Hungarian Catholic Mission

History of Hungarian Catholic Mission

It was in the second half of the 1800s that Hungarian immigrants first began to appear in the San Francisco bay area. Based on US Census data, the Hungarian population was negligible compared to other ethnic groups of Northern California. At the beginning of the 1900s, Hungarian immigrants began to slowly settle into Northern California and Los Angeles. It was not until after the Second World War that the first major wave of Hungarians reached the San Francisco Bay Area. It is during this period that we see Hungarian ecclesiastical and cultural organizations being documented.

1950 - 1959

It was at the beginning of the 1950s that Dr. József Jaszovszky, a Hungarian priest began to gather together the Hungarian Catholics living in the Bay Area for occasional church services. With the increase of the number of Hungarian immigrants, Hungarian social organizations were formed and the gathering of Catholic faithful became more frequent. A sort of Hungarian Catholic Chaplaincy was organized.

From 1956-1957, Hungarian Benedictine priests settled in the San Francisco Bay Area. Dr. Egon Javor with his six fellow Benedictines, originally from Pannonhalma, founded a Benedictine community and opened a college preparatory school in Portola Valley, California. A few years later their monastic community was recognized as a Priory. This is an independent monastery smaller than an abbey that would eventually be known at the Woodside Priory and School. The influence of Benedictines has been felt in both the cultural atmosphere of the Hungarian community and in the life of the Scout movement.

1960 - 1969

The Hungarian Catholic Mission was officially founded in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1960s. The Hungarian community consisted of mostly refugees who fled communist oppression during the ill-fated 1956 Hungarian uprising. There were no social Hungarian networks to bond the Hungarian culture. It was during this period that several Hungarian priests reached out to Hungarians in the greater San Francisco Bay area to celebrate Mass and to preserve the Hungarian identity. Father Jaszovszky celebrated Mass in Hungarian once a month in various churches of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Hungarian masses were eventually consolidated to the diocesan seminary in Menlo Park.

1970 - 1979

Under the leadership of Father Jaszovszky, Hungarian Mass was permanently relocated to the beautiful Campus of the Woodside Priory Benedictine Community and School, Portola Valley, California. It was the goal of the Hungarian Catholic Mission to place emphasize on preserving the Hungarian cultural identity.

Although not officially a part of the Hungarian Catholic Mission, its members and those of the Hungarian Reformed Church established a joint Hungarian Scouting Program that exists today.

1980 - 1989

Mission focus during the 1980’s was to maintain the spiritual and cultural identify of its members. The needs of the Hungarians living in San Francisco Bay area Hungarians fell under the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Known as the “Chaplaincy”, the organization was renamed the “Hungarian Catholic Mission.” Father Jaszovszky retired in 1984 and his successor was Benedictine Father Christopher Hites. Father Hites focus was to maintain the existing structure of faith and culture while developing a charity focus. Father Hites was instrumental in helping needy Hungarians in the San Francisco Bay area and the motherland of Hungary.

Father Hites also offered Hungarian Masses twice a month at the Priory’s chapel and local catholic churches in San Francisco and Oakland. By the end of the 1980s Hungarian Mass was celebrated exclusively at the Priory Chapel. Other Hungarian social organizations continued to grow at the Priory. The Boy and Girl Scouts have held their meetings and exercises at the Priory School. Father Hites also played an important role in helping to maintain the community spirit and the cultural activity of all Hungarians in the San Francisco Bay Area. His accomplishments also include raising donations to support the establishment of the Catholic University in Piliscsaba, Hungary.

1990 – 1999

The decade of the 1990’s experienced the solidification of the Hungarian Catholic Mission Community. Membership grew and the members became more enthusiastic and active in the life of the Community.

After Fr. Christopher Hites’ retirement in 1994, Fr. Maurus Nemeth was appointed by the Archbishop of San Francisco to be the spiritual leader of the Hungarian Catholic Mission. Ever since that time, Fr. Maurus has been taking care of the Mission, especially in leading its charitable work, meeting its liturgical and spiritual needs, inspiring Christian values and visiting the sick. Father Maurus promotes Hungarian values of faith, culture and charity to the approximate 5,000 – 6000 Hungarians living in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the liturgical services, he receives assistance from Fr. Pius Horvath OSB.

In 1995 the Hungarian Catholic Mission gained its Non Profit status in California under the umbrella of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Father Maurus and the Mission Council continued the work of Father Hites by promoting picnics, dinners, and Hungarian cultural performances. Over the next ten years, the Mission saw a unified front by its donors being able to raise money for Hungarians in both Translvania and Hungary. Mission members routinely collected, prepared, and packaged clothing, and shoes to needy Hungarians. Altogether, 10 shipments, close to a ton each were sent to the Hungarian poor.

2000 - 2009

By 2009 all seven of the Hungarian founding fathers passed away. Now, only two Hungarian priests are alive to support the Hungrian Catholic Mission. Father Pius Horvath and Maurus Nemeth represent the Hungarian presence at the Priory; both retired from teaching but still active in pastoral ministry. The Priory is now under the leadership of a larger Benedictine community, the Saint Anselm Abbey in Manchester, N.H. Our Hungarian Catholic mission continues to enjoy the total hospitality of the Benedictine Community.

The Mission’s social interaction has significantly improved. In addition to Hungarian home cooked meals after Sunday mass to promote cultural identity, the Mission has also been involved politically and diplomatically with the Hungarian government to promote programs that helps Hungarians in the mother country.

Our exceptional relationship with the Hungarian Consulate in Los Angeles has enabled Hungarians to unite.

The Consul General, Ambassador Balazs Bokor and Consul Dr. Gabor Kaleta became frequent visitors in the San Francisco Bay Area and lent their full support to the healthy development of Hungarian social and cultural life in Northern California. The Hungarian Catholic Mission hosted numerous distinguished Hungarian guests and performers. We also have maintained a great working relationship with the Hungarian Reformed Church, and other cultural groups in the San Francisco Bay area.

2010 - Present

The present American Benedictine leadership honors the tradition that ties the Hungarians to the Priory, and makes available to them the use of the various facilities of their school (chapel, classrooms, student dining hall, sport fields, performing arts center) for the activities of the Mission, the Boy and Girl Scouts and the Hungarian language classes with about 100 children. This hospitality is extended to other Hungarians, especially when it is the Mission’s turn to organize our yearly national memorial celebrations in cooperation with the Hungarian Reformed Church and for other Cultural gatherings organized by the Mission.

For this decade, it is our intent to maintain and expand our faith, culture and charity programs of the Hungarian Catholic Mission. In 2011, we supported Hungarian causes that included financial support to the victims of the “Red Flood.” We also supported flood victims of Northern Hungary and were able to help maintain Hungarian orphanages, as well as the Catholic seminarian school. It is my goal to support young Hungarian priests to move to the United States and God willing, have a calling to live and serve the Hungarian Mission in Portola Valley, California. By recruiting Hungarian priests to carry on with our Mission’s work, we will continue the legacy of the Hungarian culture in the San Francisco Bay Area. Over the next year, our parishioners will experience a new web site, and establishment of education foundations that promote harmony with Hungarians in the mother country. Finally it is our goal to reach out to all Hungarians and to promote families, young and old to join and bond with our culture and Hungarian Catholic Mission.

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