- Blessed Vladimir GhikaPrince, Priest, and Martyr
In the summer of 1957, in Aiud prison, in the People’s Republic of Romania, a political convict was in atrocious pain and counting the hours till dawn, when he would be taken to the hospital to have his crushed hand amputated. He was working in the factory when a heavy metal sheet fell on his hand, but it was too late to go to the town hospital, so, with nothing to alleviate his pain, he was left in the infirmary cell. He described the scene later:
I was weeping with terrible pain, when I saw a silhouette beside me. I recognized him immediately—it was Monsignor Ghika. But how could that be? He had been dead for about three years, so I thought pain was making me delirious. I turned my head away, then looked again. He was still there, as if pained by my unbelief. He called to me, “My son!”, blessed me and vanished. Next day early in the morning I was taken to the hospital. The doctor who had first examined me and had ordered the amputation tore away the rag that I had wrapped my hand in and, having looked at my hand, shouted [End Page 79] angrily to the soldier who had brought me. “Not this one, you blockhead! The one with the crushed hand!”
The convict survived prison and, upon his release, was secretly ordained a Greek-Catholic priest.
Who was this wonderworker, Monsignor Ghika?1
II. The Prince
Vladimir Ghika was born on Christmas day 1873 in Constantinople where his father, Prince Ioan Ghika, the son of the last ruler of Moldova, was a diplomatic agent of Romania. The fifth of six children, little Vladimir received the sacraments of initiation as an Orthodox, the religion of his devout parents.
Vladimir’s father possessed not only a noble title, but also true nobility—that of serving his neighbor. His wife writes to him: “God is almighty and only in Him do I put all my trust to protect and to keep you always healthy. When you were commander in Iași, would you not always visit the hospitals full of people sick with typhoid and would you not transport the sick with your carriage?”2 As we will see later, like father, like son.
Vladimir’s mother, Alexandrina, was a true helpmate to her husband, and her dedication to the wounded during the War of Independence of 1877 was repaid by the Elisabeth decoration, whose motto ran: Comfort and Consolation, words she found most adequate to describe her service.3 While being a devout Orthodox, she would nourish her rich spiritual life with Catholic books, such as the Elevations and Meditations of Bossuet, as well as the Imitation of Christ.4 She became a widow at 46 and would dedicate herself entirely to the formation of her children, of which the first four died at a young age.
The Ghikas decided to educate their children in France, where education was superior, and the family was not bound to live the princely lifestyle they could not afford in Romania. Vladimir, who was exceptionally bright, graduated from the high school in Toulouse [End Page 80] at fifteen and was passionate about physics, chemistry, literature, and contemporary history. While in Toulouse, he and his brother Demetrius lodged with a Protestant family and would worship with them, as their parents could not find any Orthodox family and were afraid of Catholic influence.
Vladimir would often accompany his brother, who became a diplomat, to the various cities where Demetrius was posted. Thus, between 1898 and 1904, the two Ghikas were in Rome, where Vladimir entered the Catholic Church on April 15, 1902. As he later described it, Vladimir’s decision to join the Catholic Church was “fully logical and free” because he had not occasion to meet Catholics that might influence him by example.5 He was first drawn by sympathy for the persecution Catholics were undergoing in France. One major inner obstacle in his conversion was the anguish for the suffering he would cause his mother, whom he loved dearly, but eventually, God’s...