ANTAL JAKAB was the leading Hungarian Catholic bishop in Romania during the last decade of the Ceausescu dictatorship. Despite the almost obligatory contributions demanded of all prominent Romanian citizens to the increasingly absurd cult of personality surrounding Nicolae Ceausescu, Jakab was almost the only church leader to avoid making an embarrassing declaration of loyalty to the Communist dictator.
Jakab was born in 1909 and ordained priest in 1934 after studies in Alba Iulia and Rome. When northern Transylvania was split off from Romania in 1941 he became secretary of the general vicariate, before being appointed professor of canon law and ethics at the theological academy in Cluj.
Romania's new post-war Communist rulers immediately began persecuting the churches. Bishop Aron Marton of Alba Iulia was imprisoned in 1949. The temporary administrator of the diocese was in turn imprisoned and Jakab was secretly chosen to take over. But no sooner had he revealed his new role to his priests than he too was arrested. He spent the next 13 years in prisons and on forced labour in a lead mine.
He was freed in 1964 and worked as a parish priest. After a long battle he was also allowed to resume his teaching in Cluj. In 1971 he was named co- adjutor bishop of Alba Iulia, with the right to succeed Bishop Marton. He was consecrated the following year in Rome. When Marton died in 1980 he had the difficult task of following in his revered predecessor's footsteps. His was a constant battle with the Communist state, especially over restrictions on entry to the Alba Iulia seminary. His repeated interviews with the Ministry of Cults in Bucharest, he later declared, were more gruelling than the interrogations after his arrest. Already in poor health, he finally retired in March 1990 after the fall of the Ceausescu regime, and was replaced by the assistant bishop.
As leading representative of the Hungarian-speaking church when the Hungarian minority in Transylvania was coming under growing pressure from the government's Romanianisation policies, Jakab faced a difficult task.
Though he lacked the strong character and charisma of his predecessor, he nevertheless preserved the Catholic identity in Transylvania as best he could in Ceausescu's increasingly repressive final decade.