September 24 – Peter the Aleut; Anton Martin Slomsek

Peter the Aleut (ca. 1800–1815), born Cungagnaq on Kodiak, was one of fourteen Aleut seal-and-otter hunters whom the Russian American Company had compelled (to use the nicest possible term) to hunt seals off the coast of the Spanish bit of California, which apparently they shouldn’t’ve otta. They were captured by the Spaniards (well, some of them), and thrown in prison in either Misión Dolores (aka Misión San Francisco de Asís), or Misión San Pedro y Pablo Asistencia (just south of there) (not to be confused with the Misión San Pedro y Pablo in Abstencia, where Sts. Peter and Paul never actually went).

They were pressured to convert to Roman Catholicism, but insisted that they were Christians, by gum, and not about to change their religion (did they mention the filioque?) “No you’re not,” they were told, “you’re dirty stinking rotten heretics.” (Things were a wee bit tense between the Orthodox and Catholics in those days, at least in California.)

Peter’s cellmate relates how he was, on orders of his jailers (our witness says they were “Jesuits,” but that’s historically impossible—and besides why does everybody pick on the poor Jesuits?) tormented by local natives (note how the Europeans get the natives to do their dirty work—anybody else notice a pattern here?). Various phalanges were severed one at a time, and finally his intestines were surgically removed w.b.o.a.[1] The next day, orders came to release the prisoners, but it was too late for Peter, and only 13 went home. He was proclaimed a saint and martyr by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, or ROCOR, in 1980.

Blessed* Anton Martin Slomšek (1800–1862) was born in Slom (modern Slovenia), and studied theology and philosophy at the seminary in Klangfurt, Austria. He was ordained, then four years later made spiritual director of the seminary (or, more precisely, of its students). Knowing that the Slovenian language was in danger of being (purposely) supplanted by German, he taught it to the seminarians. He became a parish priest, then head of a diocesan school, then a pastor again, then Bishop of Lavant (not to be confused with Levant, which was never part of the Austrian Empire, however Holy or Roman it once might have been).

As bishop, he fought (successfully) to have his diocesan seat moved from Sankt Andrä to Maribor (as who wouldn’t), and championed religious and secular education, re-opening Slovenian-language schools the Austrians had closed. He even wrote several books on the subject, and before the ghost writer industry really took off, people only wrote books about things they really cared about. Indeed books were so important to Anton that he co-founded the Hermagoras Society, the oldest Slovene publishing house, which became an important tool in his fight to preserve the Slovenian language and culture, which as noted was being systematically stomped out by the Austrians, the blackguards. Several sources claim that the near-universal literacy rate in Slovenia is due in great part to Bishop Anton.

He also wrote songs, and one described as a “toast” (with the unlikely name “I Will Buy a Small Hill” (the things Slovenes think about while drinking!)) is among those still sung today. Nothing, perhaps, keeps a language alive so much as having some good drinking songs. (Maybe.) For this and other reasons, including his modest demeanor and his talent in the pulpit, he was much beloved of the people of his diocese.

He was beatified in 1999 by Pope John Paul II, who in his beatification speech cited him as an example of healthy patriotism. If he said anything about the nineteenth-century Austrian variety, it didn’t make it into the official transcript.


[1] Without Benefit of Anesthesia.