Saint of the Day – 16 August – St Stephen of Hungary (c 975- 1038) Apostle of Hungary, King and Confessor, Marian devotee, Apostle of Charity, Evangeliser and Missionary – born at Esztergom, Hungary and died on 15 August 1038 at Szekesfehervar, Hungary. Also known as – Stephen the Great, Apostolic King, Istvan. Patronages – Patron saint of Hungary, of kings, masons, stonecutters, stonemasons and bricklayers and a protector against child death.
The fourth Duke of the Huns of Hungary, by the name of Geysa, was converted to the Faith and baptised with his wife and several ministers. With the Christian missionaries, he laboured to convince his pagan subjects of the divinity of this religion. His wife saw in a vision the protomartyr Saint Stephen, who told her they would have a son who would perfect the work already begun. This son, born in the year 977, was given the name of Stephen.
The little prince was baptised by Saint Adalbert (c 956-997), bishop of Prague, who preached to the Hungarians for a time and was educated under the care of that bishop and a pious count of Italy.
When he was fifteen years old, his father gave him the commandment of his armies, seeing his virtue and Christian ardour. Already Stephen was beginning to root out idolatry and transform the pagan customs still existing among the people. At twenty years of age, he succeeded his good father, who died in 997. He suppressed a rebellion of his pagan subjects and founded monasteries and churches all over the land. He sent to Pope Sylvester, begging him to appoint bishops to the eleven sees he had endowedand to bestow on him, for the greater success of his work, the title of king. The Pope granted his requests, and sent him a cross to be borne before him, saying that he regarded him as the true apostle of his people.
Saint Stephen’s devotion was fervent. He placed his realms under the protection of our Blessed Lady and kept the feast of Her Assumption with great affection. He established good laws and saw to their execution. Throughout his life, we are told, he had Christ on his lips, Christ in his heart and Christ in all he did. His only wars were wars of defence, and in them he was always successful. He married the sister of the Emperor Saint Henry, who was a worthy companion for him. God sent him many grievous trials amid his successes, one by one his children died, though his successor, Emeric, survived and was the love of his heart but he too died as a young adult.
He often went out in disguise to exercise his charities and one day a troop of beggars, not satisfied with the alms they received, threw him down, tore out handfuls of his hair and beard and took his purse. He prayed to the Lord and thanked Him for an insult he would not have suffered from enemies but accepted gladly from the poor who, he said to Him, “are called Your own and for whom I can have only indulgence and tenderness.” He bore all reversals with perfect submission to the Will of God.
When Saint Stephen was about to die, he summoned the bishops and nobles and told them to choose his successor. He urged them to nurture and cherish the Catholic Church, which was still a tender plant in Hungary, to follow justice, humility and charity, to be obedient to the laws and to show at all times a reverent submission to the Holy See. Then, raising his eyes towards heaven, he said: “O Queen of Heaven, August Restorer of a prostrate world, to Thy care I commend the Holy Church, my people and my realm and my own departing soul.” It was on his favourite feast day, the Assumption, that he died in peace, in the year 1038.
St Stephen’s Canonisation ceremony began at Stephen’s tomb, where on 15 August 1083 masses of believers began three days of fasting and praying. The opening of Stephen’s tomb was followed by the occurrence of healing miracles. Stephen’s biographers also says that his “balsam-scented” remains were elevated from the coffin, which was filled with “rose-coloured water”. On the same day, Stephen’s son, Emeric and the bishop of Csanád, Gerard, were also canonised.
“Having completed the office of Vespers the third day, everyone expected the favours of divine mercy through the merit of the blessed man; suddenly with Christ visiting His masses, the signs of miracles poured forth from heaven throughout the whole of the holy house. Their multitude, which that night were too many to count, brings to mind the answer from the Gospel which the Saviour of the world confided to John, who asked through messengers whether he was the one who was to come: the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the lepers are cleansed, the crippled are set straight, the paralysed are cured…”…Bishop Hartvic, Life of King Stephen of Hungary