"So go on and be confident," were his final words. His very presence that day back on May 23, 1974 was truly inspirational to all the people who were there. He told those in attendance, "I'm grateful for this warm reception, to me, to my mother's person, and I don't need to tell you how I've longed a long time to come and see you." It was a short visit, but never to be forgotten by those who were present. "We saw him, we heard him, we touched him, we love him. Our memory of him will survive the rest of our lives." These were the sentiments of the young men and women at Cardinal Mindszenty High School as expressed on the opening pages of their 1975 yearbook. Young and old knew the significance of this man and the honor bestowed by his visit. This man was none other than Cardinal Mindszenty of Hungary.
The fourth in a series of columns devoted to Mindszenty, they serve as a reminder of the past with lessons from history that need to be remembered and appreciated, particularly as time marches on and first-hand accounts fade. Mindszenty was persecuted, tortured for days on end, and imprisoned multiple times both under the Nazis and Communists for refusing to remain quiet regarding the rights of others, particularly religious freedom in Hungary. The timing of these columns coincides with the anniversary in 1949 when Mindszenty was convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment by the Communist People's Court in Budapest, or Marxist Democracy after World War II. A man of great courage and faith, he never shirked in fighting for others, from hiding Jews from the Gestapo to exposing the propaganda of Communist social collectivism with the resulting loss of religious and other rights.
Imprisoned for more than 20 years, at the age of 79 Cardinal Mindszenty was moved through negotiation to Vienna in 1971. Until his death in 1975, he was able to travel and it was during this time in 1974 that he visited the school named in his honor in Dunkirk, New York. It was a day that many truly remember, even the then "youngsters" at Holy Trinity Grade School who in anticipation of his itinerary lined the curb on Central Avenue waving Hungarian flags. To their amazement, the escorts and vehicle carrying Mindszenty stopped and he stepped out and gave a blessing, an event that is clearly remembered by the younger author of this column who was in seventh grade at the time with brothers who attended the high school and father who was a faculty member, waiting down the road for the Cardinal's visit.
Cardinal Mindszenty visited the school named in his honor in Dunkirk, New York on May 23, 1974. He planted a memorial tree during his visit. The tree was transplanted to its present location in Dunkirk at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Church where it continues to thrive.
Cardinal Mindszenty continued down Central Avenue to the school where he was met by various dignitaries and school officials. The Cardinal was escorted into the school by Principal Father Wroblewski and given a brief tour, including a beautiful portrait of Mindszenty that hung on the second floor near the office; the one and the same that all students came to know and love. Mindszenty stopped in the chapel for a moment of prayer and then proceeded to the gymnasium that was standing room only with students, faculty, staff, and as many community members that could fit. One freshman by the name of John, whose last name shall remain nameless for now, fainted from the experience, but naturally the expanse of the crowd made it very warm. The Hungarian national anthem was played, Mindszenty was presented with a school coat with the famous purple and gold colors bearing his name, followed by a few words from the Cardinal himself which was translated by an interpreter. A humble and solemn man, it was somewhat uncharacteristic to see his outward expressions of happiness through many smiles. Certainly everyone in the audience was truly happy and never thought they would see him at their school. To the surprise of the student body, Cardinal Mindszenty granted the students, "the rest of the day off."
Mindszenty concluded his visit at the school by exiting the gymnasium at the Eagle Street door where he planted a memorial tree, an idea and act to serve as a living reminder of his visit that day. When the school was closed in 1979, it was transplanted to its present location in Dunkirk at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Church where it continues to thrive nearly 40 years later with a plague nearby marking the occasion. Although a school that never should have been closed, echoes of the past come from that day in 1974, which will hopefully continue to be heard with the lessons that are taught from this great man. As Mindszenty said when he departed, "So go on and be confident. That is all."
Make it a good week, Mary and Rosamond
Please Note: In an effort to honor and remember the sacrifices made by Mindszenty, a yearly scholarship in his name would be appropriate and appreciated by young men who would like to attend Saint Francis High School. Located in the Buffalo area, a scholarship of $2,000 would only require 20 people to donate 100 dollars on any given year. Anyone interested in such a worthy cause, particularly graduates of Cardinal Mindszenty High School, may contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
#1 Cardinal Mindszenty visited the school named in his honor in Dunkirk, New York on May 23, 1974 with many present in the school gymnasium.
#2 School officials presented the Cardinal with a school coat.
#3 Cardinal Mindszenty planted a memorial tree on his visit to the school.