Rev. Josef Hegar

A Special Friend of the Youth

by Rev. Daniel J. Marek

published in The Brethren Journal for November 1999
 
 
The Rev. Josef Hegar was many things to a variety of people, but most definitely he was a friend of the youth.  Dr. Alex Pikorny, while still a young man, affirmed this fact when he wrote, “He was always the one with the most vision, the idealist, the conscience of many of us.”(1)  In these words this young man indicates a keen awareness of the positive influence Rev. Hegar had on the youth, especially those who became his students in Hus School through the years.  He continued by saying, "I remember how he used to inspire me, push me in his kindly way, teaching me to be practical, efficient, to make up my mind and know where I'm going.  I have often looked back and wondered where I would have ended up if it hadn't been for him.  I certainly would not have gone on in school.  There must have been dozens of us like that, and in our own limited efforts, Brother Hegar will live on."(2)

The Rev. H.E. Beseda, Sr. made a similar observation with a little different emphasis.  "He was keenly interested in young people, and his leadership among the youth led at all times to the development of their spiritual lives and service in the Church.  It was always an inspiration, and a great thrill, at our Conventions to hear the young people, under his leadership, sing the beloved theme song of Hus School - 'Hoj Verni v Boj'."(3)

His Special Contributions
Serving as principal and teacher of Hus School for many years was perhaps his greatest contribution to the Brethren Church in Texas.  In fact, it was he who introduced the use of the theme song mentioned above.  It has now been translated into English under the title of "Ho! Faithful in Battle/Struggle" by the cooperative effort of several persons, with the leadership of Rev. John Baletka and Paul Michalik.  This rousing, inspirational Hus School theme song continues to be used not only as a tribute to Rev. Hegar, but also serves as a connecting link between all Hus School students, past and present.

It was through the joint efforts with his cousin, and also brother-in-law, the Rev. Jos. Barton, that this rather unique eight week Christian leadership training course for young people was originally established.  It was first held in Granger beginning in January 1914.  From that time until his death Rev. Hegar taught every class, except one, alone, or occasionally with the help of another minister.  It was through many years of involvement with Hus School that he proved to be such a special friend and influence on young people, especially after its move to Temple in 1924, when it became a boarding school operated by the Hegar family. It continues to be held today as part of the Unity's camp program located at the Hus School Encampment near Caldwell.

But there were other important contributions that Rev. Hegar made to the life, work, and witness of our Church.  Perhaps the next most significant one was his long tenure as editor and business manager of the Brethren Journal.  Among other things, from time to time this responsibility also included the task of writing the Sunday School lessons.  In 1944 he added the publication of an English edition while continuing the Czech.  During World War 2, it was in this English section that he began publishing letters from servicemen scattered throughout the world.  This was another expression of his keen interest in the young.

Another contribution was his very personal involvement in the development of the Mutual Aid Society, serving for many years as a member of the Executive Committee.  He was also elected as the first secretary of the Junior Department of this organization when it was established in 1944, and he did much to increase the membership of both departments, especially the Senior Department, to over 1100 members.

In addition, he served as secretary of the Synodical Committee from 1921 to 1927, and was serving as vice-president at the time of his death.

Prelude to His Pastorate
Rev. Hegar was born in Hodslavice, Moravia, August 5, 1887.  His parents traced their roots to the Ancient Brethren during the period of persecution, prior to the Edict of Toleration in 1871, which granted freedom of worship to the Lutheran and Reformed Church, but not the Brethren.  The community in which he grew up was predominantly Roman Catholic.  Consequently, when he started school, he was the only Protestant in the class.  In that day and time that proved to be quite a stressful experience for him.

Although he was baptized and confirmed in the Brethren Church, even as a youth he became steeped in the Brethren faith through the influence of a Rev. Josef Lukasek, who strongly championed (no doubt in secret) the doctrine of the ancient Brethren.

On his fourteenth birthday, his father gave him a special gift of two gold coins, with the suggestion that he spend them wisely.  What did he do with the gift?  He purchased a book entitled, The Life and Martyrdom of John Hus, together with some pamphlets on the experiences of the ancient Brethren.  This material instilled within him a lifelong dedication to the renewal of the ancient Unity of the Brethren.

His arrival in America was a rather traumatic experience, in that he knew no English and very little German.  The fact Rev. Barton had preceded him at Elmhurst College by two years was a great help to him.  His proficiency in Latin and Greek rather endeared him to the other struggling students.  It even led to some humorous, as well as frustrating, moments, as any communication at the outset was almost impossible because he knew no English and they no Czech.

His first visit to Texas in the summer of 1907 proved to have a lasting, rather negative impact upon the rest of his life and ministry.  This was due to his first bout with typhoid fever.  Its after effects so weakened his voice that upon his return to Elmhurst, his teachers strongly recommended he give up his plans for the pastoral ministry.  But he was not to be dissuaded from his heartfelt goal.

His Pastoral Ministry
After completion of his college and seminary studies, he and Rev. Barton were ordained together at the Church Convention held at the West Brethren Church on July 6, 1910.  Years later, in reflection upon his life, he admitted he made some serious mistakes in judgment that proved to have a negative effect on his ministry.  In his opinion, it was not as fruitful and rewarding as it might have been.

His first two congregations were West and Ennis, but it was not long before he found himself favorably responding to calls from Mt. Calm, Tioga, and Crockett.  Later he added Dime Box, Buckholts, and Cooks Point.  In so doing, he so overextended his ministry that at one time he was gone from home for 21 days, having traveled 2500 miles and slept in 18 different beds during that period.  The result was that upon his final return home, he went to bed for two weeks with a relapse of typhoid fever.  This further weakened not only his voice, but his whole being.  He finally realized that in his personally exaggerated "zeal for the Lord, I myself became consumed."(4)

The ultimate result of all this was that he fell into serious disfavor with his home congregation of West, because of their feeling of neglect.  As a result, in his sincere effort to compensate for his mistake in this regard, he suggested they call a Rev. F.G. Kupec from another denomination, with whom he had recently become acquainted, to replace him as pastor at West.

With the approval of the Synodical Committee, this was done.  However, instead of solving the problem, it only compounded it.  Although Rev. Kupec was an accomplished organist, he proved to be a "thorn in the flesh" as a pastor, not only in West, but for the whole denomination.  He finally left for yet a third denomination, taking with him the congregation at Mt. Calm, together with the preaching station at Tioga, and those in Oklahoma, as well.  Consequently, instead of compensating for a mistake for which he felt personally responsible, Rev. Hegar's efforts only increased his sense of guilt.

His move to Granger from West actually did nothing to reduce his travels.  It only reduced his income.  Its main advantage was that it made his continued involvement with Hus School more convenient.  But it did add an important new dimension to his life.  It was there that he was united in marriage with Marie Louise Mikulencak, the sister of Mrs. Jos. Barton, who became his lifelong companion and faithful help mate.

Due to his fragile health and insufficient income, he finally decided his only alternative was to leave the ministry and seek some alternative employment.  However, when he submitted his resignation to Rev. Henry Juren, then president of the Synodical Committee, he refused to accept it.  Instead, Rev. Juren advised him to consider becoming a school teacher to supplement his income, as he himself had done for 35 years.  This Rev. Hegar decided to do.

He enrolled at the University of Texas to fulfill the necessary requirements for a teacher's certificate.  In addition to the prerequisite courses in education, he majored in languages, with courses in German, Latin, New Testament, Greek, and Russian.

After becoming a certified public school teacher in 1918, he taught school at Ross, Texas near West for one year.  But even before then, he spent one year of service in the YMCA during World War I.  From 1920 to 1924 he taught Latin and history at Rosebud High School.  Later he reflected upon these as being the most pleasant and rewarding four years of his life.  No doubt his natural love for working with young people was, at least in part, the reason.

Even before he began his tenure at Rosebud, he was offered the position of Professor of Slovanic Languages at the University of Texas.  During that period, he also received offers of employment overseas in Czechoslovakia - one as a Mission School administrator, two as a teacher in two other schools, and as a pastor.  He was also offered a professorship at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.  All of these are simply indicative of his special academic qualifications, which were not only widely recognized, but courted, as well.  He declined all of these, mainly because he did not want anything to detract from his primary interest of serving the Unity in every way he could to the best of his ability.

Two things happened in 1924 that became an appropriate conclusion to his life and ministry.  The Temple congregation called him as pastor, and the Hus School finally found a more permanent home, also in Temple.  He remained pastor of the Temple congregation until his death, and it was the Hus School building that became the Hegar family home, and where Rev. Hegar continued to serve as principal and teacher, together with the help of his wife, and also family members from time to time.

Rev. Hegar suffered a very severe brain hemorrhage while eating breakfast in the dining hall of the Austin Presbyterian Seminary while visiting his nephew. the Rev. John Baletka, who was a student there at the time.  He died three days later at Scott and White Hospital in Temple, on May 2, 1948,  He was 61.

Bibliography
1.  Bratrske Listy (Brethren Journal), June 1948.  "In Memoriam", pg. 14.
2.  Ibid.
3.  Ibid. pg. 11.
4.  Bratrske Listy (Brethren Journal), "Muj Zivot" (My Life), July 1941, pg. 4.

Bratrske Listy (Brethren Journal), "My Life" (insert), July 1941.
Ibid., 1948 Vol. Number 6, pg. 2; 11-16.
Ibid., "In Memoriam", July 1948, pg. 2; 5-8.
Ibid., July 1941, "Muj Zivot", pg. 1-8
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