Monsignor Jan Machač

* 1915  †︎ 2009

  • "I got into one of them and rode to Dejvice. There I rang the door-bell and a janitor let me in. Some priest in a cassock walked by, and I thought he was some sacristan. He welcomed me and asked: ´Are you going to the seminary? Come with me, I will show you your room.´ I followed him up the stairs and he opened the door and said: ´Choose whichever place you like, how about the one by the window?´ So I moved my things there. And after the evening meal each of us was to go and have a talk with the spiritual director. And as I came to his office, I realized he was the man who showed me my room. You know, I was a country boy, frightened a bit; all this was new to me. So I continued my studies there. And this spiritual director was to become archbishop Beran. At that time I had no idea how important person he would become.”

  • “We were being watched whether we would read a pastoral letter. One time I had this pastoral letter with me, and I went up to the pulpit and I read it. Below the pulpit there were six of these policemen. At the end I added some of my own notes. Nothing happened, and then on September 8th, a Marian holiday, I was arrested. They took me to Karlovy Vary. I was arrested during the day, I don’t remember whether they also searched the house. And a local State Police chief was among them, his daughter attended my religion class, so I knew him. And since I owned a gun and had a gun licence, they took that with them, I don’t even know why I had it. I don’t remember how much time I spent in Karlovy Vary. Then they transported me and some other priests to Prague to the Pankrác prison, but I don’t remember it exactly.”

  • “In the Jáchymov area I worked in mine Eva. I worked down in the mine. I was not breaking the ore, but I was in charge of wagons, my task was recharging the wagons with electric power and bringing them to the shaft. Thus I was by the shaft and all the stuff was riding around me on those wagons. It was Easter, and so I was also giving confessions and baptizing. For this I got transferred to Pilsen to the Bory prison. They discovered that I was religiously influencing other prisoners, because the others wanted me to work underground with them. One advantage of being imprisoned is when one prays and keeps one’s faith. Then he can see it from a different angle, and is able to overcome a lot. Even though he may not manage everything, he withstands a lot. I always think that thanks to the Lord I passed that time as something that had to happen. I always said to my referent that the saddest thing was that we both spoke Czech. If he knew all that because he used to believe and acted differently, it would be interesting to see what he thinks of it today, if he is still alive. I don’t remember his name, I did not even know it.”

  • “Before my second arrest there were no interrogations by the State Police or something like that. We had a seminar in the archiepiscopal seminary. All of us from the Prague diocese were summoned there, and there was some discussion, on various issues. You know, at that time, some priests were already under the influence of the Pacem in Terris. And when I was on the way back, I already saw two guys waiting at the entrance. I thought they were up to something. I walked out. On the way I destroyed some papers and addresses, and I threw them into a sewer. I went to the railway station in Dejvice. I bought a ticket and they came to me as I was standing by the ticket counter. ´You are arrested.´ They gave me dark glasses and put me in a car, I could not see where they were taking me. For a long I did not know where I was but then I realized I was in the prison in Ruzyně, for when I stepped on a chair and looked out, I could see the Hvězda summerhouse, and thus I knew I was being held in Ruzyně.”

  • “My name is Jan Machač, I was born on June 1st 1915 in Horní Lideč in district Vsetín. My father’s name was Josef Machač, he was a miller by trade, but he later left the work in the mill and he became a railways worker. My mother’s name was Marie Machačová, born Novosadová. She worked in the field, and then, there were five of us children, so she was always busy.”

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    Praha, 01.01.2009

    duration: 01:46:55
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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One advantage of being imprisoned is when one prays and keeps one’s faith

Machač-vězeňské foto (2).jpg (historic)
Monsignor Jan Machač

Jan Machač was born June 1st 1915 in Horní Lideč in the Vsetín district. His father Josef Machač was a miller by trade, and so little Jan was growing up in a mill. Later his father left the miller’s trade and began working as a railway worker. His mother Marie Machačová, b. Novosadová, was taking care of the household and raising five children. Jan Machač attended a lower elementary school in Horní Lideč, and during the higher elementary he walked several kilometers every day to nearby Valašské Klobúky; later he commuted by train. After a grammar school was opened in Vsetín, Jan Machač continued his studies there, and completed them in 1938. Since his childhood he has been considering a priest’s vocation. Eventually coincidence played a role in his decision, when he during one of his trips on train met a nun, who helped him with application to the theological faculty. Jan Machač began his studies of theology as a seminarian at the faculty, which was however closed soon after together with other universities and transferred to Dolní Břežany as an archiepiscopal college. Jan Machač completed his studies in 1943, when he was ordained by bishop Elkčner in the St Vitus cathedral. He celebrated his first mass in his native Lideč on June 6th 1943. After his ordination the first assignment was in Dolní Bělá near Manětín, where he spent one year as a chaplain. From there he was transferred to Pilsen, where he also witnessed the liberation of the city by American soldiers. There he experienced yet another significant event - he was the very first priest to welcome the spiritual director and future archbishop Beran, a returnee from a concentration camp, in the liberated homeland. From Pilsen, Jan Machač also made trips to borderland areas, where he celebrated masses for new Czech inhabitants. He was also assisting in solving troublesome situations arising from the deportation of German priests and the forced deportation of German population, an issue he felt very sad about. After one of his visits in Cheb he received a request to come to serve in this parish. This really happened in 1946 and Jan Machač then served as priest in Cheb for five years. He considers this time one the most beautiful and fruitful periods in his life. Already in Cheb Jan Machač clearly voiced his stance toward the people’s democratic regime after February 1948, refusing its atheistic ideology. In 1949, Roman Catholic priests were pressured not to read a pastoral letter from the bishops to their congregations, however, Jan Machač was not intimidated by the presence of several State Police agents in the church and he read the entire document together with his own notes. This act did not have immediate repercussions, but some time after the situation changed and on September 8th 1949 Father Machač was arrested and imprisoned. He refused to write a petition for pardon, and he was eventually released together with other priests on the state holiday on October 28th 1949. However, before long he was arrested for the second time, followed by a court trial and many years of imprisonment in communist labour camps and prisons. On November 30th 1951, Jan Machač attended a seminar held in the archiepiscopal seminary in Prague. There, he was arrested and detained in the Prague-Ruzyně prison. He was subjected to several interrogations, he suffered cold and hunger, and experienced repeated interruptions of sleep at nights. He admitted that towards the end of his detention he suspected some substance was being added into his meals and drinks. He drew his strength from his faith and regular prayers, which he was saying in front of a cross engraved into the wall of his solitary cell. He was accused of reading the “illegal” pastoral letter to the congregation in Cheb in 1949, and of organizing (as an administrator of the vicariate) a petition, in which he was collecting signatures of other priests against the law on economic funding of churches. He was also accused of failing to report the illegal stay of his chaplain Schützner on the Czech territory, although he was aware that this chaplain had crossed the state border illegally and then worked as an enemy agent in Czechoslovakia, attempting to cause harm to the people’s democratic regime. The trial with Jan Machač took place on August 7th 1952 in Prague. He was convicted of high treason and sentenced to seven years of penal servitude, loss of property and civil liberties in the duration of six years. During his seven-year imprisonment he was first held in Valdice, where he was also sent later from various other prisons and labour camps. He also spent some time in prisons in Mladá Boleslav, Pilsen, and in uranium labour camp in the Jáchymov region, from which he was for his pastoral activity transferred to the prison in Pilsen-Bory. After his release in 1958 Father Machač spent some recovery time, but immediately after he was ordered to start working in a worker’s profession. He was not accepted as a gardener nor a street-sweeper, and he eventually managed to find a job in furniture factory TON in Bystřice pod Hostýnem. There he worked with a circular saw for seven years before he was allowed to serve as a priest again in 1966.  His first parish assignment was in Gottwaldov-Malenovice. In 1968 his service was requested by the Prague consistory, where he worked as a personal referent till 1971. A forced dismissal from the consistory eventually proved to be a blessing, because he was then assigned to the church of St Mathew in Prague, where he served for thirty-one years. He takes great joy in the fact that several present-day priests originally come from his congregations, and that during times, when churches elsewhere were experiencing significant decrease in believers, Father Machač´s church was always full of Catholic families with children. In 1998 he was awarded the honorable papal title monsignor, and when Father Machač looks back on his life, he certainly does not mention any regret about wasted years in communist prisons. He took it as a necessity, which had to be dealt with. He feels grateful for his priesthood, and he also tries to pass this life perspective to his followers. ´It’s been a nice life,´ he laconically concludes his narrative.