Top: Fr. Iván Csete, members of the congregation attending the mass Bottom: Robert Winer, Fr. Csete, Brother David and Liana Guberman (the soloist). Photos by ZR Photo. Used by permission.
Exactly 90 years after it was consecrated and two years after its doors were closed, Saint Stephen of Hungary Church on East 82nd Street in Manhattan was reopened again for a few hours on August 16th, 2017. (Actually, the church is not completely "closed", since the Catholic school located at the same address has an English-language Mass once a week during the school year.) The Hungarian Mass followed the interpretation of the decree ”Making All Things New” which ordered its closing, with the stipulation that once a year, on the feast day of its patron saint there could be a holy Mass celebrated in that church.
It was a bitter-sweet occasion. Sweet, because its parishioners could once more in their own church thank the Lord for his abundant blessings, and also ask for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, who became the Patroness of Hungary in a special way. Saint Stephen, the first King of Hungary, on the day he died, on August 15th , 1038, offered his crown to her to protect the new nation. (That scene is depicted in the large stained glass window behind the altar.)
For almost a thousand years, since Stephen became a saint, Hungarians celebrated his feast day not on the day he died, feast of the Assumption of Mary, Mother of God, but out of consideration and respect for her, five days later, on August 20th. In every Hungarian church in the world that is the day when Saint Stephen’s feast is celebrated. That is also the greatest national legal holiday in Hungary.
This year, August 20th fell on a Sunday. It was the cause of sadness and bitterness that, because in the general calendar of the Church, the feast of Saint Stephen of Hungary is on August 16th , the Hungarian parishoners were denied a chance to follow their ancient tradition. How many more people would have attended this celebration on a Sunday! Yet, even though it was a weekday and the Mass was at 7:00 o’clock in the evening, the church was almost filled to capacity. English and Hungarian speaking former parishoners, young and old alike, attended the bilingual Holy Mass celebrated by a priest, who many years ago had his first Holy Mass in this church. The parents of some of those present had helped to build the church, and they themselves have been members of this parish since the day they were born, others from the day they arrived here as immigrants; they were married here, had their children baptized here or had a loved one taken from here to the final resting place.
Fr. Boniface Ramsey, Pastor of St. Joseph Church who has kindly welcomed the displaced Hungarian parishioners of St. Stephen, greeted the faithful gathered for the Mass.
Fr. Ivan Csete was the Celebrant of the bi-lingual Mass, with Brother David (who is of Hungarian origin) assisting. Robert Winer, formerly President of the Lay Committee, was the Announcer. Erzsike Horváth did the Readings. Judith Vincze played the clarinet, and Liana Guberman sang the Ave Maria at the end of Mass.
Two Hungarian Scouts led the procession behind the cross, bringing the American and the Hungarian flags.
Among the congregation was Király Zsuzsanna, Leading Consul of the Republic of Hungary, whose children were the altar servers. Also attending was a 102-year old parishioner, Margit Hericz (see the February 2015 issue of Magyar News Online).
Fr. Ivan’s homily struck an optimistic note, as he recalled some dark moments of Hungarian history, which the nation, with its indomitable spirit, always managed to survive and to carry on.
Since permission had not been granted for the use of the hall, refreshments were served after Mass in the back of the church.
On Sunday the 20th, the parishioners went by rented bus to St. Stephen of Hungary Church in Passaic, NJ where the Pastor, Fr. László Vas celebrated the feast with a bi-lingual Mass at 10 AM. This was followed by luncheon served in the church yard.
László Oroszlány was born in Hungary and left the country in 1956. He came to the United States in 1959, and established a firm producing precision parts as a manufacturing sub-contractor for the aerospace industry. He retired from there after 42 years. He had been President of the Lay Committee of St. Stephen of Hungary Church in New York.