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Father Bertrand Kotnik papers

Identifier: IHRC1272


Papers of Father Bertrand Kotnik papers (1913-2009) consist of correspondence, parish jubilee books, programs, and sheet music.


  • 1895-1966


Language of Materials

In Slovenian, English, and Latin


Open for use in the Elmer L. Andersen Library reading room.


This collection may be protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright ownership and to obtain all necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials. Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law.

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Father Bertrand Kotnik (1913-2009) was born in Rožek, Koroška (today Rosegg in Kärnten (Carinthia) Austria on December 12, 1913. He was of Slovenian descent, ordained as a priest in Ljubljana, Slovenia in 1935, and remained there through World War II, thus being a personal witness to the atrocities Slovenians suffered.

Fleeing the Yugoslav communists in May of 1945, Father Bertrand returned to Austria where he performed the ordinary tasks of priesthood. However, he soon became disgruntled with the Austrian treatment of Slovenian refugees and subsequently emigrated to the United States in 1947. He entered the Franciscan St. Mary's Seminary of Lemont, Illinois in 1948. Father Bertrand returned to Austria about 10 years ago and at the time of this writing was living in Boelkermarkt, acting as chaplain of a private girls school. He was also conducting personal research concerning Slovenians living within Austria.

St. Mary's Seminary of Lemont, Illinois, where Fr. Bertrand resided, has a rich tradition of Slovenian heritage. Run by Franciscan brothers, primarily concerned with missionary work, the seminary was founded in 1925 at the urging of Cardinal George Mundelein, archbishop of Chicago. The Slovene Franciscan brothers, whose headquarters were at St. Stephen's Rectory of Chicago, IL, joined to form the present day seminary. A new, 160-acre seminary was completed and dedicated on July 14, 1940. Along with a one year novitiate, philosophy and theology were required components of the curriculum and carried a strong emphasis on the Slovenian language and culture. St. Mary's Seminary of Lemont was and continues to be a popular retreat location for American-Slovenian Catholics; its replica shrines (e.g., the Grotto of Lourdes) serve as major attractions. The Franciscan interest in and devotion to the cause of formalizing the sainthood of Bishop Friderik Baraga (recognizing him as the first canonized Slovenian saint) also has brought recognition and attention to Lemont.


2.5 Linear Feet


This collection is organized into 4 different series as follows: 1) Personal Materials; 2) Church Activities and Programs; 3)Religious Sheet Music; and 4) Non-Religious Sheet Music. A majority of the material is written in Slovenian, with some examples of English and Latin. The collection's time span ranges from 1895 to 1966, but generally, the items pertain to the 1940s and 1950s, with a number of songs coming from the 1930s.

The Personal Material series, though limited in quantity, does give some insight into Fr. Kotnik. Of the personal letters, the most noteworthy is one written in 1959 by Kotnik in response to the article "What's a Political Refugee?, " by J.J. Hanlin published in the October 1959 issue of The Christian Family. Kotnik was disturbed by the rosy image Hanlin painted of the Austrians, since Kotnik himself had experienced the prejudicial treatment of refugee Slovenes by the Austrians. Kotnik received a personal reply from Hanlin who supported his article's allegations.

Also iuncluded are postcards, most of them unused, but from Leinz, Austria, the site of a DP (displaced persons) camp. The prayer remembrances collected by Fr. Kotnik display a direct appeal to Mary or Jesus for various causes, such as peace, guidance, or the soul of a deceased. They also serve as commemoratives of specific occasions.

The series includes a number of published items. Among them are The Slavic and Slovenian newspapers and bulletins, dating 1941-45, all dealing with Slovenia's involvement in WWII. The contain specific accounts of Slovenia's success or defeat against the Germans, Fascists, and Communists. Names of the dead are given as are incriminating facts and figures of an agricultural and consumer nature. Liberal papers such as "Svobodna Slovenija" (Free Slovenija) or "Svoboda Ali Smrt" (Liberty or Death) reveal an intense feeling of Slovenian nationalism. The writings of Dr. Boris Furlan describe the sufferings of the Slovenian people and call for U.S. action and involvement. Also included are American Press Releases informing American-Slovenes of current events as well as various letters outlining some American-Slovenian affairs occurring in the midto late-1950s (e.g., a letter to Rev. Baznik concerning a Slovenian national shrine in Washington, DC).

The second series, Church Activities and Programs, contains information collected from various parishes throughout the U.S. St. Mary's Seminary in Lemont is well represented as is St. Stephen's Church in Chicago, IL, which has a strong, active Slovenian parish. Other Catholic churches serving the Slovene community include: St. Mary's Feast of the Assumption in Collinwood, OH, the Holy Family Parish of Willard, WI, St. Vitus Church of Cleveland, OH, and The Church of Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Sheboygan, WI.

Concert leaflets and programs make up a substantial portion of this series with the most notable commemorating the Slovenian Radio Hour in Pueblo City, CO and a church choir concert at St. John the Evangelist Church of Milwaukee, WI.

Information concerning Bishop Gregory Rogman and Bishop Friderik Baraga is available. Both are considered primary figures within the Slovenian community. Catholic Slovenes have persistently tried to have Bishop Baraga declared a saint, and apparently Father Kotnik was no exception. In fact, prior to his return to Austria, Fr. Kotnik spent some time in New York where he conducted research on the life of Bishop Baraga.

1954 was considered Holy Mary's sacred year. October 24 was considered Mission Sunday where Mary was directly appealed to for deliverance, salvation, the defeat of communists, and world peace. A large poster and various pamphlets commemorate this event.

The Church-related folder contains useful material including: a sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter; a baptismal certificate (Krstni Listek); a Christmas message (Pismo za bozi@); and a letter from St. Nicholas to children (Dragi Otroci).

Religious Sheet Music, the third series, reflects the strong Slovenian ties to the Catholic Church. Music ranges from general hymns to specific songs celebrating the sprinkling of Holy Water. Christmas songs make up a substantial portion of the material as do Easter and Lenten songs. The large portion of Latin litanies and church songs reflects the more orthodox days of Catholicism prior to the changes evoked by Vatican II.

The Slovenes' consecration to the Blessed Virgin is readily identifiable. Slovenes have always directly appealed to Mary for peace, guidance, and understanding, and were specifically consecrated to her Immaculate Heart in 1943 by Bishop Rogman. This consecreation was repeated in 1955 at the Altar of the Mother and Queen of Slovenians in Lemont, Illinois.

Slovenes also musically appealed to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, specific saints, and the Holy Eucharist. Songs composed for particular celebrations (e.g., for Bishop Rozman, Slovenian Holy Mass, or Mission Sunday) were also not uncommon. The music composed for Bishop Gregory RoEman reveals admiration for one of the most celebrated Slovenes. Bishop Rozman of Ljubljana emigrated to the U.S. to avoid Communist persecution and resided at the St. Lawrence Rectory in Cleveland, OH. In the U.S., he visited numerous Slovenian communities and parishes, where he was esteemed and honored.

Secular Sheet Music, the fourth and final series of this collection, consists primarily of Slovenian folk songs. Prevalent folk themes include nature, love, work, or the beloved homeland. Even the non-religious music contains references to God or Mary. Most of the sheet music is printed but there are some samples of handwritten music as well.

An interesting side note is the gender arrangement of the choir. Though most music is written for a mixed choir (mesani zbor), a substantial amount of the music is exclusively for a men's chorus (moski zbori). No music is specifically intended for a women's chorus. Two singing groups are represented in this collection: "Glasbena Matica" is the prominent Slovenian Philharmonic Society, known for its operas; the other, "Slovan, " is a popular male singing group.

Inventory of the Father Betrand Kotnik papers.
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