STEPHEN Sándor religious, martyr, Servant of God
Stephen Sándor was born at Szolnok, in Hungary, on 26 October 1914 to Stephen and Mary Fekete, the first of three brothers. His father was employed in the State Railways, and his mother was at home. Both of them gave their children a deeply religious upbringing. Stephen studied in his city gaining a diploma in metallurgy. As a boy his friends held him in esteem, he was cheerful, serious and well-mannered. He helped his younger brothers to study and pray, giving them example in the first place. He was very zealous after his Confirmation, wanting to imitate his patron Saint Peter. He served mass each day at the Church run by the Franciscans, and went to Communion.
He got to know about Don Bosco by reading the Salesian Bulletin. He immediately felt attracted to the Salesian charism. He spoke to his spiritual director, expressing a wish to enter the Salesian Congregation. He also spoke to his parents about it. They did not give him permission and tried to dissuade him. But Stephen eventually managed to convince them and in 1936 he was accepted at the Clarisseum, where he spent two years of aspirantate. He also attended the Don Bosco print shop for courses in how to become a printer. He began his novitiate but had to interrupt it for military service.
In 1939 he was able to return to the novitiate and made his first profession on 8 September 1940 as a Salesian Brother. Sent to the Clarisseum, he became he was also an assistant at the oratory, something he did enthusiastically and competently. He promoted the Young Catholic Workers. His group was recognised as the best of them in the Movement. Following Don Bosco’s example he was a model educator. In 1942 he was called to the front and earned a military silver medal of courage. He saw the trenches as a festive oratory where he was able to act as a Salesian, encouraging his fellow soldiers. At the end of the Second World War he set about reconstructing society materially and morally taking special care of poor young people whom he collected as best he could and taught a trade. On 24 July 1946 he he became a master printer. When Stephen’s pupils finished their studies they were usually taken in by the best print shops in the city and the State.
In 1949, under Mátyás Rákosi, the State confiscated ecclesiastical goods and began persecuting Catholic schools, then forced to close. Stephen did what he could to save what could be saved, at least some of the printing presses and some of the other equipment. Religious suddenly found themselves deprived of everything, and everything went to the State. Rákosi’s Stalinism got worse: Religious were disbanded. Without a home, work, community, they could only meet clandestinely. They had to do whatever they could: chimney-sweeps, farmers, servants… Stephen had to “disappear”, leaving his print shop that had become famous. Instead of fleeing to the West he remained at home to save Hungarian youth. He was discovered (he was trying to save some machines), and had to escape in a hurry and go underground for some months, he took a false name and was employed in a detergent factory in the capital, but continued his apostolate fearlessly and secretly, knowing that it was a strictly forbidden work. In July 1952 he was captured while at work and was never seen again by his confreres. An official document certifies his being condemned to death by hanging on 8 June 1953.
The diocesan phase of the cause for martyrdom began in Budapest on 24 May 2006 and concluded on 8 December 2007. On 27 March 2013 Pope Francis authorised the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate decree of martyrdom.