Along with Fr Giovanni Fausti and Fr Daniel Dajani, Brother Gjon Pantalija is one of the 38 martyrs of Albania persecuted by the communist regime between 1945 and 1973 and beatified by Pope Francis on 5 November 2016.
Gjon Pantalija was born in Prizren, Kosovo, and destined to build unlikely bridges. Though he was fully immersed in Albanian culture - a true child of Kosovo - he was connected to Mother Teresa of Calcutta through his mother’s side of the family. He entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus in Italy in 1906. Although his superiors expressed their wish that he should continue his studies to become a priest, Gjon desired to remain a coadjutor brother, believing that it a better fit his calling. Honoring his discernment, Brother Pantalija was missioned to the college in Scutari, Albania. As a brother, and with his innate charisma and passion, Gjon became the inspiration behind all the social and cultural activities at the college. Brother Pantalija held many positions throughout his tenure: teacher, educational adviser, writer, spiritual guide, but it was his natural talent for music and the arts that would be most important for his role at the college. Though there is much written about his works, there are only two photographs of him, mostly because he shied away from cameras out of humility.
When the tragedy of World War II struck the community, they were first persecuted by the invading armies of Italy, then by the German military. It was because of the efforts of Brother Pantalija, and his ability to span cultures, that many of his Albanian students were able to escape arrest.
When the Germans withdrew from Albania, the incoming Communist regime put an end to education by all religious, especially the Jesuits. Though he would lose his apostolate, Brother Pantalija wanted to continue to live his life as a religious and was welcomed into the Franciscan community in Scutari.
Even without the college, strong religious like Gjon were seen as a threat to the communist regime. In April 1946 he was arrested. For more than a year, he was brutally tortured in prison. Of declining health, he broke both of his legs during an escape attempt. Left without care, he died on 31 October 1947.
For more details on the martyrdom of the Jesuits in Albania, see the article on Blessed Giovanni Fausti.