Hungary, 1916 - 1935
Sodalist, boy scout, athlete, and Jesuit novice
(Courtesy of Ann Ball - www.annball.com)
As the nurse and the priest entered the room where the dying young man lay, they realized he was no longer conscious. His open eyes were fixed on the crucifix and Marian medal in his hands, but he did not see the visitors. They found his final message, scrawled on a paper on the patient's bedside table: "God be with you! We will meet in Heaven! Do not weep, this is my birthday in Heaven. God bless you all!"
The priest anointed him and gave him absolution and the papal blessing. Then Stephen Kaszap stopped breathing and his soul slipped quietly away.
Only a few weeks before, Stephen had written in his journal, "Finally! Eureka! I found what I have for so long searched for, but could not find. What is it? ... It is grace, the grace to recognize God's gifts always, and never to resist it but to follow it and trust in it, so that it can mould our souls."
If that day he had only just realized the grace he writes of, it had nonetheless worked, hidden in the soul of this young Hungarian, for many years. He had offered "my whole life as a sacrifice to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for my own and other people's many horrible sins." Although Stephen Kaszap had planned to spend this life as a Jesuit priest, his offering was accepted and God took him to Himself before the age of twenty.
Stephen was born March 25, 1916, in a small town near Budapest, Hungary. His father was chief supervisor at the local post office and his mother was a devoted homemaker. Stephen was the third of five children of this devout and affectionate Catholic couple.
As a young child, Stephen was happy and loving although he sometimes displayed obstinate, aggressive behavior and, when teased by his brothers, was known for sudden fits of temper when he would fly into a blind fury and throw whatever he could grab in his small hands. He was always willing to help with the daily chores and loved to whistle while he worked. Stephen received his first Holy Communion on May 21, 1925, at the age of nine.
At thirteen, Stephen was sent to a boarding school conducted by Cistercian monks. An early riser, Stephen formed the habit of regular prayer and served Mass whenever possible. He wasn't, however, above the usual schoolboy mischief. As he, himself, says, "I have no doubt at all that I often irritated and annoyed the teachers. It seems to me now that the years at the Lycee just flew past. Hard work for exams, very pleasant vacations and wonderful excursions with my fellow students are what I remember best about my student days."
At the Lycee, Stephen began to write a daily journal, a practice he continued until his death. In it, we can begin to see some of the secrets of his soul.
In 1931, his junior year, Stephen joined a sodality known as the Congregation of Mary. The purpose of the group was to increase the member's devotion and love of Our Lady, and to spread this devotion to their fellow students by word and example. The group met twice a month in a small chapel of their own beside the great nave of the college church. Stephen joined in all the activities of the group enthusiastically and at one time served as its secretary.
Throughout his school years, Stephen was an active member of the Boy Scouts. He felt that "the boy scout, par excellence, should be an example in everything. He is never rude nor silly, but earnest and manly; at the same time, he is always joyful." Apparently Stephen fit his own model of the good scout. A former patrol leader says of him "Whatever I asked, he carried out without argument or excuse. I could always trust him completely and always count on his support."
The same man remembers when Stephen was elected assistant patrol leader. "One day after Steve had been elected, he was assigned to practice his duties as assistant patrol leader. This involved giving commands in a loud voice to the troop drawn up in military formation. Obviously excited, Steve's voice faltered and the troop began to laugh. Steve's pride was really hurt."
Apparently he overcame that incident and was always in the center of all the scouting activities. He became proficient at bookbinding, won many of the memory games the troop played and carried out all his assigned tasks at camp with no grumbling word of protest. Later he became a patrol leader and his journal is filled with descriptions of the annual summer camping trips. A fellow scout said "Steve often left the camp to go for a walk in the forest. He loved nature because he understood its language." His patrol leader testified that "Steve got up every morning earlier than the others to go to the edge of the forest to pray." He always attended the morning Mass before returning to the activities of the day.
Steve loved bicycle trips and took many of them. After his eleventh grade year, he earned some money as a tutor and putting it together with other funds was finally able to buy a bicycle of his own. That year he took a bike trip and on the way attended the boy scouts' international jamboree at Godollo.
During his school years, Stephen was fortunate to have an excellent gymnastics teacher and he became an outstanding athlete, winning a number of medals. In 1934 at one tournament he won gold medals on the combined bars, the high bars, and in horse racing. He was junior champion of his school district, and happy to win the honors for his school in the regional games.
In the ninth grade, Stephen became interested in a variety of intellectual pursuits and his journal grew much larger. In addition to his thoughts and the record of his daily events, he began to write quotations, poetry, formulae, and various other things. His interests widened so much that he began to do poorly in his schoolwork. By the end of the tenth grade, his school marks had slipped so much that it shocked him back to better habits of concentration. He poured all his effort into doing better and was able to graduate from twelfth grade with a straight A average. He wrote, "It was God's voice that guided me in my studies and helped me to carry them out with dedication." By this time, Stephen had chosen to follow a call to a religious vocation and to give his life to God.
Stephen entered the Jesuit novitiate, Manressa, in July of 1934 at the age of eighteen. Something about him made him stand out from the other novices. He reflected an inner maturity and displayed a warm, calm, reserved nature while at the same time being informal and friendly. He was well liked by both his teachers and his peers. He set his sights toward growing in the spiritual life and the practice of virtues. He aimed for higher ground, but he did this with good sense. "Sanctity does not consist of being faultless but rather in not compromising with my weaknesses. Do I resign myself to them? If I fall a hundred times, I get up a hundred times and continue to fight resolutely."
Moral virtue was not easy for Stephen; he had to fight to control his instincts and passions. He confessed to his novice master, "My youth was pure but I was quite agitated as a teenager. I am only sorry that I was not able to go to Holy Communion much earlier in my life." In his journal, he writes more than once of having to fight temptations. He fought these battles as he had all others, with the strength and will of a champion.
Stephen loved and respected the saints. He took notes about their lives and talked about them to others. And of the queen of saints he wrote, "Love your Heavenly Mom! You love and long for your mother very much but, look, you'll find an even holier mother in the Virgin Mother! Love her and trust her unconditionally."
When Stephen entered the novitiate he appeared to be in excellent health although the physical exam showed an elevated fever which the doctor attributed to nerves. His heart was full of joy. The very next day, however, he became hoarse and soon lost his voice. When his voice returned, his tonsils needed attention. At Christmas, his ankles became swollen and he could barely walk due to arthritic pains. Pus-filled abscesses appeared on his fingers, neck and face and he became bedridden with tonsillitis. Stephen went through these trials with a sunny heart, and wrote, "Any cross God gives must be carried with joy. A little illness is more useful than ten or twenty years spent in health." He suffered a near fatal nosebleed, high fever and pleurisy.
Accepting God's will, on March 2, 1935, Stephen wrote, "I suffer gladly for Christ and I don't run from pain." He got better but then his fever went up again and he was taken to the hospital. Surgery was scheduled for March 19, the feast of St. Joseph. Steve whispered to his novice master, "I trust in St. Joseph very much. How small our sufferings are and how much the Church needs them! These thoughts make suffering much easier for me." During Steve's recuperation in the hospital he began to help and influence the other patients. He returned to Manressa, but began to suffer from sores and abscesses again. It soon became obvious that he did not have the required health to continue in the novitiate and the superiors decided to send him home, telling him that they would welcome him back when his health improved.
On October 18, 1935, he wrote, Sacred Heart of Jesus grant that I might empty myself completely! I do not want to reserve anything for myself, for my own intentions, not even my prayers, my sufferings or anything else. Everything is yours, you gave them to me and I give them back to you, Sacred Heart. I want to serve the Seat of Love, Your Most Sacred Heart, with love and suffering."
The day of leaving the novitiate was the saddest of his entire life. His colleagues gathered in the common room where Steve bade each of them farewell. He left with a heavy heart but accepting everything as God's will. "My whole life should be a continuous Yes to God."
Stephen went home in early November and by the 8th he was admitted again to the hospital. The diagnosis was erysipelas, so he spent two weeks in the hospital for contagious diseases. In December, his tonsils were removed. After ten days, he was allowed to go home. Before he left he spent two hours playing with a nephew who had had ear surgery and was in the same hospital.
Stephen went home on December 14. Before nightfall, he was shaking with chills and his fever rose. On the morning of the 15th he could no longer speak. On December 16 the doctor diagnosed a tumor in his throat and he was admitted to the hospital again. His mother spoke to the chaplain then told her son farewell; she did not realize it was the last time she would see him alive.
An emergency tracheotomy was performed about three in the morning. As soon as he regained consciousness he wrote a note requesting a priest but the nurse ignored it, convinced that his life was in no danger. At five, the night nurse was relieved. As the day nurse bathed his sweat soaked face, Stephen wrote a note indicating he would like the last rites. The nurse went at once to fetch the priest. At ten minutes past six, God's young athlete raced home.
(Courtesy of Ann Ball - www.annball.com)