Secret No More

Discovering a female Catholic priest behind the Iron Curtain.

BY: Arthur Jones, NCR Staff


A quarter-century ago Ludmila Javorova was a secret locked inside another secret. She was an ordained Roman Catholic priest inside the secret underground church in Czechoslovakia.

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The underground church, known as


--from koinonia, a Greek word for a tightly knit group of believers--operated at great risk, barely beyond the repressive gaze of the Czech communist authorities.

In the 1970s and '80s, Javorova's story was as remote as information buried in a time capsule. In a sense, that's what the secret was. Javorova did not want it revealed. Yet over the course of one decade, the 1990s, American enterprise and determination--and chance--decided otherwise.

In 1990, NCR staffer Tim McCarthy was in the Czech Republic to write about the sweeping changes taking place in Central and Eastern Europe.

In September of that year, in a lengthy article datelined Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, McCarthy revealed that married men had been ordained priests secretly in that country from the 1960s on.

Even more startling, informants told McCarthy that Bishop Felix Maria Davidek had ordained at least one woman. But McCarthy's sources did not know who or where she was, and their story "could not be confirmed."

Despite McCarthy's first twist on the time lock, the secret remained. The woman at the center, Ludmila Javorova, did not want it revealed. She had her reasons, though she had no doubts about her priesthood. She knew she had been legitimately ordained, in part because of the circumstances of the time, by Davidek, a legally instituted and recognized Roman Catholic bishop.

In December 1991, The New York Times picked up on the story and reported that three Czech women had been ordained.

The next twist on the time lock had taken place.

Ruth McDonough Fitzpatrick, then national coordinator of the U.S. Catholic Women's Ordination Conference (WOC) put together a small delegation to travel to the Czech Republic. Before they left, she learned there was a former


priest in the United States and contacted him. He knew one of the women: Ludmila Javorova. Her name was out.

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