Kodasema Catholic centre
When we celebrated the 800th anniversary of St. Mary’s land, this unremarkable building in the Village of Kodasema acquired a special significance. The place is like a patina-covered bead in the Rosary of the pilgrimage waiting to be cleaned and polished.
During the centuries following the Reformation the dominance of the Catholic Church was on a sharp decline. In 1925 there were about 2,000 Roman Catholics in Estonia. In the early years of the young Republic of Estonia a number of Jesuits were sent on a mission to convert the country „at the gates of the Soviet Union” to Terra Mariana again. The Jesuits came from the heart of Europe, little knowing what they were up against in this unknown northern region. They half expected to see polar bears. Charles Bourgeois (Father Vassily), the priest who was sent to Narva, began looking for a peaceful place for a monastery to be able to reach out and do good deeds, to take Catholic teaching to local people. His idea was endorsed by Eduard Profittlich, the Apostolic Administrator in Estonia, who helped to choose the place himself. Our story cannot be told without Profittlich, who played a major role in building up the Catholic community in Estonia.
Eduard Profittlich was born on 11 September 1890 in Birresdorf, Germany. In 1912 he was admitted to the priests’ seminary in Trier, later he studied philosophy in Valkenburg. In 1913 he joined the Jesuit Order. In 1916 he participated in WWI serving as a medical orderly; he continued his studies after the war. He became Doctor of Philosophy and Theology at Cracow University. In 1922 Profittlich was ordained a priest. He was a missionary in several countries until in 1930 he was sent to Estonia, where very soon he was named the Apostolic Administrator. In December 1936 Eduard Profittlich was consecrated Bishop of Sts.Peter and Paul Cathedral in Tallinn. The cathedral was crowded with people on this great occasion. Finally, after 1558, Estonian Catholics (a little more than three thousand people) had their pastor again! As Estonia was not a diocese, Profittlich became Titular Archbishop of Adrianople (after an archdiocese that used to be in the Turkish area). Bishop Profittlich stood energetically and devotedly for the recovery, soul care and the satisfaction of basic needs of his flock. His role in invigorating Catholic faith among the people in St. Mary’s land was invaluable. He gave all his energy, his heart and, finally, his life for this. The bishop became an Estonian citizen, he knew Estonian well and he used Estonian during the Mass.
The first Holy Communion in Tallinn in 1931. Bishop Eduard Profittlich and priest Henri Werling.
When the the Soviet forces invaded Estonia, clergy, women and men religious were targeted, too – and the small Catholic community headed by a German bishop was especially vulnerable! Profittlich arranged for the priests, monks and nuns to travel to Germany, understanding that only by leaving Estonia they could save their lives. In 1941 three people – Eduard Profittlich, Father Henri Werling and Father Charles Bourgeois stayed. After the departure of the Germans about 300 Catholics were left in Estonia. The German Embassy and his Estonian friends advised Bishop Profittlich to return to Germany so that he could escape deportation to Siberia. Profittlich answered that he was ready for everything on behalf of God’s kingdom. He understood how big the danger was, and in his heart he knew that the order from the Holy See would give him opportunity to leave and he turned to Pius XII to ask for the Pope’s opinion. Finally the answer came from Rome that Holy Father would give him freedom to choose whether he preferred to stay or leave. Profittlich decided to stay. In his farewell letter to his relations in Germany he said: „…I was about to register myself in the Umsiedlung commission. But then several things coincided and I sensed the presence of God, to whom we have surrendered all. /…/ What concerns future, we don’t know what’ll be in store for us.”
There is some information that before the big deportations in June 1941 Profittlich went into a hiding after he had been warned. But he was soon back in Tallinn to be with his diminished flock. In 1941 the Catholic Church was making preparations for Sts Peter and Paul’s Feast Day on 29 June. But Bishop Profittlich could not serve the divine liturgy. Two days earlier, during the early morning of 27 June seven NKVD men in a motorcar had arrived to arrest him. Before they took him with them he was allowed – under the watchful eyes of the armed men – to pray in front of the altar at his home church for the last time. During the trial in Kirov he was accused of spying and was condemned to be shot. The 51-year-old Eduard Profittlich died before his execution, on 22 Feburary 1942.
To commemorate the 100th birth anniversary of the martyr bishop a memorial plaque was put up in the Catholic cathedral in Vene Street, Tallinn in September 1990.
Bishop Eduard Profittlich.
The first Holy Communion in Pechory, 1932. Henri Werling in the middle.
And now to Kodasema again.
In 1936 the Estonian Catholic Church bought a plot of land and buildings at Kodasema on the former Engelhardt Manor. By that time the manor house had burnt down, only the ancillary buildings were still standing and the land was farmed by Aleksander Kuusman and his family. An old ancillary building was reconstructed within a year. The place was ideal – surrounded by forests, marshes, single farms, a place where Nature goes its own way. It is a quiet and lonely place, although only three kilometres away from Esna railway station.
In Estonia the Jesuits cherished a hope of uniting Orthodox and Catholic churches, which would make Rome take more interest in this country, and Kodasema statio was the basis of an Eastern Rite mission. Here peasants were also taught; foreign language, chemistry, singing and gymnastics classes were held.
Over the years youth camps and other events were organised.
There were living quarters on the second floor. In its heyday the Kodasema cntre had four priests and four lay brothers.
Life was quite primitive and besides giving pastoral care the priests needed to have practical skills and strength to cope with their daily lives. Electricity, for example, was not installed in Kodasema until 1959. But in spite of all the hardships there was – and still is – a peculiar feeling of perfection. In the surroundings, in the air, in the loneliness, in the spirituality of the place. Spirituality was of course created by people who lived here.
Priest Charles Bourgeois has already been mentioned. He was born in Paris in 1887 and died in São Paulo in 1963. As he himself had written, he wished „to serve Catholicism which would be united in faith, as to both the head of church and hierarchy, and differentiated only by peoples’ languages and customs, with their own theological and liturgical heritage ”. Priest Bourgeois arrived in Estonia in 1932. He had served in Narva, and now he continued his work at Kodasema where he had a small Eastern Rite chapel installed. He wished to be a brother in service of the whole world, without any borders. Father Bourgeois published a magazine called United Church. During Soviet rule he was sent away from Estonia, so his activity ended here. He had the opportunity to work in Russia, where he had wanted to go, but it was not a pleasant experience. Priest Bourgeois wrote a book on his Estonian mission, which has been translated into Estonian; this makes interesting reading for the Catholics, but also for others, who are interested in learning about Estonian past.
Brother Kazimir Kanski of Polish origin came to Kodasema together with Father Vassily, he was a cook and a caretaker. He loved the place and was a true guardian of the Kodasema centre.
Serving God in prayer and work, educating people and teaching them to be Catholics the inhabitants of Kodasema lived until interruption in 1940. At the children’s camp before Soviet rule there were more than thirty children. In the same year, 1940 Bishop Profittlich sold the building and land, on a condition that priests could use the building as well as some land and forest.
In 1989 the Catholic Church applied to the authorities for the return of their property and in 1991 both the building and 9.5 ha of land were given to them for use. The building was in a bad state of disrepair, the roof had in places fallen in, the doors and windows were broken. The building was repaired as well as it was possible. For the Catholics it is a place for being alone with one’s own thoughts, a place for spiritual exercises. Children’s camps have been organised here, too.
Another of the Jesuit priests connected with Kodasema needs to be introduced. Henri (Heinrich) Werling was born in a wealthy bankers’ family in Luxembourg on 14 December 1879. In 1900 he entered the novitiate of the German Province of the Jesuits at Feldkirch, Austria; in 1904 he started philosophy studies, and in 1910 theology studies at Cracow. Between his studies he worked at Feldkirch, where he taught history, music, mathematics and French. He was ordained priest in 1912. He gave his final vows in 1917.
Werling was the first who came to Estonia on a mission with the new wave of the Jesuits. And he stayed here longer than any of them. When he came to Estonia in 1923 he was the pastor of the Tartu congregation, where he soon won respect. He was priest in Tallinn too. Werling became an Estonian national in 1937. And this is not all. He compiled a prayer book and a catechism, translated the four gospels into Estonian, founded a kindergarten in Tartu, and a boarding school in Tallinn. He was an assistant to Bishop Profittlich, a spiritual supervisor for his brothers, and a confessor, he reviewed books and wrote himself, gave lessons at home and went on missions. After the arrest of Profittlich Werling became the Apostolic Administrator for Estonia in 1942. When the Soviet Union re-occupied Estonia, priest Werling was sent to Perm Oblast in the Urals in 1945. After being freed from the labour camp he returned to Estonia in 1954 and settled down in a small room in Kodasema. He was joined by Brother Kanski. He spent his old age here, at Kodasema.
Hard work in a Russian labour camp had ruined his health. Life here was not easy for an elderly and sickly man, physically and as far as daily living was concerned, but he stayed on. He regarded Kodasema as his home. When his rich relatives from Luxembourg encouraged him to return to homeland, Werling answered that he wanted to „live where he was until he died”. Saving souls was more important to him than love for his homeland and relatives.
A whole lot of Werling’s letters have been preserved. They give us some idea of his thoughts and daily life.
„I often have to lie down, I walk with a cane in order not to fall; even with two canes because the paths are rough. There are no students, we cannot preach. /…/ Until I can offer the sacrifice of the Mass in my chamber every day, I can be of some use.” Thus he wrote in 1958.
Werling came to Tallinn every two months. He had the permission to hear confessions, but the Catholic Church could only function in the capital city within the walls of the church. His last lines were written in the summer: „We have had hot weather for almost a month now. It is often 30–35 degrees above zero in my chamber. That’s why I took my folded chair and books and went to sit or lie down in the shade of an enormous ash in the park. Sometimes I dozed off there, as I could get very little sleep in my room. This was a peculiar life with many good thoughts.”
This life ended at Kodasema, on 22 February 1961.
Just imagine an old Jesuit priest dozing under an ash tree in the summer warmth, with a book in his hands, or meditating, or observing the surrounding plants and butterflies, whom he noticed now more than ever before! And this happened in the middle of Soviet Estonia!
There was no need to go into lengthy discussions where our next bench for prayer would be. The first is at Ihasalu, where Saint Bridget worked a miracle. The next one is on the shores of Janukjärve and the third here, at Kodasema. Isn’t this a miracle too that the people here have carried the Light of Christ until this day.
This story is a bit too long, but I believe that it may be of interest to many people. I am grateful to Katrin Laur who has helped me with the biographies of Bishop Profittlich and Father Bourgeois.
Kodasema centre is now under repairs, but upstairs rooms are already neat and tidy. Kodasema can offer peaceful accommodation. If you are willing to spend more time, you can make a tour of the surroundings before getting on your way again. It is exciting to look around!
Daila Aas, summer 2015
In 2015, when I wrote about the Kodasema House and with it related Catholic priests, to our Pilgrimage website, I had heard a Father Guy’s name, but didn’t really know anything about him. Didn’t know also on the next year, when I wrote the texts for the Kodasema Prayer Bench. The knowledge came only while watching Andri Luup’s exceptionally impressive film. („Father Guy”. Screenwriter, director and cinematographer Andri Luup, 2018).
I try to write briefly about his life, but the feelings evoked by the film and in some ways a lighting understanding one's of the most unique person, are very difficult to put into words.
Father Guy, a citizen named Guy Barbier de Courteix, was born in 1921, in France. The young Noble Man studied at the School of the Marist Fraternity. During World War II, when the Germans occupied France in 1940, he was sent to work in a German military factory, where bombs were made. There he joined in the Resistance Movement. Together with his companions, they were to be destroyed the bombs, which was planned sent to the front, but the Gestapo arrested them. Father Guy went through five prisons and four concentration camps. Thanks to a miracle, he survived after all experienced horrors. Thanks to the power of prayer, he has said by himself. Father Guy is grateful for the Russians who saved his life twice in prison camp.
After the war he became a priest and was ordained in 1951. Father Guy was a priest in Lyon’s Factories, then graduated the Collegium Russicum in Rome, because he wanted go to a mission work in Russia. As it was impossible to go to Russia, he was sent to the Finland in 1964. There, Father Guy led the Charity Organization Emmaus for twenty years.
Father Guy was always where his help and support was most needed. Just as he worked with factory workers in Lyon, so he lived in the Emmaus House with the people crushed in life struggles. The essence of Father Guy’s life was to serve people to alleviate their suffering. He served God by serving people. Father Guy devoted himself unconditionally to helping those in need, consciously living in poverty. He spent five hours a day in prayer, drawing strength to help others.
Father Guy in his room at Kodasema. A frame from the Andri Luup’s film „Father Guy”.
Poster from the Portrait Film „Father Guy”. Screenwriter, director and cinematographer Andri Luup, 2018.
Father Guy visited Estonia for the first time in 1990. From 1992 to 1996 he was the Vicar of the Estonian Catholic Church, after that he was the Auditor of the Church Court.
Whenever possible, he traveled between Finland and Estonia every week. The House in Kodasema grew to his heart. There, in the small Chapel he held the Misses – even, when no one but him was present. The House was in poor condition and needed all the time to be tidied up and repaired. Father Guy repaired, built and provided with everything by himself. He had always all kinds of tools at his fingertips.
In the last years of his life, Father Guy also worked as an exorcist, freeing people from the Evil Spirits. This may seem unbelievable to us, but it is up to everyone to decide how to react on it, but in both Estonia and Finland, there are people who has been rescued by the power of Father Guy’s prayer.
„When he read a prayer for someone, there was a change in that person, a miracle was born, the person either changed his life or escaped... In his prayer was such a power.” These are the words of cinematographer Andri Luup.
Father Guy died in Finland, 2011.
By Daila Aas, 2020.
On 28 May 2016 we inaugurated a prayer bench in the old park of Kodasema Catholic Centre. The park, full of bird song, is lined with ancient ash trees.
The light of God has been maintained here for already eighty years. A missionary centre, a monastery, a place for caring for the soul and sharing spiritual light – all this is represented in the Kodasema Catholic Centre. In gratitude and respect, we dedicate this prayer bench to those who daily assured the faithful of God’s grace and mercy, and whose mission was to revive the vitality of Catholicism in St Mary’s Land. – Eduard Profittlich, Heinrich (Henri) Werling, Charles Bourgeois ja Kazimir Kanski – their faith never wavered and they stood firm throughout changing times.
Memorial prayer to Eduard Profittlich
If you are in
fear of your life,
feared as well
but still stood unshaken
as the sun.
Do not demand mercy,
do not demand light,
be mercy yourself,
and you will see
that there is
nothing to fear
in the world.
The bench was consecrated by Father Artur together with Mother Riccarda, the sisters of the Pirita Convent, and the Convent’s friends and kindred spirits.
Christoph Wrembeck SJ, „Jesuiidid Eestis 1923–1961”, Johannes Esto Ühing, Tartu, 2003.
„Minu kohtumine Venemaaga. Munkpreester Vassili meenutus. Narva–Esna–Tartu–Moskva 1932–1946”. Tõlkinud Tiiu Viirand. Tõlge raamatust: „Ma rencontre avec la Russie. Relation du hiéromoine Vassily. Narva–Esna–Tartu–Moscou 1932–1946”. Buenos Aires, 1953.
Isa Guyd meenutades. Intervjuu Andri Luubiga (intervjueeris Donald Tomberg). Teater. Muusika. Kino, dets. 2018.
Eva Koff. Vaikne sõnum. – Teater. Muusika. Kino, dets. 2018.
„Isa Guy”. Režissöör, stsenarist ja operaator Andri Luup. Filmi esilinastus 2018.