1950s. Both have harrowing stories.
Hopko, one of two Eastern-rite Greek Catholic bishops in Slovakia at the time of the Communist rise to power in 1948, spent 13 and a half years in prison for refusing to accept the forced dissolution of the Greek Catholic church. During those years he was beaten during interrogations, not allowed to sleep for long periods, forced to walk continually for hours, and put on limited rations of food and water. The experience took its toll, and when Hopko was released in 1964 he suffered deep psychological trauma. He died in 1976, after seeing the Greek Catholic church restored to legal status during the “Prague Spring” of 1968. An autopsy revealed that Hopko had been slowly poisoned in prison; his body had a level of arsenic 1,000 times above normal tolerance levels for a human being.
Schelingova’s story is similarly dramatic. While working as a nurse, she attempted to help six priests escape from a hospital where they were sent to recover from interrogations before being shipped off to jail. The plot was discovered, and Schelingova was arrested on February 29, 1952. Her captors believed she had an accomplice and were determined to beat the name out of her. They began by kicking her, then threw her into a vat of freezing water. As she was on the point of drowning, they removed her, then threw her back. Two men then dragged her by the hair to another room, where they stripped her, bound her arms, and put her on a pulley that lifted her off the floor. They beat her savagely with clubs until she lost consciousness. The process repeated itself several times until the officials were satisfied that Schelingova had no accomplice to name. She was released on April 7, 1955, and died on July 31 at the age of 38.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Hopko and “Zdenka,” as the Slovaks call her, is how ordinary their experiences were for the generation of Catholics that came of age in the 1950s. Many historians believe the Slovak “church of the catacombs” suffered the fiercest persecution of any in the Soviet block. Local historians say some 102,000 Slovaks were victimized under 40 years of Communist rule. The years before the birth of Nano Nagle in 1718, were also full of risk and suffering, where religious convictions were tested and persecution was both political, social and economic under the Penal Laws. Her faith was born and tested in the fire of her day, just as the Slovak people suffered for their faith and today celebrate it proudly and freely. Nano Nagle saw all things from the viewpoint and lens of faith and that is also a strong characteristic of believers in Slovakia. They value their faith history and struggle and now proudly and openly celebrate Church holidays and feastdays, with processions, vigils and pilgrimages. Mass attendance is high as is participation in parish events and liturgy.
Today, the work begun in 1754 - when Nano Nagle opened her first school for the education of the young, who had no access to education in Ireland at that time - continues here with the same basic vision. Her work was an outward response to her rich inner life of prayer and reflection. The growth of her schools eventually led to her founding the Presentation Order on Christmas Eve 1775. This was the culmination of her journey to ensure the continuation of her work after her death and her desire at all times to empower people to live with dignity and freedom. Just as Nano Nagle saw that education is a powerful means of empowerment, the first ministry of the Presentation Sisters in Slovakia was the teaching of English both formally in Catholic and State schools and informally where parents and children visited us privately for lessons to help better their lives and educational opportunities. This continues today to be one of our ministries and is continually developing as new needs arise. It is also a powerful means of evangelization and developing contact with a wide range of people. As time went on, other sisters joined Sr. Rita and with the learning of the difficult Slovak language as a parallel ministry at all times, other areas of need arose. Visitation of homes and invitations to share something of our life story and spirit have always been a cornerstone of the mission in Slovakia. In some ways we are a bridge between two worlds, where we listen to the many painful experiences of people and their communist past and they in turn hear the Presentation story and both give each other some light and at times some of the forces of darkness are given space to be acknowledged and with time to no longer prevail. The Presentation story speaks to many people in Slovakia very powerfully and as Richard Rohr says challenges and supports people in their relationship with God because “What we know about God is important, but what we do with what we know about God is even more important”.
To find out more about our Ministries in Slovakia click here.
Visit the website of the Presentation Sisters in Slovakia click here.