Empowering Family Continuity: Parish Priests’ Families Supporting the Bereaved and Memorializing the Dead during the First World War in Transylvania

Empowering Family Continuity: Parish Priests’ Families Supporting the Bereaved and Memorializing the Dead during the First World War in Transylvania

Author:  Marius Eppel, Centre for Population Studies, BBU, Romania

Panel: Reinventing Family Continuity after a War Hecatomb

Key words: Priest; mediator, priest’s wife; parishioners; charitable support; family continuity, Transylvania

Abstract

Throughout modernity, and well into the twentieth century, the parish priests in composite states would play significant roles, which often extended beyond their prescribed spiritual mission of shepherding their communities. Especially in the village milieu, the parish priests’ families were an important locus of decision-making for the entire community, mediating between state authorities and individual or various collective matters. The onset and unfolding of the First World War would impress on the priests and their families a heightened sense of importance, following the breakdown of other structures of community support. 

The present paper aims to examine exactly this issue, namely the ways in which the parish priests and their families (particularly their wives) became involved in the process of ensuring ‘family continuity’ during and after the First World War in Transylvania. We argue that, especially in the case of the Orthodox and Greek Catholic confessions, whose adherents were disenfranchised politically, the parish priests and their families mobilized resources and support for men and women who had been bereaved of spouses and children. Priests and their wives, who centralized charitable enterprises and traditionally oversaw the fates of those less fortunate in their parishes, attempted to find solutions to the damages wrought by the war in the minds and households of their parishioners. Moreover, they also ensured family continuity in the sense of memorializing those who had fallen in battle from a particular community. How this played out in mixed ethnical and religious communities is also worthy of examination, as a way of looking into inter-ethnical and inter-confessional relations through the lens of competing family narratives.