Krasić’s contribution to the formative period of Croatian language instruction abroad was massive and aimed at promoting our language and culture in North America. He left his homeland with a broad educational background and worked in the frame of Catholic missions in the Croatian communities on the dissemination of our language and culture in the anglophone world, all whilst discharging his complex parish duties while resident in the USA and in Canada. He enriched his new home through the organisation of Croatian language instruction and the printing of textbooks, magazines and books.
Friar Ljubo Krasić was one of our most distinguished missionaries and educators active among the diaspora communities in the twentieth century. He died in Humac (Bosnia-Herzegovina) on the 21st of June in his 83rd year, having adopted the habit of a monk for 64 years and that of the Roman Catholic priesthood for 56 years. He made an immeasurable contribution to the organisation of Croatian language education activities among Croatian immigrants abroad and the diaspora community as a whole, all aimed at promoting our language and culture in North America during the Cold War division that once gripped western democratic societies. Having been deployed from his homeland to Roman Catholic missions among ethnic Croatian communities abroad with the expansive educational background of an erudite, he worked systematically on the dissemination of our language and culture in the anglophone world, along with all of the complexities of his parish duties both in the United States of America and in Canada. Along with his work with pupils and students, he also saw to the training of teachers. He enriched the anglophone milieu with the organisation of Croatian language instruction, and the printing of textbooks, magazines and books.
Krasić was born in the Herzegovinian town of Čitluk on the 18th of March 1938. He attended the Franciscan gymnasium in Visoko before moving on to study philosophy and theology in Sarajevo, Zagreb and Rome. He joined the ranks of the Franciscan order in 1957 and was ordained a minister of the Roman Catholic church in 1964 in Široki Brijeg. He was, in many ways, always rooted in his Franciscan family. He spent a year in the local parish upon his ordainment into the priesthood, before relocating from Široki Brijeg to Zurich in Switzerland, where he not only established a Croatian Catholic mission, but also engaged in very vibrant activity as a priest and a patriot. However much the concordat between the Vatican and the now defunct Yugoslavia had its unfavourable official aspect, its benefits in practice allowed young priests with passports to travel abroad without impediment and continue not only their religious, but also the patriotic activities that their predecessors, Croatian priests in the diaspora, set up and sustained for many years. This work was always harmonious and in collaboration with their esteemed predecessors. Krasić launched the Movis (meaning “Move”) magazine fresh upon his arrival in Switzerland to serve as a means of bringing ethnic Croatians across Switzerland together and informing them of religious and ethnic events. These included the magnificent pilgrimages to Switzerland’s Einsiedeln, gathering thousands of ethnic Croatian worshippers from across Switzerland and Germany and many participants from the ancestral homeland. We can fondly remember the delight with which the Žeteoci band, comprised of divinity students in Zagreb, was received. While in Switzerland friar Krasić organised a broad range of lectures on the Croatian language, literature and culture in the fold of the Croatian Catholic Mission and in collaboration with the Croatian Society. Among the lecturers were some of the leading lights of literature and linguistics in Croatia. Krasić’s four-year stint in Switzerland (1967–1971) was followed by three years of postgraduate study in Rome at the Alphonsianum [the Alphonsian Academy, a higher institute of moral theology]. He began his enthusiastic collaboration with newly-founded publisher ZIRAL, led by a pair of leading intellectuals, friar Dionizije Lasić and friar Lucijan Kordić.
Upon his arrival in the United States of America in 1974, friar Krasić was appointed the assistant priest at the Saints Cyril and Methodius parish of New York and a year later to the post of director of the Croatian Ethnic Institute of Chicago. The following year, 1976, however, saw him back in Mostar (Herzegovina) to work with students. In 1977 he is back in the USA, now more or less permanently established in Chicago, where he continued his work with the Croatian Ethnic Institute and pursued his regular and copious duties in the local St Jerome parish. From 1980 to 1987 he was the parish priest in Sudbury in Canada’s province of Ontario where he worked with the local parishioners to purchase a lovely church, which they consecrated as St Mark’s. The revamped hall in the church’s underground level was the venue for numerous activities, and it was from there and from the premises of the local chapter of the Croatian Peasant Party that the then very popular education institution HIŠAK (Croatian Schools of America and Canada, later joined by schools in Australia and by a number in Europe) was active for many years. After Sudbury Krasić moved on to assume the post of manager of the Croatian Culture and Social Centre in Norval (from 1987 to 1995), before moving back to Chicago to serve again as the director of the Croatian Ethnic Institute. He left Chicago in 1996 to move back to his native Herzegovina region.
That, in short, was the abbreviated curriculum vitae of the man, the priest, and the intellectual, but we would be well served, given his background and impact on Croatian culture and education abroad, to consider each of these chapters in greater detail. In Rome Krasić produced his German-language study on the training of children of the different nations present in the then Yugoslav federation in other European countries (Die Schulung der Kinder verschiedener Nationalitäten aus Jugoslawien in den europäischen Ländern, Rome, 1972) which expressed Krasić’s aptitude for the sociological study he was always attracted to. He collaborated with the New York-based Center for Migrations Studies in producing a 114-page bilingual study, the result of his work on Sociological Investigations on Migrants. The Croatian/English study was published as Adjustment and Religious Profile among Croatians in U.S.A. and Canada – Interview Schedule.
A group of priests, heads of missions and most organisers and heads of Croatian language schools abroad, met in late July and the first days of August at the Sveti Nikola Tavelić Croatian centre in New York to report on the Croatian language, literature and culture instruction in their respective missions and ways to improve classroom instruction and raise its effectiveness. Writer and Franciscan monk Hrvoslav Ban observed with much optimism that “with people gathered that come with hands-on experience … we can all quickly and concretely identify the critical issues and shortcomings, and adopt conclusions that will actually write a new chapter in the history of instruction outside the homeland.” It was, in fact, friar Ljubo Krasić that would go on to write the bulk of this new chapter, from the very inception of the HIŠAK programme. Throughout the life of the HIŠAK programme he was very much its spiritus movens.
At that founding meeting all of the participants agreed that the chief problem plaguing Croatian language instruction abroad was the dearth of suitable textbooks and the incompatibility of the instructional/school material coming out of [Socialist] Croatia at the time. Textbooks had to be produced for the children attending the supplemental Croatian language instruction programmes that were popping up in the mid-1970s wherever a greater concentration of the Croatian diaspora had settled. The instruction programmes were set up in many cities by many individuals, for all of whom Krasić was an always-present source of assistance. By 1978 the HIŠAK programme covered fifty-five locations providing Croatian language instruction, joined that year by a further twelve such supplemental school programmes in Australia. The programme was soon thereafter joined by some twenty locations in European countries (Germany, France, Switzerland and Sweden). From that point the HIŠAK name referred to the Croatian Schools of America, Australia and Canada. In the 1984/85 academic year HIŠAK numbered over one hundred participating Croatian language supplemental instruction programmes. This was also the point at which these supplemental education programmes abroad covered the greatest number of participating pupils.
It was soon after the founding of the HIŠAK programme that friar Krasić compiled two textbooks for Croatian language instruction, Hrvatski jezik 1 and Hrvatski jezik 2, for grades 1 and 2, and grades 3 and 4, respectively. It was soon evident that they lacked material sufficient for all four grades—something Krasić himself concluded—which required the compilation of new textbooks.
He noted in one of the interviews he gave that “It was not easy to find authors, edit the textbooks, and secure financing for production, printing and distribution across four continents. In all, the fact that we were all in it on a volunteer basis was and good, and likely decisive, factor. The greatest reward were the hundred thousand children of ethnic Croatian background that are now parents, teachers and professors, that now speak Croatian and serve as a living bridge between their old and new homelands. There is also the fact that all Croatian priests and nuns, and the caring parents and other people of Croatian background, were unselfish in supporting this effort.”
In the setting of Canadian multicultural policies, as was the case in Australia, instruction was provided separately in the Serbian and Croatian languages. Active in the Canadian multicultural scene among the local ethnic Croatians were Ante Beljo in Sudbury and Gojko Šušak in Ottawa. According to the research conducted by Slavko Granić and based on the available Education Statistics for the province of Ontario for the 1983/84 school year there were 2,795 pupils attending Croatian language instruction and 499 pupils attending Serbian language instruction in the 1984/85 school year. The greatest attendance at a single location providing supplemental Croatian language instruction was the Saturday programme in Toronto, diligently managed for many years by Vladimir Bubrin and Marija Kraljević.
Textbooks, then, had to be prepared along with recorded materials for oral practice in these school programmes. The preparation process for the textbooks began with drafts distributed to the instructors, compiled as textbooks following testing with pupils. Both of the above-mentioned textbooks were subjected to the necessary review process and printed with the financial assistance of the Canadian government. Both textbooks saw multiple editions and were later also published in Croatia with the attendant teacher manuals. The third and fourth textbooks (Hrvatski jezik 3 and Hrvatski jezik 4) were edited in collaboration with Lada Kanajet Šimić, but floundered on the issue of illustrations. The textbooks were priced very favourably with the objective of encouraging their printing and availability to all children attending Croatian language instruction.
In their paper on Croatian schools abroad: Guarantors of the Preservation of the Croatian Language, authors Lidija Cvikić, Lada Kanajet Šimić and Tamara Turza Bogdan say of these two textbooks that “Although the Hrvatski 1 and Hrvatski 2 textbooks were used since their first edition by hundreds of pupils over several generations, these textbooks did not, unfortunately, receive the attention they undoubtable deserved among Croatian studies specialists. The first comprehensive and scientific analysis was only produced recently, thirty years after their initial publication (Turza Bogdan & Kanajet Šimić, 2014). The study confirmed that these textbooks were grounded in the principles of modern language instruction: the lessons are structured by themes and targeted at communication; in classroom instruction equal attention is given to encouraging the development of all linguistic activities (listening, speaking, reading and writing); and the textbooks are based on a comparative approach with the aim of establishing a relationship between all the languages the children use (the English and French of their environment and their Croatian maternal language). Particularly noteworthy is their modern approach to grammar: learning grammar is functional, implicit and gradual, without the use of meta-language or the need to master linguistic terminology.”
When Krasić moved to Sudbury, HIŠAK moved with him. Sudbury had for some time been home to Ante Beljo, and I too moved there not long afterwards. Also in this group was Gojko Šušak, another valuable associate. In Toronto we had excellent associates in Marijan Sopta, Jerko Nekić, Robert Megler and in Cambridge Janko Perić. We were up to any task and would often travel, loading up a dozen boxes of books in Krasić’s van and driving as far as New Orleans on one occasion to set up an exhibition on the Croatian language at a Slavic studies congress. Friar Krasić was always the driving force behind these efforts. In many ways he was always standing at the “vanguard of Croatia”. I remember that we once took part in a panel discussion on Croatian film for the AAASS (American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies). Besides the Croatian books we ran the film Genocide Yugoslavia on a television screen, detailing the crimes committed in the eastern Croatian region of Slavonia by the Yugoslav military and Serbian paramilitary forces in the early phases of the war waged against Croatia. A history professor of Serbian background approached Krasić and myself with great indignation, loudly asking us if we were not ashamed to be showing this material. We retorted equally loudly asking him if there was no shame on his part that these crimes were being committing. Krasić also asked, and many stopped to listen: “Should Picasso feel ashamed for painting his Guernica, rather than those whose acts are being depicted? Is it a greater crime to discover and reveal a crime than to commit it?” His question quickly ended this unpleasant and not at all “brotherly” exchange.
Shifting back in time again, 1978 saw Krasić and a group of associates staging seminars in Chicago, Cleveland, Edmonton, Calgary, Kitchener, Windsor, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Vancouver and Toronto, pooling some 190 participating teachers and school committee members. Wherever they went the lecturers found willing collaborators and new associates. Krasić had a knack for getting to know people and maintaining contacts.
Training Croatian Language Instructors in the Anglophone Environment
An international seminar was staged at the Laurentian University in Sudbury in 1984 on Croatian language and folklore featuring some forty lecturers, including a number of very well-known Canadian media and education experts. Joining the speakers from Canada and the USA were lecturers and schooling experts from Germany, Argentina, Switzerland and Sweden.
In his article on 25 years of HIŠAK Krasić noted that “The well-known Declaration on the Name and Status of the Croatian Language was adopted at the first international seminar. The declaration was signed by 57 representatives of Croatian institutions and associations. HIŠAK submitted the declaration, along with accompanying letters, to all European, Australian, American and Canadian governments, and to leading universities, libraries and language and linguistic institutions and associations around the world. The declaration, as was evident from the responses received, had a strong impact on many, including the largest Slavic studies association in the USA, the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, which thereupon amended its ‘Serbo-Croatian’ policies and in 1985 introduced Croatian into their list of official languages.”
Two years later the Laurentian University hosted a second seminar, with friar Ljubo Krasić once again being the driving force and organiser of the event. He was very much assisted in this by Ante Beljo, Nada Sladojević Šola, Gojko Šušak and many other compatriots in Sudbury and across Canada and the USA. There were even some participants from Australia, including professor Luka Budak of Macquarie University, head of the first Croatian language chair of studies outside of Croatia, who presented an interesting lecture on teaching in the Australian university environment.
Krasić made a point of having the opening sentence in the letters sent to the various institutions clearly lay out what was being sought and why the letter was being sent; everything else in the letter aimed to elucidate what was laid out in the opening remark.
Another source of help was Šime Ćorić, also a Franciscan friar, who often flew over to Canada. He compiled a very well-received songbook with musical notation of popular Croatian melodies (Croatian Songs – Croatian Through Lyrics & Music). Krasić handled the layout for the printing of the book. Ćorić also recorded language instruction oral practice sessions in [the northern town of] Timmins at the home of the very helpful Ed Špehar who loaned us the use of all the necessary recording equipment. The forward to the songbook notes that “Thus the HIŠAK schools, musical bands and individuals now have a standardised songbook with musical notation and lyrics, a songbook that will be there whenever they sing, play or dance, to make the happiness greater in joy, to lessen the grief in sorrow, to nurture friendship in songs and to rejuvenate our ties with Croatia.”
This list of all the textbooks, books, tapes and bibliographies friar Ljubo Krasić worked with others to compile and edit, encourage, assist or prepare is too broad for the scope of this article, but we would be amiss if we did not mention a quadrilingual (Croatian, English, German, French) dictionary for children as the first dictionary to be published in collaboration with a publishing house in Croatia (Kršćanska sadašnjost) and a publisher in the diaspora communities (HIŠAK).
On several occasions HIŠAK took on some ten ethnic Croatian students on summer jobs to research the Croatian ethnic presence in northern Ontario. The project was funded through the Canadian budget, with the Croatian community required to provide suitable premises and nominate a person to supervise the students for the duration of the project and to lead the project over the summer. Here again Krasić was the driving force. In 1983 the town of Sudbury celebrated its one hundredth birthday. The ethnic Croatians resident in the town published their own history of the local Croatian community, Croatians in the Sudbury Centennial, co-authored by Krasić.
The war waged against Croatia in the 1990s led to some abrupt changes. Gojko Šušak and Ante Beljo moved to Croatia, while I moved from Ottawa (where I had worked as a teacher at the Canadian Forces Language School) to hold the chair of Croatian language and culture studies at the University of Waterloo. For his part Krasić was busy with the numerous affairs of the Croatian culture and social centre in Norval and, frankly, we were all then quite confident that we were doing the best we could at the time, and that when Croatia re-won her independence and set up a new education ministry we would see people with greater expertise take the reins, with greater knowledge and better funding at their disposal.
The number of school locations dropped significantly. By 2007 there were only 28 Croatian language instruction locations in the USA and Canada, with a markedly lower number of pupils attending. The reasons for this are manifold, and it would take too long to enumerate them here, but assimilation certainly played its role and, on the other hand, many young people now spend their summer holidays in Croatia, travelling with or without their parents, which is certainly the best way to learn Croatian and learn about the culture and values of the ancestral homeland. Beyond that there are also now a number of very well organised Croatian language instruction offers for children and students resident outside of Croatia: in Zagreb the instruction programmes organised by the Croatian Heritage Foundation, in Zadar the Lin-Cro International Croatian Language School, and the courses offered by the University of Split.
Krasić was also a great help in the introduction of the Croatian language at the secondary school level in the province of Ontario in 1976 and in the process of setting up the Chair of Croatian Language and Culture at the University of Waterloo. He also published Anica Miter’s valuable contribution, Croatica in the University of Toronto Library, a bibliographic compilation of the Croatian books kept at Canada’s largest library at which this worthy librarian and poet worked for many years.
After Croatia achieved independence, friar Ljubo Krasić continued his dedicated work in the publication of textbooks, continuing to collaborate with many schools by provided requested textbooks. He also played a role in seeing a number of books published, including a panorama of Croatian poetry of Bosnia-Herzegovina titled Davno sanjani snovi / Dreams Dreamt Long Ago (Denver, Colorado, Outskirts Press, 2009).
In the computer-related (desktop publishing) aspect of the school materials we were greatly assisted by Marko Dumančić, head of the computing department for Environmental Studies at the University of Waterloo. It is worth noting that all of the outside associates worked on a volunteer basis.
With Croatian independence secure friar Ljubo Krasić and the people he worked with could confidently say: Fecimus quod potuimus, potentiores faciant alia! (“I have done what I could; let those who can do better”).
Another institution of great value to Croatians abroad and in the homeland is the Croatian Ethnic Institute of Chicago. Founded by Croatian Franciscans in 1975 it had by 1977 become an American education and research institution. In one report on the objectives that drove the foundation of the institute we read that the “core objective of this institute is to collect documentation and data on Croatian parishes, associations, institutions and individuals in the United States of America and Canada, and then to endeavour to expand this mission to other Croatian parishes outside the homeland and associations and clubs around the world.”
Further we read that the foundation aims to “collect all records and documentation that pertain to Croatian emigrant and to the issue of emigration itself. This documentation includes: published books and articles by Croatians, articles and book by others writing on the topic of Croatians and Croatia, private libraries, significant private and official correspondence, works of art, sports trophies, stamps, currency, dolls, handicrafts, photographs, folklore, musical instruments, expired personal identification documents of documentary significance, films and the like.”
I was stunned by the quantity of material I had previously not known of present at the institute concerning Croatian publicist Bruno Bušić. Speaking on one occasion for an interview on the topic of the Croatian Ethnic Institute, Krasić noted that there was “astonishing documentary material on hundreds and hundreds of youth singing societies, choirs, and tamburitza orchestras that have performed and are active across the North American continent. It would certainly be interesting to explore the destinies of this great multitude of young ethnic Croatians in America and Canada that grew up with folklore and tamburitza ensembles, bands and church choirs. One thing is for sure, and that is that the peasant occupations of their ancestors have been substituted, thanks to education and perseverance, by a host of more attractive professions in various fields of human endeavour. Many have achieved their ‘American dream’, but there is also documentation concerning those whose standards of living were starkly different, and to whom fate was not a friend.”
The first director of the institute, from 1975 to 1976 was the writer, playwright and Franciscan friar Hrvoslav Ban. Krasić led the institute for the next four years (1976–1980) before moving to Sudbury. This was followed by a five-year hiatus after which the leadership of the institute was taken by friar Dionizije Lasić (1985–1995). He had previously served for many years as a professor at the Antonianum [Pontifical University of Saint Anthony] in Rome and was a laudable publicist and long-standing editor with publisher ZIRAL. Krasić returned to the institute in 1995 and held its directorship through to his relocation to his native homeland.
It was evident soon after its founding that, besides the library and museum, the institute would need a broader range of content. As a long-time director of the Croatian language instruction programme abroad, Krasić was well aware that schooling, no matter how meaningful, served only to prepare people before they moved on to further education, and thus the HIŠAK programme and the institute were the two complementary and contiguous aspects that brought fulfilment to his life.
The institute, with its extensive library (holding some fifteen thousand volumes), has a trove of very diverse correspondence going back over a century, documents from various fields and periods, and had enabled a broad range of studies of Croatian history, demographics, migration, literature, science and artistic creativity among Croatian and the descendants of Croatians in the Unites States of America and Canada. Krasić’s natural charm and wit opened and sustained many relationships that contributed greatly to these efforts. The work of the institute has been spoken of favourably by Roman Catholic cardinals Franjo Kuharić and Blaise Cupic, the Croatian president and our ministers and leading figures, musicians and artists, as can be seen in the book of impressions. In his remarks Marko Semren, a Franciscan friar and bishop in Banja Luka, observed that “Remembering the past and contemplating it is innately requisite to both individuals and communities. Thanks to the great love expressed by Franciscans we have an opportunity at the Croatian Ethnic Institute to enrich ourselves at the sources of heritage.” Musician Nenad Bach had this to say: “Priceless! We are many, and we are able! Hats off for the level of organisation and love demonstrated in collecting a valuable part of our unwritten history. You are the foundation of a better Croatia. From the heart, Nenad Bach.”
Of course, as Krasić always emphasised, the gratitude should go to all Franciscans as a community, those in the past and those active today, who invested such great care in preserving the legacy of Croatian cultural activity. Also laudable is the work of the current curator, friar Jozo Grbeša, who has undertaken a massive job in the digitalisation of all the valuable material held by the Institute. At times I contemplate the work of the Croatian Ethnic Institute from the other side of what could be: what would in fact have happened to all this valuable material and precious documentation had there never been an institute? One could imagine that when properties changed hands that the cleaning out of many houses would have seen much of it discarded.
During his time in Chicago, along with his regular religious duties as a priest, the work of HIŠAK and of the institute, Krasić also edited Hrvatski kalendar (“Croatian Almanac”), which in four volumes presented the lives of fifty Croatians that contributed to or were still active in politics, science, the arts, philosophy, theology, the military, the business sector and sports. These include Ivan Meštrović, friar Silvije Grubišić, friar Dominik Mandić, Jure Prpić, Karlo Mirth, Adam Eterovich, Miljenko Grgić, Mladen Buntich, Janko Perić, Ilija Letica, Peter Tomich, and Mary (Magdić) Margitich. In the foreword to the 2001 edition we read: “One of the prime objectives of the 2001 Hrvatski kalendar is to showcase encouraging role models for youth and to offers examples worth following. These biographies also offer copious data for further research and serve as a trustworthy source for the media on prominent ethnic Croatians in America and Canada.”
Friar Ljubo Krasić was decorated in 1995 with the Order of the Croatian Morning Star with the image of Antun Radić for his work in disseminating Croatian schooling and culture and his contribution to education abroad. In closing it is worth noting that Krasić was one of those people who imbue everything they do—and he certainly did very much in the field of education and culture—with love and a positive attitude towards people and to the events they live.
Farewell dear Ljubo. May the Croatian soil you so loved rest lightly upon you.
By: Vinko Grubišić