An apostle of faith and of the nation

Gheorghe Cotenescu (1886-1965), the son of a priest from Muscelul, was a tempestuous and upright soul who, since his student days, worked to defend Romanian cultural and national values, contributing to the work of regeneration and the creation of a unified Romanian state.

The personality of the priest Gheorghe Cotenescu has marked the cultural and religious life of the society since the turn of the century. As a member of the leadership of several professional and cultural societies at the beginning of the 20th century (sections of the Cultural League, the Theological Students’ Society, the Conservatory Students’ Society, the “Carmen” and “Hora” choral societies, the “Miron Costin” Cultural Society), he organised and animated the cultural life of the society. Cultural Society), he organised and animated numerous events promoted by them, both in the Old Kingdom and in the areas inhabited by Romanians.

A faithful follower of the ideas propagated by Spiru Haret and Nicolae Iorga, he did not hesitate to fulfil his mission as a fighter for the right faith in the commune of his ancestors, Stoenești-Muscel, on the upper course of the Dâmboviţa River, where he arrived in 1913, founding and managing several banks and cooperatives.

At the first call of King Ferdinand, he took part in the entire military campaign (1916-1919), travelling with evacuation hospitals and combat units through a country at the end of its tether, from Wallachia to Moldavia, from Bessarabia to Ardeal, all the way to Budapest. And on his return, the priest-captain, grieving over the destruction of his humble church in the autumn of 1916 by the fury of the Germans, took the plunge, with the help of the Good Lord, and managed to build a beautiful stone church in 20 years (1919-1939). The Lord answered his prayers and the church was the first to be consecrated by Patriarch Nicodim Munteanu.

Teacher of the Patriarchs Justin and Theoctist and of the Great Confessors

He loved his work as a music teacher very much, without neglecting his rural parish in his ancestral home of Muscel, which he pastored for 52 years, not hesitating to leave his parishioners to teach permanently at the seminary in the capital. During his 18 years of teaching in the seminaries of Câmpulung-Muscel, Curtea de Argeș and Cernica-Ilfov, he lovingly shaped the destinies of more than a thousand children. And they returned his love to the best of their ability, many of them becoming the flowers of Romanian Orthodoxy: Patriarchs Teoctist Moisescu and Justin Arăpașu, Bishops Gherasim Cristea, Eftimie Luca and Roman Stanciu, confessors such as Sofian Boghiu, Roman Braga, Felix Dubneac, Grigorie Băbuș, Ioasaf Popa, Ioasaf Ganea, Atanasie Gladcovschi, Tănase Petroniu, Justin Pârvu, university professors Ioan Pulpea-Rămureanu and Anton Uncu. Of these, the gifted student, the orphan Anton Uncu, who in turn became a teacher, deacon and cantor at the Patriarchal Cathedral, and then a priest, continued his mission, as he did in honour of his teacher, Ion Popescu-Pasărea.

The true halo of the priest Gheorghe Cotenescu was indeed his professorship. The seminarians listened silently to this “country priest”, who controlled and moved them with his talent for exposition, his mimicry, his gentle humour and his wealth of knowledge. Those who are still alive fondly recall his music lessons, the excursions he organised, his passion and, above all, his suggestive and captivating way of teaching. He was a rare kindness, he helped them, he cared about the class and defended it, and the choirs he conducted were perfect. “Popa Ghiță from Muscel was one of the most beloved teachers of the seminarians from Câmpulung, Argeș and Cernica, many of them were tone deaf. With his talent and skill, he proved that music is an important branch of study in the formation and education of young people, on one condition: the teacher must have the necessary training, vocation and preparation.

He enjoyed the full confidence of Nicolae Iorga

Sixty years on, the impressions are as vivid as ever, and former students, now hierarchs and great confessors – those who are still with us – speak to you with affection, without being subjective. Perhaps because he did his best, he guided them like a father and was a good teacher who put all his soul into enlightening their minds. Respected by all and appreciated for his culture, his zeal and his teaching skills, although he was not a university professor, he was repeatedly invited by the scholar Nicolae Iorga and the organising committee to lecture at the People’s University of Vălenii de Munte (between 1932 and 1943).

The trust that Professor Nicolae Iorga had placed in him since his student days (personal secretary) led him to accept the delicate task of organising the Muscel branch of the Nationalist Democratic Party after the war, and he was elected deputy for Muscel (1931-1932), alongside Constantin (Dinu) I.C. Brătianu and Ion Mihalache, with numerous speeches and parliamentary initiatives that proved his oratorical talent.

The coming to power of the communist regime and the collapse of traditional values shook the foundations of patriarchal life in Stoenești. Feeling the need to do something, he gave logistical support to the partisans in the Muscel Mountains, led by the disgraced colonel Gheorghe Arsenescu.

Martyr of communism

The Security Service intelligence network and the militia quickly identified his role (the first to be targeted were the respected intellectuals of the villages) and he was arrested in the first group of Muscelenians, sentenced in May 1950 after a 14-month investigation. The humiliations he suffered during the endless investigations and the cruelty of the executioners in the communist prisons seriously affected his health, but did not break his spirit.

Old and ill, he was subjected to enormous hardships, his property confiscated (including his wife’s dowry, which he had received in 1912), his minor children excluded from school and even threatened with being shot if he did not first join the collective household to be set up in the mountains. Nevertheless, he kept in touch with his good friends, fellow seminarians and students, and managed to organise in Bucharest the first and last jubilee meeting of the graduates of the Central Seminary from the class of 1905, with funerals for the deceased teachers and colleagues.

After the events of December 1989, to the dishonour of his former parishioners, every trace of the existence of the Cotenescu family was erased in the town, outside the church and the family tomb.

(Radu Petrescu – Ziarul Lumina)

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