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Bl. John Sarkander

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Martyr of the seal of confession, born at Skotschau in Austrian Silesia, 20 Dec., 1576; died at Olmütz, 17 March, 1620. In 1603 he merited the title of master of philosophy at Prague, and after four years' study of theology was ordained priest at Graz. He exercised his sacred functions in several places in the Diocese of Olmütz, and was made parish priest (1613) of Boskowitz, and (1616) of Holeschau in Moravia. Since the fifteenth century the sects of the Hussites and of the Bohemian (or United) Brethren had spread rapidly and taken possession of the churches and institutions of the Catholics, but when (1604) Ladislaus Poppel of Lobkowitz bought the estates of Holleschau, he gave the church to the Catholics, and made a Jesuit college out of the house occupied by the Bohemian Brethren. With the aid of the Jesuits, John Sarkander converted two hundred and fifty of the strayed sheep, but thereby drew upon himself the hatred of the neighbouring landlord, Bitowsky of Bistritz. In 1618 the Protestants took control of Moravia, and John left Holleschau, made a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Czentoschau and passed a few weeks of retreat with the Minims, who had a house there. He spent some months at Krakow and (1619) returned to Holleschau. In February of the following year the Polish auxiliary troops sent to the emperor by King Sigismund, passed through Moravia and committed many depredations on the lands of the Protestants, but spared Holleschau when John met them with the Blessed sacrament in his hands. Bitowsky threw suspicions upon John Sarkander as if he, in conspiracy with Lobkowitz, had brought the enemy into the territory. John was taken prisoner and brought to Olmütz. The commission appointed for the trial was made up entirely of Protestants, but the Catholic city judge Johann Scintilla was forced to attend. He made a report of the whole transaction to the bishop, Franz Cardinal von Dietrichstein (1625). The questions put were: who had called the troops into the country; what underhand dealings John had practiced in Poland ; what had been confided to him by Lobkowitz, whose confessor he was, and whose secret plans he therefore knew. Because John would not violate the secrets of the holy tribunal the rack was used on 13, 17 and 18 February. On each of the latter days the torture lasted for two and three hours, lighted candles and feathers soaked in oil, pitch, and sulphur were strewn over his body and ignited. He lingered from the effects for a month and died in prison. The people immediately began to venerate John Sarkander and to ask for his beatification. The process was opened under Benedict XIV but was interrupted. It was brought to a close by Pius IX , who pronounced the solemn beatification 6 May, 1860. The relics are in an altar dedicated to his name in the cathedral of Olmütz.

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