Education and priesthood
Josef Beran was born in Plzeň on 29 December 1888 as the eldest of four children to the schoolteacher Josef Beran and Marie Lindauerová (b. 16 May 1866; the niece of famous painter Gottfried Lindauer). Father Josef Jaroslav baptized Beran whose godparents were Josef Beneš and Rozálie Benešová. Beran's siblings (in order) were his brothers Jaroslav, Karel and Slavoj and his sister Marie. His father's earnings were meager. Beran thought about learning medicine but a religious instructor at his school thought that he would make a fine priest and so used his influence to secure him a position for ecclesial studies.
Beran commenced his ecclesial studies in Plzeň from 1899 to 1907 (graduating with distinction in June 1907) and later at the Pontifical Urbaniana in Rome from 1907 until 1911. He was ordained to the priesthood in the Basilica of Saint John Lateran on 10 June 1911 in Rome. In 1912 he obtained a doctorate. Beran began doing pastoral work in Plzeň until 1932. From 1912 until 1917 he did work in a worker's district parish and was later named as both a chaplain for the Sisters of Notre Dame in Prague and then as the director for the Saint Anne Institute from 1917 until 1929. Beran was made the spiritual director for seminarians in Prague from 1932 until 1942 and also served as a professor at Charles College in 1932. Pope Pius XI later named him as a monsignor on 11 June 1936.
Beran ensured that Pius XI's document Mit brennender Sorge was published and circulated in Prague due to the anti-racism stance the document made. Beran was made a full professor in 1939 ending his stint as an assistant professor. Pope Pius XII reconfirmed him as a monsignor on 19 October 1939. On 21 April 1941 the cardinal Karel Kašpar died and the Nazis seized the moment insisting Beran broadcast on radio the announcement of the cardinal's death. The Nazis made him do this and placed Beran near the top of the list of "religious radicals".
At the beginning of June 1942 he announced he would celebrate a Mass for the Czechoslovak prisoners of war detained and in the Czech language in direct defiance of Nazi directives. The Gestapo arrested Beran on 6 June 1942 during World War II (on the basis of being "subversive and dangerous") and he was later imprisoned without trial in Pankrác at Theresienstadt (alongside future cardinal Štěpán Trochta) and also the Dachau concentration camp. From 6 June 1942 until 6 July he was held in Pankrác before being sent for two months to Terzin. He arrived at Dachau on 4 September 1942 where his number was 25844. It was there that a typhoid epidemic in 1943 almost killed him but he rallied from it and remained there until 29 April 1945 after Allied forces liberated the camp. Upon his immediate return to Prague the President of Czechoslovakia Edvard Beneš decorated him with the Iron Cross and the medal of Hero of the Resistance - the two highest honors the nation had.
On 4 November 1946 he was appointed as the Archbishop of Prague and thus the leader of the Czechoslovakian Church; this also made him the Primate. Beran received his episcopal consecration on the following 8 December from Archbishop Saverio Ritter with Bishops Mořic (Maurice) Pícha and Anton Eltschkner serving as the co-consecrators.
The election of Klement Gottwald - the communist president of Czechoslovakia in 1948 - prompted Beran to have a Te Deum sung for the new president in the Prague Cathedral. However the rise of the communist regime in 1948 saw Beran prohibit his priests from taking an oath of allegiance to the new regime (viewing such an action as a "treason to the Christian faith") and in public protested the seizure of land that belonged to the Prague archdiocese. as well as the infringement of religious freedom. He declared: "The Catholic Church should enjoy the absolute freedom to which it has a right, both God-given and guaranteed by the existing Constitution". He condemned as schismatic the Communist government-approved Czech Catholic Action. On 19 June 1949 he was placed under house arrest and complained of being "deprived of all personal freedom and all rights as the archbishop".
He was convicted in a show trial and his house arrest - confining him to the archiepiscopal residence - ended on 7 March 1951. On 10 March he was taken from Prague with few knowing his precise location. In that period he was first taken to a villa near Liberec before being sent to Mištěves and Hořice. He was then sent to Paběnice and Mukařov near Prague. On 4 October 1963 before going to Radvanov. His release came in 1963 and he was forbidden to perform his ecclesial duties; this lasted until his relocation to Rome in 1965. During his time in imprisonment he resisted regime pressure to resign from his see. In May 1961 the pope sent him a letter to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his ordination. But the letter was sent back to the pope with the words "without delivery". To that end John XXIII published the letter in L'Osservatore Romano. It was a widespread rumour that Beran was one of the three prelates that Pope John XXIII elevated into the College of Cardinals reserved in pectore on 28 March 1960; the pope's death in 1963 meant that it was never known if that was indeed true since the pope did not reveal the names of those reserved.
Cardinalate and exile
Beran was impeded from exercising his episcopal duties upon his release and offered his resignation to the pope on numerous occasions despite such resignations being refused each time. Beran later went to live in Rome on 17 February 1965 in exchange for governmental concessions to the Church following negotiations in late 1964 that saw the appointment of new bishops and an apostolic administrator for the Prague archdiocese due to Beran's negotiated exit. He knew going to Rome was an exile and tried to resist at first. But Beran relented for the good of the Czech Church and the progress that had been made.
Pope Paul VI elevated him into the cardinalate and made him the Cardinal-Priest of Santa Croce in Via Flaminia on 22 February 1965; he received his red hat and title on 25 February. He was made a member of both the Congregation for the Clergy and the Congregation for Rites. In 1965 he participated in the last session of the Second Vatican Council. During the Council's discussion on its document Dignitatis humanae on 20 September 1965 he suggested that expiation for past attacks on religious freedom was a possible cause of the Church's modern suffering. He spoke on the principle of ecclesial independence and received a standing ovation. In 1966 he made a trip to the United States of America where he received several honorary academic citations. In 1968 the pope sent him a letter in Latin to commemorate his 80th birthday. In 1969 he gave an address on Vatican Radio in response to the suicide of Jan Palach. Beran disapproved of his suicide but highlighted Palach's ideals. His address drew some criticism.
Beran died from lung cancer in Rome in 1969 at the Pontifical Nepomucene College where he lived. Pope Paul VI learned of the cardinal's precarious health condition and he rushed to visit the ailing cardinal but was too late. Beran had died just a few minutes before Paul VI arrived at his bedside. He was buried in the grotto of Saint Peter's Basilica in the chapel of the Bruised Madonna after Paul VI celebrated his funeral. Upon his death Cardinal Franjo Šeper referred to Beran as "the second Saint Adalbert".
Burial and re-internment
Beran's last will expressed his desire to be buried in Prague but this never materialized after his death because the Czech government forbade for his remains to be bought in. This changed in 2018 after Pope Francis permitted the transfer of the late cardinal's remains to the Prague which occurred on 20 April with Cardinal Angelo Comastri overseeing it. A permanent plaque was put in place of his old tomb to commemorate Beran and the small bag of earth buried with him was also sent back to his homeland. His coffin was then transported to the Pontifical Neopomucenum where he lived in Rome for a short gathering with the Czech Culture Minister leading the Czech delegation. His remains were then buried on 23 April in the Saint Vitus Cathedral in the Saint Agnes of Bohemia chapel. The translation of his remains came after the cardinal's relatives and Cardinal Dominik Duka requested it to the pope.
Cardinal Miloslav Vlk blessed the foundation stone of a memorial to Beran unveiled on 13 May 2009 in Prague. The cardinal underlined that "truth" and fairness" were integral aspects to Beran's life. Present at the unveiling were Archbishop Karel Otcanasek and the archdiocesan vicar-general Fr. Michael Slavik.