“Getting 20,000 signatures from people for a religion they aren’t familiar with is no small feat,” says Jonathon Tichy (BA ‘98, MA ’98, JD ‘03). He’s referring to the Church’s attempt in 2006 to gain full legal recognition on the Slovak side of the former Czechoslovakia after the two countries spilt in 1993. Because of Tichy’s Czech and Slovak heritage and his full-time missionary service in the region, he became a key player in communication between the Church and the Slovak government. Getting official recognition was not easy for the missionaries and local church members who set out to get the required signatures. “Not only did we need their signatures, they had to give us their full name, their address, and their social security number,” says Tichy. Luckily, pointing out the service Church members had offered in communities over the years is what convinced 20,000 Slovakian citizens of the benefits of having Latter-Day Saints in the area, and led to their support.
The “campus brat” son of a BYU administrator, Tichy earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees at BYU. As soon as Tichy came home from his mission in Czechoslovakia, his public policy program at BYU took him straight back as part of an internship. In the year he spent there, he met his wife, a Slovakian national. He became increasingly fascinated with the place. “I got to be a sort of firsthand witness to this transformation from a totalitarian system to a democracy. It was really interesting to watch a whole society just change before my eyes.” Every year since completing his mission in 1993, Tichy has found a new way to be involved and serve the people of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. “I wanted to use my education in a way to get the tools so that I could contribute to making that transition successful. Because not only did I serve in that country in my mission, it’s also where my grandparents and family are originally from,” Tichy says.
After graduating from BYU, Tichy went to work for the U.S. State Department where, along with working closely on religious liberty issues and human rights, he was an author of the very first report on religious liberties in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. During this time, Tichy was assigned by the Clinton administration to the U.S. embassy in Prague, where his knowledge of the culture and language really came in handy. On the night of the World War II commemoration, the American ambassador in Prague fell ill and the speech he had planned to give fell to Tichy to present last minute. “I’m sure people were a little disappointed when the Ambassador didn’t show up. . . . But because I had seen personally the effects of what had happened during the war and because I was able to draw on my own experiences in the area, I didn’t come in lecturing. I was able to really speak to the place and the people.” People were touched by Tichy’s remarks, and many approached him afterward to express their appreciation.
Connecting and caring for those around you is something Tichy learned during his time at BYU, from then-President Rex E. Lee himself. “One late night in the early nineties, I was at the Taco Bell in Provo grabbing a late-night snack after studying when Rex Lee, who was the university president at the time, walked in. We began chatting and I mentioned to him that I was a student studying public policy and told him how school was going and such. And that was that,” relates Tichy. What truly surprised Tichy is what happened much later: “The following year, I was walking on campus toward the library and I saw President Lee with a group of General Authorities. I had planned to walk by without saying anything as to not interrupt their conversation, but before I could, President Lee noticed me and said, ‘Hey, this is my friend Jonathon,’ and introduced me to these General Authorities. Not only that, but he said, ‘Jonathon is in the public policy program and he served his mission in Czechoslovakia. . .’ and continued to relay all the things I had told him in a Taco Bell almost a year previous.” This experience has stuck with Tichy over the years. As he has forged new relationships in every step of his career this interaction taught him that meaningful personal connections require sincere attention and care for the individual.
Now, in addition to operating his own international law firm in the U.S., Tichy also serves as the official Honorary Consul of the Czech Republic in Utah. As Honorary Consul he assists Czech citizens living in or visiting Utah who may need help with passport or visa services, have legal issues, or require other consular support. He also works directly with Czech Government officials to promote religious liberty and protect the Church’s status in the Czech Republic. On multiple occasions, Tichy has arranged official visits of dignitaries and other decision makers to the BYU campus where current students impress the officials with their “knowledge of what is going on throughout the world and how prepared they are to make a positive impact.”
“In the Czech language there’s a saying that basically says that the more languages you know, the more of a person you are. The idea is that, as you learn a new culture and a new language, it’s like creating a whole new person,” says Tichy. This is something he has learned first-hand as his intimate knowledge and love for the Czech and Slovak cultures has driven him to impactful work. Tichy says, “Life is richer when you look outside of your own bubble and strive to add value to the world around you.”