Gjon Sinishta, 1930-95
by Stephen Schwartz
A memorial Mass will be celebrated tomorrow for Gjon Sinishta, an internationally known religious and cultural leader of Albanian Catholics. Mr. Sinishta died of cancer in San Francisco on Monday at the age of 65.
After fleeing communism and coming to the United States, Mr. Sinishta published books and journals about the suppression of religion among his people, with eventual support from the Vatican and Mother Teresa, who is Albanian. After the fall of communism he was hailed as a hero by Albania's first democratically elected president.
Mr. Sinishta was born in Podgorica, in the Yugoslav region of Montenegro. He studied at the Saverianum, a Jesuit seminary in Shkoder, northern Albania, in the hope of becoming a priest.
After the communist takeover of Albania at the end of World War II, the Catholics of north Albania were severely repressed, and Mr. Sinishta fled to Yugoslavia. He worked in Albanian-language Yugoslav news media until he was asked to join the Communist Party of that country as a condition of his employment. He refused and was jailed for several years, then released.
In the 1960s, he fled to Austria, then to Italy and the United States. In 1966, while he was a Detroit auto worker, he established the Albanian Catholic Information Center. He published his first book in the United States, "Sacrifice for Albania," to honor Catholic priests and educators imprisoned and killed in that country.
Mr. Sinishta then moved to California, working first at the University of Santa Clara, then joining the staff of the University of San Francisco, where he remained until his retirement last year.
He published a major account of religious persecution in Albania, "The Fulfilled Promise," in 1976. The book circulated secretly under communist rule. In 1980 at Santa Clara, Mr. Sinishta established the "Albanian Catholic Bulletin,." which continued publishing until last year, through the Albanian Catholic Institute at USF. Mr. Sinishta also was known to Balkan linguists because he published in the northern or Gheg dialect of Albanian.
He is survived by his wife, Maria Theresa, and his son, Michael, of San Francisco; sisters Rosina Derani of Las Vegas, Elena Kikich and Teresa Parkaj, who live in Montenegro; and his brother, Peter Freeman, of Australia.
The memorial Mass will be said at noon tomorrow at St. Ignatius Church, Parker Avenue and Fulton Street in San Francisco.