Blessed Jozef Cebula, O.M.I., 1902 – 1941
Blessed Jozef Cebula, O.M.I.
Born: March 23, 1902, Malnia, Poland
Ordination: June 5, 1927
Ministry: Taught in Minor Seminary, Lubliniec, 1923-1931, where he was Superior, 1931-1937; Superior & Novice Master, Markowice 1937-1941.
Death: Arrested by Nazi SS April 2, 1941; shot “while trying to escape” May 9, 1941
Beatification: June 13, 1999, Warsaw, Poland
Unconditional love for God was demonstrated by the life – and death – of Blessed Jozef Cebula, a Polish Oblate killed in the Mauthausen concentration camp near Austria during World War II.
His priestly ministry was his life’s work, even if his final 21 days on Earth were lived in misery. On April 18, 1941, he was taken by the Nazis to the Mauthausen concentration camp, where he was harassed simply because he was a priest.
Fr. Cebula was forced to carry 60-pound rocks from a quarry to a camp two miles away. He had to climb a 144-step staircase called the Death Stairs, while being beaten and insulted by his tormentors. Two arduous trips were all he could make.
Summoning his remaining strength, Fr. Cebula suddenly raised his voice and said: “It is not you who are in charge. God will judge you.” He was ordered to run with the rock on his back, towards the camp’s barbed wire fence. A guard fired with his submachine gun and declared that Jozef “was shot while attempting to escape.” His body was taken to the crematorium and burnt. It was Friday, May 9, 1941.
Blessed Cebula was born into a modest family on March 23, 1902. As a youth, he suffered from tuberculosis and was in fact declared incurable. After an unexpected recovery, he visited an Oblate shrine where he shared his story with Fr. Jan Pawolik, O.M.I., who later died in Auschwitz. Fr. Pawolek advised Jozef to study with the Oblates at a newly established Oblate seminary.
Following ordination to the Oblate priesthood in 1927, Fr. Cebula spent much of his ministry teaching Oblate seminarians. In 1937, he became novice master at Markowice where his humility and gentleness were noteworthy. When the Nazis occupied Poland, they declared loyalty to the Church illegal. All Church associations were forbidden, and many priests were arrested.
On May 4, 1940, the Oblate novices at Markowice were arrested by the Nazis and sent to the concentration camp at Dachau, Bavaria. Fr. Cebula was able to continue his priestly ministries in secrecy, despite the ban on it, for nearly a year before being arrested and detained at the Mauthausen camp.
Known for his humility, Fr. Jozef was a man of quiet prayer with a deep spiritual life. He radiated peace in the very middle of the death camp, even when tormented by the Nazis. In recognition of his heroic life and death, Fr. Cebula was beatified by Pope John Paul II during a ceremony held in Poland on June 13, 1999.
Today, Fr. Cebula’s Oblate Cross and a stone from the quarry at Mauthausen, a testament to his forced labor, rest in the church at Markowice. It is the same church where, near the end of his life, Cebula celebrated the sacraments in secret. It is also the site of the novitiate where he spent the last four years of his life as novice master. We know his spirit rests there, in the place he once called home.