Saint of the Day – 2 April – Blessed Vilmos Apor (1892–1945) Bishop Martyr, Chaplain of the Order of Malta – born as Baron Vilmos Apor de Altorja on 29 February 1892 at Segesvár, Transylvania, Hungary and died by shooting on 2 April 1945 at Gyõr, Hungary. (Also known as – Vilhelm, Gulielmus, William). Patronages – Abuse victims, Sexual abuse victims, Activists, Virgins, Military chaplains.
He became famous for protesting against the persecution of the Hungarian Jewish population and for his steadfast commitment to the poor. His outreach also extended to abuse victims with a particular emphasis on the protection of women – it would be this latter point that saw him sustain fatal injuries leading to his death. The Bishop dedicated himself to being an opponent of both communism and Nazism and used his sermons as a chance to condemn them, at a great personal risk to himself. He was a beloved figure in his Diocese where people hailed him as a great saint upon learning of his death which came as a profound shock and loss to the Diocese he had served during the course of most of the war.
Vilmos Apor de Altorja was born in 1892 as the sixth of eight children to the nobles Baron Gábor Apor (1851–98) and Countess Fidelia Pálffy ab Erdöd (1863–1934); one was stillborn and three died in their childhoods. One sister was Gizella and another was Henrietta who was his junior and an elder brother was Gábor. His elder brother served in World War I but later became a Hungarian delegate to the Vatican until his resignation in 1944 in protest of the German occupation of his homeland. His father died in his childhood due to complications from diabetes. His mother was strict but caring and imparted sage religious instruction to her children. He served as an altar server during his childhood and his love for the Priesthood intensified to the stage where he harboured an interest in becoming a Priest himself. Bishop Miklós Széchnyi was his uncle.
Year one of his initial education saw him teach Henrietta how to read and she often got him to instruct her in catechism. He even asked his mother once for a chalice and missal for Christmas. He attended high school at a Jesuit-run school in Kalksburg where his desires to become a Priest intensified further, despite his initial homesickness. Apor liked Latin as well as historical studies and received outstanding marks in these subjects, while a treatise on the historical Church, earned him a prize. He also liked tennis and swimming. He then transferred to another Jesuit school at Kalocsa.
He decided to begin his studies for the Priesthood despite his mother’s wish that he wait a little while longer – she consented at Christmas in 1909 – and the local Bishop was delighted to receive him in 1910. The Bishop sent him to Innsbruck for further studies with the Jesuits in 1910, where he later received a doctorate in theological studies, the rector there was a relative of his. He was made a subdeacon on 22 August 1915 and was elevated to the diaconate on 23 August.
He received his Ordination to the Priesthood on 24 August 1915 and he celebrated his first Mass on 25 August, with his mother and sisters, Henrietta and Gizella, in attendance. Gabor could not be there because he was on the battlefront and was unable to obtain leave. Vilmos was first sent to Gyula on 31 August 1915 and he preached his first sermon on the following 8 September. On 27 March 1916 he opened an office for the protection of women that became a predominant focus for him on his pastoral mission while on 4 January 1917 he was sent as a chaplain to the Italian front before being transferred as such to Austria and then back to Gyula at the start of 1919 at the end of the war.
Pope Pius XII appointed him as a Bishop in 1941 and he received his Episcopal Consecration a month later. His brother, Gabor, paid for his new Episcopal vestments. He took formal possession of his new Episcopal See on 2 March 1941. On 25 February 1941 – in a unanimous decision – the town council of Gyula made him an honorary citizen, due to his commitment to it’s people and his strong and tireless activism. He became noted for his strong dedication to the poor and his tireless commitment to a range of social justice issues.
In summer 1944 he wrote to the Hungarian Primate Jusztinian Serédi to persuade him to take a strong stance against the government. He also appealed to the Gestapo headquarters in Berlin in an attempt to free the Jews of his Diocese from the ghetto and negotiated with the Nazi command to spare the town from a siege. The introduction of racial laws sought to further make matters worse and so the bishop spoke out for those affected from racial slurs and other forms of persecution. He provided supplies to those Jews being deported through his Diocese and also sheltered those made homeless after air raids in the Episcopal palace while he himself withdrew to a small room for himself.
On the afternoon of 28 March 1945 – Good Friday – as Soviet troops reached his Diocese he offered safe haven to numerous women and children in his residence and also protected women who feared being raped. Four or five drunken Soviet soldiers arrived with the intention of bringing 100 women to their barracks but Apor had them well-hidden in the cellar. He refused to give them up and a long altercation saw an officer making threats with his gun and soon gave chase to a girl who came out of her hiding place, the girl screamed “Uncle Vilmos! Help!” and he ran to her defense and shouted at them: “Out! Get out of here!” The officers turned to leave but one officer turned around and opened fire with a machine gun that shot him three times. Apor suffered a first shot that grazed his forehead as well as a second in the right sleeve of his cassock and the third that perforated his abdomen. Meanwhile the soldiers became frightened and fled the scene.
He lent on the arms of two of his aides and walked towards the cellar with blood coming from his forehead. A doctor administered first aid and his sister, Gizella, aided the doctor in placing her brother on a stretcher. But getting to the hospital took longer due to checkpoints and had to stop several times, since the Russians wanted to inspect the ambulance, the blanket had to be taken off him on these occasions so the Russians could see there was no hidden treasure. Professors Jung and Petz – who had known Apor – performed the operation which seemed to be successful and saw a slight improvement on Holy Saturday when he received the Eucharist, with his sister at his side. He thanked God for having accepted his sacrifice and for the fact that the women he protected were still safe. On Easter his condition deteriorated due to an infection – he made his confession and was given the Anointing of the Sick. He remained lucid with his sister and Doctor Jung at his side, in addition to the nurses and the parish priest.
He died from his injuries not long after, in the afternoon of 2 April 1945, Easter Monday. István Sándor witnessed a stretcher on 3 April being carried from the hospital and saw the bishop’s remains as it was being transported. The funeral was put on hold due to conflict in the area but was carried out within a week of his death. His remains were buried in a Carmelite church as his confessor was the Carmelite priest Erno Szeghy. His remains were later relocated to the Diocesan Cathedral. St Pope John Paul II visited his tomb in 1996.
The theologian and cardinal-elect Hans Urs von Balthasar was his nephew. St Pope John Paul II had named him as Cardinal in 1988 . He died, however, in his home in Basel on 26 June 1988, two days before the ceremony which would have granted him that position, therefore, he is often called “Cardinal” and is also a Servant of God.
St John Paul II confirmed on 7 July 1997 that Blessed Vilmos was killed “in odium fidei” (in hatred of the faith) and thus approved his Beatification. The pope presided over his Beatification on 9 November 1997 in Saint Peter’s Square.
Today, there stands a statue in District XII of Budapest in Hungary in his honour and the place itself has been named Apor Vilmos tér according to the Hungarian standard of name order.
The Collect of the Mass of the Order of Malta on the Memorial of Blessed Vilmos
Almighty and Eternal God,
through your grace, Bishop Vilmos,
by courageously shedding his blood for his flock,
earned a martyr’s crown.
Grant that we, despite the difficulties of our daily lives,
may do Your will and offer our good works
for the salvation of our brothers and sisters.
We ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen