‘I feel the call to enter the Salesian Congregation. There’s a need for work everywhere;
without work, one can’t reach eternity. I like to work.’
On 8th June, we celebrate the memorial of Blessed Stephen Sándor, a Salesian Brother from Hungary, who was martyred on this day in 1953, at a time when teaching the faith was prohibited by the communist government.
Through the Salesian Bulletin and other publications by the SDB, Stephen came to know the spirituality of Don Bosco, and after a delay because of his conscription into the military, he became a Salesian Brother. He trained as a printer with the Salesians, mentoring and teaching the young trainees after he qualified as a Master Printer.
As the times became increasingly dangerous for priests and religious in Hungary, he was urged to flee the country, but he remained in order to continue his Salesian vocation with young people. He carried on his ministry to them in secret, and after the Association of Young Catholic Workers was banned, he worked to reorganise groups.
The communist government felt that orphaned youth – the young people the Salesians educated and cared for – could be formed as obedient officials and members of the secret police, and they recruited several of Stephen’s former students, who remained loyal to him and to whom he continued to minister. The regime used the fact that a religious had close access to police officials to concoct a conspiracy charge.
Stephen was working at a soap factory under an assumed name when the authorities discovered his true identity and arrested him, along with 16 others, including priests, lay people and a teenage boy and girl. According to the granddaughter of a young man who was sentenced to death along with him, Stephen had the courage to speak up for the younger man, persuading the court to commute his death sentence to imprisonment. Stephen and two others were hanged on 8th June 1953. His family was not officially informed of his death until 1955. He was rehabilitated in 1994 by a Budapest court.
At his beatification Mass in 2013, Cardinal Peter Erdo, archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest,said, ‘We celebrate in him the hero who was true to his calling as a Salesian brother, even at the cost of his life … We stand deeply moved before the victim of a show trial who was tortured, sentenced to death and executed based on false testimony.’
Read an account of his life by János SzöKe on the Salesians Ireland website