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Bishop Antons Justs dies

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Bishop Antons Justs, the retired bishop of Jelgava, Latvia, and a former priest of the Diocese of Arlington, died Feb. 17 at the age of 87.

"With my brother priests in the Diocese of Arlington, I pray for the repose of the soul of Bishop Antons Justs and for the consolation of his friends and family in mourning," said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge in a statement released Feb. 19.

"Bishop Justs was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Richmond and then incardinated in the Diocese of Arlington. After the fall of the Soviet Union, then-Father Justs returned to his home country of Latvia and worked to rebuild the church there after decades of oppression and communist control. In 1996 he was consecrated Bishop of Jelgava from which position he retired in 2011. May the Lord grant him eternal rest and the reward of his labors."

Born Nov. 22, 1931, he left Latvia with his family during World War II and began studying for the priesthood in 1949 in seminaries in Louvain, Belgium, and Innsbruck, Austria. He was ordained in 1960 in Belgium. In 1962, he was incardinated into the Diocese of Richmond, and served at Star of the Sea Church in Virginia Beach and St. Francis Church in Staunton, before being incardinated into the Diocese of Arlington in 1974.

He served as pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria and St. Catherine of Siena Church in Great Falls, before being assigned to St. Mark Church in Vienna.

In 1990, when he celebrated the 30th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, parishioners at St. Mark offered him a ticket to return to Latvia but at the time the country was still under Communist control.  

He finally returned to Latvia in 1991. “The people asked me to come back to teach in the seminary,” Bishop Justs said. He accepted what he thought was a temporary assignment as a seminary professor in Riga, Latvia. He later was named seminary rector and in 1996 Pope John Paul II asked him to become bishop of the new Diocese of Jelgava. 

He was ordained a bishop Jan. 6, 1996, at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome by Pope John Paul II and installed in his new diocese March 25, 1996.

Parishioners of St. Mark and St. Catherine of Siena Church in Great Falls, some of whom attended his episcopal ordination in Rome, continued to support Bishop Justs and contributed heavily toward building his seminary and a home for the aged in Latvia. He would return to Northern Virginia every year to speak at both parishes and at a luncheon in his honor to keep contributors briefed.

He celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood in 2010. During his homily, Bishop Justs reflected on his early life in Latvia, where he received his first communion in 1940.

A Communist agent arrested the Catholic priest who celebrated the First Communion Mass, Bishop Justs said. He remembered thinking to himself at the time, “Someone should take the priest’s place.” He never imagined it would be him.

“He was a good man who led an amazing life,” said St. Mark parishioner Margie Carson. “We were in Rome a few years ago when he was there from Latvia for a synod. He met us in St. Peter’s Square, dressed like an ordinary priest. We could see him coming through the crowds and a tourist asked him to take a picture of her family, which he smilingly did. He was the epitome of a kind and loving pastor who never set out to be anything more.”

Bishop Justs retired in 2011.

A funeral Mass was scheduled for Feb. 21 in the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Jelgava, with burial in Peace Cemetery.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019