G. J. Mendel: modest, patient and principled

Although Mendel suffered from a protracted and painful illness, he rarely complained in the last days of his life. In one of his last letters, 18 days before his death, he wrote to his personal friend, the meteorologist prof. J. Líznar that he is so ill that he can no longer even read meteorological instruments without the help of others, and says goodbye to his friend with a light sense of humor: "Since we hardly ever meet in this area, I would like to offer you a hearty Be well!" and call upon your head all the blessings of the meteorological deities.”

5 Sep 2022 Jiřina Relichová Kateřina Radová Zuzana Jayasundera Leoš Verner Kevin Francis Roche

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G. J. Mendel, despite all the respect he received, was a modest and patient man and never complained. He showed particular patience during his experiments and, thanks to his great zeal, he overcame any exhaustion, though this eventually endangered his health. Mendel bravely endured the disease (nephritis) that befell him in his later years and, for the last 10 years of his life, he suffered from an accelerated heart rate of up to 120 beats per minute, in part caused by stress, but most likely caused by chronic nicotinism, as Mendel was a heavy smoker.

A. Doupovec, who learnt a lot about Mendel from his mother, recalled that, though Mendel was suffering from a protracted and painful illness, he seldom complained during the last days of his life. In one of his last letters, 18 days before his death, he wrote to his personal friend, the meteorologist Professor J. Líznar, that he was so ill that he could no longer even read meteorological instruments without someone else’s help, and said goodbye to another friend with a little humour… since we are unlikely to meet in this field again, I would like to cordially tell you ‘Be healthy!’ and summon all the blessings of the meteorological deities on your head”. When composing the religious vows of F. Bařina in 1883, he stated: Although I have had to go through a number of bitter moments in my life, I must gratefully admit that niceness and good have prevailed”.

Mendel’s firm adherence to his views and attitudes, which he was firmly convinced were correct, showed itself several times. After all, his teacher in Olomouc had already mentioned his solid character. When Mendel entered the Augustinian monastery, he was also actively interested in what was going on in society. In the revolutionary year of 1848, he joined a movement that advocated a better position for monasteries and priests under the monarchy. In a petition addressed to the Constituent Assembly of the Reich, written in Mendel’s hand and signed by six Augustinians from Brno, including Mendel, they made a very emphatic statement of their sincere request for recognition of constitutional civil law”. The text contains plenty of bold expressions, such as that the priests of the Order have not yet been granted the rights of constitutional citizenship” and that citizenship receives a fatal blow to the monks and falls into the deepest humiliation”, that all priests are robbed of their right to free citizenship” and that “monks are nobodies with no rights”. It was, in a way, courageous to sign such a petition (and not all the brothers dared to do so); however, Mendel’s firm stance and willingness to express his opinion on matters he considered right was already evident.

Mendel also showed his unwavering attitude as abbot of the monastery. Though he gained a significant social position through this position, it was also associated with political pressures that affected both himself and the monastery. This culminated in 1874, when a new law was proposed to increase taxes on monasteries. Mendel was convinced that the law was unfair and refused to recognise its validity. However, he did not take this decision lightly; he first checked everything thoroughly and assessed what was good and right, he insisted on this firmly and with extraordinary tenacity. He protested this law and wrote numerous extensive justifications for his position. In one of his dissolutions from 1877, which stands as a detailed legal analysis of the unjustified conduct of the authorities, Mendel’s indignation and unwavering conviction that the authorities were behaving unfairly in unjustifiably demanding payment of taxes is evident. Though many urged him to stop, he ignored all temptations and threats and remained unshaken, only objecting that, in his election as abbot, he had sworn to the confreres that he would keep the monastery’s property intact. I will fight steadfastly. The truth remains the truth; but this law is unjust”.

In the end, the government enforced taxation by passing part of the monastery’s property into administration. It was a great humiliation for the abbot. He was alone and bitter in this fight, and it affected his health. I quote Let this high c. k. Ministry forgive the undersigned this expression of inner bitterness. He has endured many hardships in the last two years, and has become an old man in the exercise of his office”. Nevertheless, he maintained his negative opinion up to the end of his life. His nephew later commented we marvel at Mendel’s steadfast character, who has resisted all temptations and threats, we marvel at his youthful willpower, that lived in an aging body; we admire his sharpness of spirit, his logic, which resisted all Austrian lawyers… we bow to the grandeur of this spirit”.

Translation: Kevin F. Roche
Editor: Zuzana Jayasundera

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