To celebrate an anniversary meas to look into the past with thankfulness and with the hope into the future. 150th anniversary of the Vincencian house at St. Joseph in Celje is not important only for the Vincentians in Slovenia but as well as for the Vincencians in Astria Hungary and Slovakia. The house of Celje is the cradle of four provinces: Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary and Austria.
How it began? Bishop Zangerle of the diocese of Seccau (Graz in Austria) invited the Daughters of Charity into his diocese. They opened their house in Graz on April 22, 1841, and worked in local hospital. The spiritual director was Rev. Janez Klajzer, a diocesan priest from Slovenian origin. In 1851 he and two other Slovenian priests began “seminarium internum” in Paris.
Meanwhile a new bishop mgr. Rauscher was namend to the seat of the Seccau diocese. He was reluctant to accept the three Vincentians into his diocese. Why? It was the time after the French revolution and “The Spring of Nations”. The Lazarists were regarded as “French” priests. Politicaly, France was regarded as “The Mother of the Revolution and of anarchy and liberalism…” Therefore in the Seccau diocese the door closed for the Lazarists but it opened to them in the Lavant diocese, in Celje.
The Bishop of Lavant (today Maribor) Blessed Anton Martin Slomsek invited and welcomed the first Lazarists into his diocese, entrusting them to lead popular missions and to preach retreats. It happened on September 26, 1852.
Bishop Slomsek personally led the procession of thirty priests and a large number of the faithful from the city of Celje to a hill, east of the city centre, to the church of St. Joseph. In a liturgical celebration, the bishop introduced the Lazarists.
Some thoughts from the bishop’s Slomsek homily at the introduction and welcoming of Layarists: “How is it, my dear lambs, that we have met on this hill today? How come that we have come to St. Joseph? We have a special reason to be thankful today. Today the sons of St. Vincent de Paul, the workers in the Lord’s vineyar, have come to abide among us. They will be teachers and will admonish the sinners, they will console the afflicted and real help for our diocese and the whole nation. Today we should ask God to preserve and bless this congregation…”
“Just as a military comander is happy when he gets reinforcements in a sirious battle in a similar way I am rejoicing because of the new workers in the vineyard of our diocese…”
“Bad times are upon us and even worse ones are predicted; piety is weakening, debauchery and liberalism are growing, the number of Christ’s ‘soldiers’ is diminishing but the enemies are multiplazing and the clashes between good and evil are becoming severe…”
“The world is aging, society is floudering, Europe is approaching its end. It will be so, if we allow evil to continue. But not if the strength from Jesus and his Church is poured out over the people and brings them new spiritfrom above…”- Slomsek’s words are as relevant today as they were in his time 150 years ago. We can say his words were prophetic.
The Vincentians worked with zeal and enthusiasticaly in popular missions and retreats. Their work and life was inviting for the young. In a few years the small house adjusted to the church of St, Joseph, their residence, had to be enlarged to accommodate the priests and brothers.
The political climate in the Austro-Hungarian Empire improved toward France. Soon the Vincentians opened a house in Graz, Ljubljana… in Hungary and Slovakia. The house of Celje can be regarded as the mother house for these four provinces today: Slovenia, Austria, Hungary and Slovakia. Until the end of the World War I, these countries were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
In 1919 a vice province of Yugoslavia was created since Slovenia was a founding nation of the Kingdom of Serbians, Croatians and Slovenians, later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. In 1926, the vice province became the Province of Yugoslavia and, in 1992, it was renamed the Province of Slovenia, since Slovenia became and independent country one year earlier.