August 15, 2016

Saint Stephen of Hungary, the Apostolic King

St. Stephen and Our Lady
August 16th, is the Optional Memorial of Saint Stephen, (977-1038) the first King of Hungary. He was born the son of Duke Geza, a Magyar chieftain, and Duchess Sarolt. Two years before his birth, his mother received a vision in which the Church's first martyr, Saint Stephen, revealed to her that she would bear a son who would bring the Good News to Hungary and evangelize its people. Like his parents before him, Stephen was baptized by Saint Adalbert. He married the daughter of Duke Henry II in 996. A year later, he succeeded his father as leader.

Stephen devoted much of his reign to the promotion of the Christian faith. He gave his patronage to Church leaders, constructed numerous churches, and was a proponent of the rights of the Holy See. He successfully repelled the pagan counter reaction to Christianity, converting the large pagan population. Greatly devoted to the Blessed Mother, Stephen had several churches built in her honor both in and outside of Hungary. In recognition of his efforts, Pope Silvester II named him king of Hungary in 1000.

King Stephen demonstrated great competence as a monarch, while devoting the rest of his time to his religious duties, especially charity toward the poor and sick, as well as the worship of God, and to his household. Gisela, Stephen's wife, was the sister of the ruler later canonized as the Holy Roman Emperor Saint Henry II. So great indeed was his zeal for the propagation of the Faith, that he was called the Apostle of his nation. The Breviary attests to St. Stephen's holiness:

"St. Stephen introduced into Hungary both the Faith of Christ and the regal dignity. He obtained his royal crown from the Roman Pontiff; and having been, by his command, anointed King, he offered his kingdom to the Apostolic See. He built several houses of charity at Rome, Jerusalem, and Constantinople; and with a wonderfully munificent spirit of religion, he founded the Archiepiscopal See of Gran and ten other bishoprics. His love for the poor was equaled only by his generosity towards them; for, seeing in them Christ Himself... It was his custom to wash the feet of the poor with his own hands, and to visit the hospitals at night, alone and unknown, serving the sick and showing them every charity. As a reward for these good deeds his right hand remained incorrupt after death, when the rest of his body had returned to dust."

Stephen survived all of his children, only one of which grew to adulthood. His son, Emeric, who was his father's equal in holiness, and expected successor, tragically died in a hunting accident (1031). Stephen died on August 15, 1038, the Feast of the Assumption of our Lady, to whom he consecrated his kingdom, and was buried in the new basilica, built in Székesfehérvár and dedicated to the Holy Virgin. He was canonized by Pope Gregory VII, along with his son, Emeric, and Bishop Gerard of Csanád, in 1083. Stephen is the patron saint of Hungary where his feast day is a public holiday. Grant your Church, we pray, almighty God, that she may have Saint Stephen of Hungary, who tirelessly fostered her growth while a king on earth, as her glorious defender in heaven.

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