Wednesday, November 22, 2017
News Roundup

Former priest persevered through communism, taught counseling at USF

RECOMMENDED READING


TAMPA — In his 20s, Victor Drapela was a priest in Czechoslovakia at the start of the communist era, watching his native country endure another wave of repression after the German occupation.

He spent his 30s on the plains of North Dakota, a priest with a Ph.D and a thirst for the great questions, starting with who are we and why are we here?

By his late 40s, Dr. Drapela had left the priesthood and was teaching psychology at the University of South Florida. He would visit his homeland before and after it became the Czech Republic, the democracy under which he had grown up restored.

Along the way he would undergo forced labor, escape Czechoslovakia before the police could capture him, and try to reconcile the mission to which he had been appointed with the one he was choosing.

Dr. Drapela, a sober adventurer who taught counseling psychology for 24 years at USF, including 10 as department chair; died Nov. 10 at home of a heart-related illness. He was 91.

Students knew him as charming but formal, a man who preferred to be addressed as "Doctor" in university settings or outside of them. He wrote textbooks, including one on theories of personality, and sometimes sprinkled conversations with fragments of his story.

"It was a very interesting life," Dr. Drapela told the Times two years ago, "but I wouldn't want to live it again."

Victor J. Drapela was born in Prague in 1922, four years into the first democracy in Czechoslovakia's thousand-year history. A maid cooked for him; a chauffeur drove. He celebrated "Mass" with a chalice in his bedroom, wearing pint-sized vestments from his mother, who wanted him to become a priest.

After the death of his father, a high-ranking diplomat, he learned the rudiments of theology in a Jesuit boarding school. He added philosophy in a piecemeal college education, broken up by Hitler's 1939 invasion of Czechoslovakia.

He was corralled into a labor camp in Suhl, Germany, where his fluency in German got him an office job. He was transferred to a company in Prague that made German submarine parts.

He left after 16 months when the war ended, but freedom didn't last long. The Communist Party seized power in 1948. By then Dr. Drapela was a priest working for the bishop in Prague and handing out anticommunist literature. He later learned his activism had landed him on the radar of the Soviet-backed secret police, who had put out an all-points bulletin.

He escaped in 1949 and made his way to Rome, then the United Sates. He earned a doctorate at the University of North Dakota and was put in charge of a series of parishes, building one church.

Dr. Drapela was now far from danger. A little too far.

"He came from culture — classical art, classical literature and classical music," said Gwen Drapela, Dr. Drapela's wife. "And he was working with farmers, and all they wanted to talk about is how many gallons of milk their cows gave and how many bushels of wheat."

He told the bishop he would like to teach theology. "The bishop said, 'We don't need people to teach, we just need country pastors,'" said Gwen Drapela, 74.

They met in 1969, when her name was Gwen Blavat and she was an elementary school counselor taking a guidance class.

She was also a nun. Dr. Drapela, her professor, had joined the faculty a year earlier.

Eventually, he asked her to have coffee with him. Dr. Drapela subsequently wrote to Pope Paul VI asking to be released from the priesthood. In 1972 he married Gwen, who by then had also been released from being a nun.

Before he retired from USF in 1992, Dr. Drapela had trained so many future counselors "it just blows the mind," said Jim Barnard, 81, an emeritus psychology professor at USF.

As his health faded due to a heart condition, Gwen Drapela would sing to him: The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and give you peace.

"The last time I sang it to him he said, 'I am at peace,'" his wife said.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected].

Comments
Florida 10-year-old is one of 21 kids suing federal government over climate change

Florida 10-year-old is one of 21 kids suing federal government over climate change

At age 10, Levi Draheim hates math and loves reading Harry Potter books. He plays the violin but dislikes practicing. What he really enjoys is paddling a kayak or going swimming. It helps that he lives just a five-minute walk from the beach in the to...
Updated: 8 minutes ago
Workers at luxury St. Pete condo tower say they are owed thousands

Workers at luxury St. Pete condo tower say they are owed thousands

ST. PETERSBURG — Nearly three dozen workers at ONE St. Petersburg, a luxury condo tower under construction in the heart of downtown, haven’t been paid in weeks and are owed thousands of dollars.With the holidays nearing, some of the men say they are ...
Updated: 18 minutes ago
Cannon Fodder podcast: Examining the Bucs’ Hall of Fame semifinalists

Cannon Fodder podcast: Examining the Bucs’ Hall of Fame semifinalists

Times Bucs writer Greg Auman takes a closer look at the three former Bucs who are semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.He also looks at the constant churn on the Bucs’ practice squad and why Julio Jones’ stats have dropped off this season,...
Updated: 25 minutes ago
Sports doctor pleads guilty to sex charges that involved Olympic gymnasts

Sports doctor pleads guilty to sex charges that involved Olympic gymnasts

LANSING, Mich. — A sports doctor accused of molesting girls while working for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University pleaded guilty Wednesday to multiple charges of sexual assault and will face at least 25 years in prison. Dr. Larry Nassar, 54,...
Updated: 27 minutes ago
Trump calls father of freed UCLA player an ‘ungrateful fool’

Trump calls father of freed UCLA player an ‘ungrateful fool’

Associated PressPALM BEACH — President Donald Trump started off his first day of Thanksgiving vacation by resuming his taunts of the father of a UCLA basketball player detained for shoplifting in China, saying Wednesday that he was an "ungrateful foo...
Updated: 1 hour ago
High praise for Clearwater Central Catholic’s linebackers

High praise for Clearwater Central Catholic’s linebackers

CLEARWATER — From Colin McCarthy (Miami/Tennessee Titans) to Caanan Brown (Virginia) to Conner Dorris (Navy), a Clearwater Central Catholic defensive staple has been star quality at linebacker. Think Marauders, think linebackers. It has been a corner...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Details emerge in suicide of Hernando man accused of sexual abuse

Details emerge in suicide of Hernando man accused of sexual abuse

A former Brooksville school volunteer accused of sexually assaulting teenage foreign exchange students who were under his care was found dead last week, a day before he was due in court on the charges.The body of Bruce McAllister was found at the bas...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Updated: 1 hour ago

Updated: 1 hour ago
Get all the Black Friday sales circulars today. Here’s how

Get all the Black Friday sales circulars today. Here’s how

The Tampa Bay Times Thanksgiving Early Bird edition, with all of the Black Friday ads and sales circulars, is available today.That’s right. You don’t have to wait until Thursday to check out the savings. Weighing nearly five pounds, the Early Bird Ed...
Updated: 1 hour ago