Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac: Biography & Quotes

Instructor: Grace Pisano

Grace has taught high school history in several states with a master's degree in teaching.

Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac was a Croatian priest who lived through World Wars I and II. In this lesson, learn how he earned a reputation as a humanitarian and how that affected his life after the war.

The Legacy of Archbishop Stepinac

Depending on who and in what time period you ask, people around the world who know of Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac will give you different descriptors of the type of man he was. Some will call him a hero and martyr, others throughout history would call him a traitor. How does one man get such a dichotomous reputation? Let's learn a little about Stepinac's life, his role in World War II and how people around the world perceived him.

Biography

Aloysius Viktor Stepinac was born near Brezani, Croatia on May 8, 1898. He was one of twelve children and was raised Catholic. Beginning in 1916 he served in the Austro-Hungarian army and fought on the Italian front during World War II. While a soldier, he was taken as a prisoner of war and held until 1919. After the war, he attended school to study agriculture and later went back to school to study and become a priest. He was ordained on October 26, 1930.

History in the Catholic Church

In 1931, Stepinac became a parish curate in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia and later that year he formed the archdiocesan branch at Caritas. In 1934, he became the assistant to the archbishop in the Zagreb diocese. Upon being appointed to this position, Stepinac famously said, ''I love my Croatian people and for their benefit I am ready to give everything, as well as I am ready to give everything for the Catholic Church.'' Stepinac did not realize how much these words would mean once World War II began.

On December 7, 1937, Archbishop Anton Bauer of Zagreb died, and Stepinac was chosen to replace him. Stepinac remained the archbishop until his death in 1960. As archbishop, he chose the motto In te, Domine, spe ravi which translates to ''In you, Lord, I place my trust.'' Shortly after becoming archbishop, Stepinac was recorded saying that ''the Catholic Church was the greatest civilizing force in human history.''

Role in World War II and Trial

On April 6, 1941 Nazi Germany invaded the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Once the Nazis invaded, they established the Independent State of Croatia, a puppet government run by communist Germany and Italy. Stepinac's first point of contention with the communist state was that they wanted to divide Croatian Catholics from the pope because they did not want the people to look to anyone but themselves for power and authority. As a defender of the Catholic Church, Stepinac had a clear disagreement with this stance.

In May 1943, Stepinac openly criticized communists. Throughout the war, he stood up against Jewish persecution in the Holocaust and helped them escape. He also stood up for the rights of Catholics, Croatians, Serbs and Slovenes. When helping people during the war, Stepinac cared less about a person's religion and more about their humanity. Stepinac became famous around the world for his efforts and angered the communists because he refused to bend to their rule.

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