Celebrating the Feast of Saint Stephen in New York and New Jersey

László Oroszlány

Celebrating  the  Feast  of  Saint  Stephen in New York and New Jersey

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.