Lifelong CatechesisForming Catholic identity across generations
For a large part of the liturgical year, we devote ourselves to listening to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects unfolded as we seek God's truth and understanding.
Stephen of Hungary, King, 975-1038
Stephen, called Vaik at birth, was the son of Geza, the leader of the Magyars, a fierce tribe which had settled into the land that is now Hungary. Geza deemed it politically expedient to become Christian, therefore, he, his family, and his nobles were baptized in 985. Vaik, a boy of ten who had not yet learned pagan ways, took the name Stephen. While Geza and the nobles were Christian largely in name only, Stephen became a practicing Christian.
In 997, Stephen succeeded his father as leader of the Magyars. One of his first undertakings was to put down rebellions among rival tribal leaders so that he could assume the leadership of all Hungary. Having overcome the warring tribes of the region, Stephen then sent Saint Astrik, whom he had designated Hungary’s first archbishop, to Rome to request an ecclesiastic organization for Hungary. Stephen also asked the pope to give him the title of king in order to solidify his position among the tribes of Hungary. The pope granted both requests and sent back a crown which Stephen officially received on Christmas day, 1001.
Over the next several years, Stephen established episcopal sees throughout his country and was a strong force in establishing the Church in Hungary. He abolished pagan practices and ordered that every person, except priests and religious, should marry. Stephen built a church in his capitol in which all later kings were to be crowned and buried. He further ordered that every tenth town would build a church and that all people tithe to support the Church and the poor. Stephen himself was strong in his support of the poor. While he made himself accessible to all of his people, he was especially attentive to the needs of the poor.
Stephen instituted a just code of laws, based on Christian principles, to govern his people. Although meant to improve living conditions for all people, it made enemies for Stephen among those who were less fervent Christians. Nevertheless, Stephen was successful in bringing the Magyars together as one people and establishing the independent kingdom of Hungary.
Stephen’s only son, Blessed Emeric, was to have succeeded his father as king, but was killed in a hunting accident in 1031. A series of intrigues and squabbles around the succession to the throne followed. Stephen’s nephews attempted to kill him, and his sister, Gisela, seeking the throne for her son, plotted to that end. Stephen himself was plagued by illness during the last years of his life.
Stephen died on the feast of the Assumption in 1038 and he was canonized by Pope Gregory VII in 1083. Saint Stephen is the patron saint of Hungary, kings, the death of children, masons, stone cutters, and brick layers. His optional memorial is celebrated on August 16.
Stephen's message today: Stephen, a ruler with all the power and wealth in his kingdom at his disposal, recognized that he had obligations reaching far beyond governing his people and used Christian principles to create an environment of change. We too can use our Christianity to better the lives of those around us.