Janez Francisek Gnidovec

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Janez Francisek Gnidovec, C.M. 1873-1939

Janez Francisek (John Francis) Gnidovec was born 29 September 1873 in Veliki Lipovec, Slovenia in the parish of Ajdovec, west of Novo mesto. He was baptized the next day. His family farmed; from an early age, he worked on the farm, in particular taking care of cows and pigs. His mother died when he was seven.

At age seven, Janez began elementary school in Ajdovec, which had only a first grade class. He continued school in Novo mesto and lived there during the school year. He graduated from a Franciscan high school with honors in 1892; he had contributed to his own support during school years by tutoring other students. During high school, influenced by the Franciscans, he began to visit the Blessed Sacrament each day.

In Februay, Janez's father died. Later that year Janez moved to Ljubljana, Slovenia to enter the diocesan seminary. He was ordained to the priesthood on 23 June 1896. After ordination, he was assigned to a parish as an assistant.

Anton B. Jeglic, Bishop of Ljubljana, founded the first all-Slovenian language classical College. As part of an effort to obtain good educators for the college, the bishop sent Janez to Vienna to study languages. In Vienna, Janez combined graduate studies with ministry to Slovenian workers in the city who were known as the "roasted chestnut sellers". After earning his degree in 1904, he taught catechism to high school students in Kranj, Slovenia for one year.

In 1905 Janez began teaching at the diocesan college and subsequently became rector of the school, as well. He was well liked and considered by many to be a model. During World War I, part of the College was turned into a hospital for wounded soldiers. Janez visited the soldiers often to provide pastoral care. Because the hospital also served wounded Hungarian soldiers, he learned Hungarian in order to be able to minister to them.

On 7 December 1919 Janez began the novitiate with the Congregation of the Mission. In a letter to the Superior General, the provincial superior wrote: ""Gnidovec is a man of best spirit, ready for every task and he is a saint according to his confreres." Janez was named assistant to the director of the seminary and also worked in Slovenia.

On 30 November 1924 Janez was consecrated bishop for the very poor Diocese of Skopje. He chose for his motto "I became all things to all men." In Skopje, half the population was Orthodox, more than 40% was Muslim, and the remainder -- a small minority -- was Catholic. Because there were few churches and priests, Janez had to raise funds. He worked, too, to help the impoverished in his diocese, which led to the government's accusing him of promoting laziness.

To support young people in their faith, Janez encouraged foundation of organizations such as the Legion of Mary. An active member of the Legion in Skopje, Gonxha Bojaxhiu, was later known as Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Janez also understood the importance of communicating with priests and people of the diocese. He regularly wrote to the priests and began publication of the magazine, Blagovijest (The Good News) on 25 March 1928. A particular challenge was the "ljaramani", Catholics who had during the Ottoman rule publicly accepted Islam but continued to live secretly as Catholics. Although religious freedom was proclaimed in the Balkans and in Yugoslavia after World War I, the ljaramani did not believe that this had, in fact, occurred. The bishop worked to teach this part of the population.

In 1938 Janez began to experience weakness and, early in 1939, he travelled to Ljubljana for a physical examination. It was discovered that he had a brain tumor. After one month in hospital, he died on 3 February 1939, a first Friday. When news of his death reached Skopje, even Muslims remarked that "A saint has died."

The diocesan Cause for Janez Francisek Gnidovec began in 1978 and was completed in Ljubljana in 1984, at which time the documentation was sent to the Congregation for Saints in Rome.

Davitt, T., "Janez Francisek Gnidovec," Vincentiana 36 (l992), p. 119-128; also Colloque 21 (l990).