Alexandru Onoriu Nicolici – Priest-martyr of the communist prisons

Born on 3 October 1911 in Vălișoara (near Caransebeș), his parents being the priest Toma and the priestess Anastasia (née Suru), Alexandru Onoriu Nicolici attended the first and second primary classes in the neighbouring village of Bucoșnița between 1919 and 1920, and the third and fourth classes in Caransebeș between 1920 and 1921.

He then enrolled at the “Traian Doda” Gymnasium in Caransebeș, where he studied from 1921 to 1929 and, after passing the baccalaureate examination, attended the famous Theological Academy of Caransebeș (1929-1933), where he graduated with a “distinction”. He completed his theological studies at the Faculty of Theology in Bucharest, between 1944 and 1947, where he passed his final examination with the degree “magna cum laudae” (Personal file, Archdiocese of Timișoara Archives, Minutes no. 483/29 March 1947).

Ordained deacon (28 July 1934) and priest (31 July 1934), Alexandru Nicolici was assigned to the parish of Tufări, near Orșova, where he served from 1 October 1934 to 17 December 1944. On 1 January 1946, by order of the Caransebeș Eparchial Council (no. 5858-B/1944), he was transferred to the parish of Teregova II, Caransebeș deanery, where he served until 1 April 1949 (cf. certificate of the Archdiocese of Timișoara and Caransebeș, no. 962-D/1965, signed by Metropolitan Nicolae Corneanu and the Eparchial Secretary Traian Seviciu).

Sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment

On 5 March 1949, the priest Alexandru Nicolici was arrested by the repressive organs of the atheistic communist regime, forcibly installed by the Red Army, and sentenced by the Military Tribunal of Timișoara, in verdict no. 49 of 14 February 1950, to 15 years’ hard labour, 10 years’ civil servitude and total confiscation of personal property, for the crime of “conspiracy against the social order” (cf. The verdict of the Timisoara Military Tribunal no. 49/1950 states that “the accused, Alexandru Nicolici, as a priest, participated in the secret meetings of the fascist subversive organisation led by Gheorghe Ionescu, which took place before its departure for the mountains, and took the oath of allegiance to the organisation from almost all its members. She also “took the gang’s information to the mountains”. The priest Alexandru Nicolici was also ordered to pay the state 5,000 lei in court costs. He was accused of having supported groups of anti-communist fighters, including his parishioners from Teregoven, who were fighting in the Banat mountains.

His appeal against this harsh sentence was rejected by the Military Court of Cassation and Justice (see Decision No. 764 of 20 March 1951), which of its own motion reduced his sentence of 15 years’ hard labour to 12 years’ imprisonment, while maintaining his civil disqualification and the total confiscation of his property. Nicolici was therefore obliged to serve his sentence in Gherla prison and was released on 28 August 1958 (cf. Decision No. 15.145/1950), his compulsory residence being in Olaru, Călărași County.

In Călărași, Priest Nicolici worked as a straw weaver at the Industrial Company, at G.A.S. ‘Roseti’ and at TCHAH Site Group No. 3, as a qualified topohydrologist and qualified worker category V. His compulsory residence was only lifted on 31 October 1963 (cf. MIA Decision No. 16.219/1961).

From 1 January 1961 to 1 October 1964, he worked as a substitute priest in the parishes of Olaru and Tonea, “with an excellent behaviour, with a special pastoral tact, which won him the sympathy of the parishioners of the two parishes, parishioners who appreciated and valued him”. He kept the parish registers of the two parishes up to date and in perfect order, showing a great sense of responsibility. He took good care of all the goods of each parish and kept the inventories up to date. [In the priestly, administrative and housekeeping fields […] he spared no effort to maintain the prestige of the priesthood at an appropriate level”, as stated in a certificate issued by the deanery of Călărași (no. 987/5 November 1964).

All this time, the wish of the priest Alexandru Nicolici was to return home, to his beloved Banat and to the faithful whom he served with devotion until his arrest. Thus, in a letter to Metropolitan Nicolae Corneanu, he was appointed parish priest of Târnova, Reșița deanery, from 1 October 1964 (cf. Decision No. 4153-B/26 August 1964). The document submitted by the Timisoara Eparchial Centre to the former Department of Religious Affairs describes the entire situation of Father Nicolici, namely his detention in Gherla, his forced residence in Olaru, his attempt to be transferred on 1 October 1963, which was not recognised by that department, since he had also been sentenced to an additional 10 years of civil degradation.

In the argumentation sent to the Secretary General of the Department of Religious Affairs, Dumitru Dogaru, it was stated that the priest Alexandru Nicolici had been released from the restriction of residence, enclosing the following documents: the sentence of the military tribunal from Timișoara, the release note from Gherla, the priest’s memoirs and autobiography, his individual file, his appointment papers to the Olaru parish and the recognition received from the Department of Religious Affairs. The representative of the Department of Religious Affairs for the Banat region, by decision No. 209/1964, recognised the transfer of the priest Alexandru Nicolici from the parish of Olaru to the parish of Tarnova on 1 October 1964, a recognition which the Eparchial Centre communicated to the Office of the Protopope of Reșița by law No. 5708-B/7 November 1964. Therefore, no appointment could be made to the parish without the approval of the communist organs, since the Department of Divine Worship, through local representatives, controlled and supervised all the activities of the Church.

A vocation to sacrifice

On 1 February 1975, the priest Alexandru Nicolici retired and was provisionally reinstated as parish priest of the parish of Timisoara Iosefin (decision no. 413/8 May 1975), where he worked until 1 January 1982, when he retired for good, serving only in an honorary capacity at the Metropolitan Cathedral. On this occasion, the Archdiocese of Timișoara and Caransebeș sent him a letter of thanks, signed by the Metropolitan and the Church Council, in which the “fruitful and conscientious activity dedicated to the Church and the common good”, carried out during 47 years, was appreciated. “During all this time, in addition to your duties as an altar server and leader of the faithful, you have made meritorious efforts in the administrative and ecclesiastical field, among which we cannot forget your personal and remarkable contribution to the construction of the new church in Timișoara Freidorf” (Act no. 6.174-B/1981). At that time, the Freidorf district belonged to the Timisoara Iosefin parish, and the priests of this parish, among them Alexandru Nicolici, took care of the construction of a place of worship for the faithful in this part of the city.

In a touching testimony published by the newspaper “Învierea”, the priest Dr. Marcu Bănescu, a former political prisoner, wrote: “Father Nicolici is one of the many who, more than four decades ago, tried to resist the establishment of a regime that came from abroad like a volley of icy bullets. […] In the fog of those early years, Father Nicolici was arrested, along with other priests, peasants, workers and intellectuals who were putting up fierce resistance in the mountainous areas of southern Banat. [I knew him before his suffering. He was a pleasant man in society and a hardworking priest, devoted to his mission. After his liberation, he seemed to me very different. In everything he showed a great desire to help his fellow men, I would even say a vocation to sacrifice. […] Father Nicolici, who had been released after serving an innocent sentence for a creed that belonged to the whole nation, shared with us some of his sufferings. I understood from his stories that in times of pain, people look for moral support. Some did not find it and broke down. Father Nicolici found it and survived. In moments of maximum tension, he confessed, “I felt Jesus in me”. “In those moments I felt different”. In fact, he became different. “Many times, he told us, I felt that the Lord Jesus was being whipped, beaten…. bleeding, with a crown of thorns on his head… and we endured the blows, the cold, the hunger and the mockery”…

Jesus performed the miracle. Identification with Him. And then, in freedom, Jesus gave her back the joy of life and a higher life for Jesus. The way, the truth and the life! (Prof. Dr. Marcu Bănescu, “Worthy is …”) Father Alexandru Nicolici, 1911-1987″, in “Învierea”, Timișoara, year I, no. 13/1 October 1990, p. 2; see also Vasile Manea, “Orthodox Priests in Communist Prisons”, Patmos Publishing House, 2001, p. 180).

He went to the Lord on 9 July 1987, knowing that he had “fought the good fight” (2 Timothy 4:7) for faith, salvation and the nation, and was buried in the Cosmin cemetery of the Elizabethan parish of Timișoara.

(Pr. Ionel Popescu – Ziarul Lumina, electronic edition of Monday 16th May 2011)

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