Fr. Tomaž Mavrič, C.M., Twenty-fourth successor to St. Vincent de Paul. Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission of St. Vincent de Paul and of the Company of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. Durector General of the Association of the Miraculous Medal, the Vincentian Marian Youth, and the Vincnetian Lay Missionaries.
Born in Argentina of Slovenian parents who emigrated when Slovenia (then part of Yugoslavia) fell under communist rule after World War II, Fr. Tomaz has served in ordained ministry outside his native land as a missionary in Canada and Russia. He was named Visitor of the Vice Province of in 2009, and reappointed in 2012.
Tell about your background; family life, schooling, and how you came to the Congregation.
I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1959, and am one of five children. My parents moved there from Slovenia due to the Communist repression of religious and civil rights when Tito took over after World War II. After leaving Slovenia, they lived in a refugee camp in Austria before Argentina granted asylum to Slovenians. Although I grew up in Argentina and learned Spanish in school, we had a strong community of Slovenians who kept our ethnic heritage alive. There was an area just outside Buenos Aires called ‘Slovenian Village’. There, the confreres had a parish and a boarding school that I attended, which is how I came to the Congregation.
After I graduated, I decided to enter the Congregation as a member of the Slovenian Province. I did my formation in Ljubljana, where I studied philosophy and theology, and made novitiate in Belgrade. I was ordained in 1983 in Ljubljana. My parents attended, and since I hadn’t seen them in several years, it was a truly joyous occasion. It was the first time my father returned to their native land in three decades. My mother with my youngest brother came to visit me ones before a few years before ordination. It was a very poignant time for all of us.
Where have you served in your ministry as a Vincentian?
. I requested to go to the missions, specifically Madagascar. I was first assigned to our Slovenian parish in Toronto, Ontario Canada, a place (like Argentina), that welcomed a sizable number of Slovenian immigrants. Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal was a large, active parish. I threw myself into the sacramental life of the parish, and did ministry with the young people. It was a great pastoral and community experience. I served at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal for ten years, from 1984-1994.
In 1994, I was sent to Slovenia where I served for three years. The country was quite different- Tito, the communist dictator, was dead. The “Yugoslavia” of the past now gave way to independent nation states, and Slovenia was the first to declare its independence. So, it was a time of great upheaval with new-found freedoms not seen for generations. While it was exciting, there was much instability in the region, as ancient religious and ethnic rivalries were rekindled. I served in a parish, and did youth ministry and vocation promotion.
In 1997, I got my “missionary wish”. Then Superior General, Fr. Robert Maloney asked for volunteers to go to an international mission starting in Russia in Niznij Tagil, a remote area in the Ural Mountains. This area had held numerous prison camps (or ‘gulags’). Most of the people interred were sent there by Stalin. They were classified as lifelong ‘enemies of the state’ although they had done nothing illegal.
I arrived with a confrere from Poland. I didn’t speak Polish, nor did he speak Slovenian. But somehow, we managed to communicate and learned to live together as brothers and co-workers. Our parish was a tiny church. It was a new experience: For example most of the people because of their isolation from the other parts of the world did not heard about Vatican II and the changes it has brought to the Church and world. They had been in a ‘survival mode’ for so long that they relied on the religious faith and devotions of their youth, which was heroic. It was so deeply moving to hear of how they had survived for so long as a community, meeting for prayer in small groups in houses, parks, and cemeteries. One elderly woman (her name is Lydia and she is still alive today!) went often to a very long journey by train to meet secretly with a priest who would supply her with consecrated hosts she would take back for communion prayer services. She was (and still is) a wonderful inspiration to me!
Over time, we were able to grow as a parish community, overcoming a great deal of fear and reticence from the people. They were clearly affected by all they had endured. Also, the Catholic Church was viewed suspiciously by the regional government and the local people. Our parish church was a pre-fabricated building made in Germany and sent via large trucks. The drivers who delivered it said that while traveling in Russia, some criminals stopped them with the intent to steal it until they found out it was for a church. They decided it would be bad luck to do so, and let the drivers through! The Church was assembled quickly and it was dedicated on May 13, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, which became the name of the parish.
In 2001, I left our mission in Russia and went to Ireland to do some human development coursework, which was a wonderful person experience. In 2002 I accompanied our Novices from then already the Vice-Province who joined the Novitiate of the Slovakian Province in Banska Bistrica, Slovakia. In 2003 I had a knee replacement surgery, so I returned to Slovenia.
In 2004, I was assigned to our house in Kiev, which we call “God’s gift” because of Divine Providence (which guided Fr. Paul Roche, Visitor, to find generous donors to purchase land and build a provincial house). In 2009, I became Visitor, and was reelected Visitor in 2012.