Monday, August 12, 2013

A monk's life remembered.

I took the above photo last year during a visit to the Cisterican Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving, Texas. That visit came to mind yesterday when a friend shared an obituary of a recently-deceased monk from Our Lady of Dallas, Father Pascal Kis-Horváth. I regret that I never met Father Pascal, who seems to have had an extraordinary life. Here is a bit about that life, as reported in Father Pascal's obituary in the Dallas Morning News:
His father died when he was still a child, leaving his mother to raise him and his older sister, Maria. As a child he contracted tuberculosis in his hip. After the removal of the infected bone, he recovered from the disease but remained handicapped for life. In the midst of these trials and suffering, his religious vocation was born. While studying in Budapest for his high school diploma, he lived in the residence of the young Cistercians attending universities there. All who lived through the long and terrifying days of the 1944-1945 siege of Budapest remembered the limping young man, full of jokes, encouragement and hope. He finished high school after the war, and on August 29, 1947, joined the Cistercian monastery of Zirc.

Pascal took his first vows on August 30, 1948, even though the Communist government had confiscated the Cistercians' land and schools. Within two years, the government had completely suppressed the Cistercians along with most other religious groups in Hungary. Six weeks before the monks were disbanded and the abbot imprisoned, Brother Pascal, who knew the country's Western border from his childhood, worked out a plan to prepare the "Great Escape" by clandestinely leaving the country for Austria. Using a chain of acquaintances, Fr. Pascal with 20 other young monks successfully crossed the Iron Curtain (with its mine fields, barbed wire fences, watch towers, armed guards and watch dogs) on September 5, 1950 and passed into Austria. However, the Austrian police under the command of the Soviet occupying forces captured nine of the refugees, and returned them to the Communist rulers of Hungary.

As the organizer of the escape and a nephew of Abbot Wendelin of Zirc, Pascal was dealt with particular harshly. In Abbot Wendelin's show trial, the government tried to use Pascal as a crown witness to prove a string of drummed up charges against his Abbot. Both Abbot Wendelin and Father Pascal were subjected to severe beatings and torture. Pascal, however, refused to testify against his abbot. He was sentenced to four years of prison. Pascal was still in solitary confinement when on August 30, 1951 his first set of temporary vows expired. As he later testified in a written deposition to the Holy See, in the absence of anyone to witness his vows, he wrote the renewal of his first vows on the wall of his prison cell. Three years later, when the time had come for his permanent, perpetual religious vows, he was still in prison. At that time, however, he was already allowed to work in a factory staffed by political prisoners with five Cistercians among them. In the lunch break of August 30, 1954, with Fr. Leonard Barta presiding, and four other Cistercians murmuring the text of their religious vows, Br. Pascal made his perpetual vows to seek Christ and his love in the Cistercian Order for the rest of his life.
As Father Pascal's obituary goes on to relate, he and a few of his Cistercian confreres were finally able to escape from Hungary during the Uprising of 1956. Ordained to the priesthood in Austria in 1957, Father Pascal ministered to Hungarian refugees there before moving to the newly-established Cistercian monastery of Our Lady of Dallas in 1959. In over fifty years in Dallas, Father Pascal became "highly regarded for his service in hearing confessions and providing spiritual guidance. Fr. Pascal had an extraordinary talent for understanding, guiding and consoling people of all walks of life and all age groups. His deep prayer life, warmth in human relations and pragmatic sense for solving real-life problems made him unforgettable for all who turned to him.... Although he never believed he was able to live up to expectations, his confreres and friends admired him as a model priest and an exceptional blessing to all those to whom he ministered." After an extraordinary life, may Father Pascal Kis-Horváth now enjoy the reward of everlasting communion with the One whom he served so well. Requiescat in pace. AMDG.


At 8/12/2013 11:23 PM, Blogger Lynda said...

It is humbling to read about the life of Fr. Pascal and his commitment to our Lord. Thank you for sharing this with us.

At 8/17/2013 6:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't help but wonder if the Iron Curtain really had "mine fields, barbed wire fences, watch towers, armed guards and watch dogs" by September 1950; I certainly hadn't ever heard of them at that point in time.

Until about 1948 things were quite chaotic, with it being unsure if there would be elections, then soft or hard Socialism, and then in 1948, once it was clear that Uncle Joe was there to stay, the Communists initially encouraged ideological enemies to leave, to make things easier for both. It was only when the Communist potentates realized that with open borders practically everybody would leave sooner or later, that emigration was rigorously curtailed.

It was not until 1952 that the first "hard" border fence went up between the Federal Republic and the DDR.

Perhaps this potential inaccuracy has to do with another piece of trivia about the Cistercians of Irving; when they came to the Dallas area, anti Roman-Catholic prejudice was quite common, not to say socially acceptable or even expected in the area, hence the minimal Catholic presence at the time, and it was with their great erudition and self-portrayals as fellow strident Anti-Communists that they were able to overcome these prejudices.

I also can't help but wonder whether it truly was "the Austrian police under the command of the Soviet occupying forces" that captured the Cistercians, and whether it might not have been the "Austrian police" in areas with strong Social-Democrat histories that turned them in, anti-clerical and paranoid as the Austrian Social-Democrats of the day were about a Hapsburg restoration, and paranoid that the Roman Catholic church might help foment such an event. My understanding is that other refugees were generally able to transit Austria without problems.


At 8/17/2013 9:45 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


Good points. Given that all of this happened over sixty years ago, I wouldn't be surprised if some details of Father Pascal's story were embellished over time by his friends or by other members of the community (though probably not by Father Pascal himself, who comes across as quite self-effacing). Even if one puts all of that aside, though, I think the story of his captivity in Hungary is still very edifying, and I believe that the details given about that are all true.

As an aside, I recently met a Hungarian Benedictine who came from one of the very few religious houses in Hungary that was not supressed by the Communist government. His community gave shelter to many religious from other orders that were not allowed to function publicly, including the Jesuits. For me, it was particularly moving to hear how some elderly Jesuits who had nowhere else to go were cared for in their final years by the Benedictines.


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