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Blessed Sara Salkaházi

Sara was born on May 11, 1899 as the second child of her parents, Leopold and Klotild Salkahaz in Kosice, Hungary, now Slovakia since the Trianon Peace Treaty in 1921. Her parents were owners of the Hotel Salkahaz in Kosice.

She was born into a practicing Catholic family, and Sara was a prayerful yet a strong willed and gifted child. She lost her father at the age of two, and her widowed mother brought her up with her two siblings. Her literary talent became visible early in her life. She studied in Kosice and earned an elementary school teacher’s degree -- the highest available there for women at that time -- at the institute of the Ursuline Sisters.

As a young woman, Sara taught school only for one year. For political reasons she left teaching and learned the trade of book-binding. There she came in touch with the conditions of the poor, particularly of women, and those who were forced into a minority situation. This deepened her sensitivity and consciousness to the issues of social injustice.

Sara started to write. She actively participated in the literary society of the Hungarian minority of Slovakia and became a journalist. She edited the official paper of the National Christian Socialist Party of Czechoslovakia. She was a member of the governing body of that party. Sara wrote novels. Her themes were on the conditions of the poor; on moral issues regarding injustice; and on challenges to become more human and humane. At the same time, Sara lived the life of a journalist, but she was not satisfied. She was in search for her true vocation.

For a few months she was engaged to be married, but after a while she returned the ring. She came to recognize that her deeper desires lead her in a different direction. Christ was tugging at her heart, attracting her to dedicate all her love to him and to the service of the needy. Sara resisted. She resisted for several years as she had to give up the life-style she came to love. Finally, Christ’s love overcame her other loves. She entered the Society of the Sisters of Social Service in 1929. She took her first vows at Pentecost, 1930. Her motto: “Alleluia” captures her sentiments. She wrote in her diary (May 31, 1930) a few days before her first vows:

“My dear Jesus…I would not be here, had You not reached out for me, cutting through all the clutter of my life. My dear Jesus, accept me in your goodness! …My Christ, I am Yours forever! ...My heart is sealed, and it is burning within me with my love for You!...Let Your love burn within me! Christ, let your love burn within me, let this love be my driving force forever. Amen Alleluia!”

One year later she wrote again:

I am grateful to you for the love you have given me. My dear Jesus, I place this love into your hands: keep it chaste and bless it so that it may always be rooted in You. And increase in me my love for You. I know that if I love You, I can never get lost. If I want to be yours with all my heart, you will never let me stray from You.

As a vowed member of our community Sr. Sara started her apostolic service. Her first assignment was at the Catholic Charities Office in Kosice, and she worked in many different areas where she could utilize her many gifts. She supervised charity works; supervised a soup kitchen for 500 poor children; taught religious instruction, formed several groups of Catholic women and created their organization; she gave lectures, published a periodical with the title: Catholic Women. By the assignment of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Slovakia she organized all the various Catholic women’s groups into a national Catholic Women’s Association. Beside all this, she found time to write. No wonder, she became completely exhausted. Her near burnout was misunderstood; her superiors doubted her vocation and refused to admit her to renewal of vows. This caused her a profound suffering and humiliation. She continued to live the life of a Sisters of Social Service without vows. Christ’s love burning within her kept her faithful. She carried this trial peacefully, which eventually gave witness to the genuineness of her vocation. This and other trials purified her love not only to God but to the members of the community as well. She struggled hard to transcend self-centered love, to love like Jesus loved, to love those who were hard to love. She wrote:

To love, even when it is difficult, even when my heart has complaints, when, I feel rejected! Yes, this is what God wants! I will try; I want to start – even if I would fail – until I will be able to love. The Lord God gives me grace, and I have to work with that grace.

As her love grew, a missionary desire awakened in her heart. The Hungarian Benedictines in Brazil were asking for Sisters to work there in mission. Sr. Sara was ready to be sent. She wrote on July 27, 1937 the following:

“I want to follow you wherever you take me, freely, willingly, joyfully. Break my will! Let your will reign in me! I do not want to make my own plans…Let your will be done in me and through me. No matter how hard it might be, I want to love Your will! I want to be one with You, my Beloved, my Spouse.”

Sister Sara never went to Brazil. World War II frustrated the plans of serving there. But in some sense she became a missionary as a social worker in a very poor area northeast of Hungary, which now is part of Ukraine. In 1940, Sister Sara prepared for her perpetual vows. At Pentecost she committed herself for life to the love of God and to serve the needy as a Sister of Social Service. She enlarged her motto, with the words of Isaiah: “Alleluia, Here I am, (Lord) send me.

In 1941 Sr. Sara received a new assignment, to be the national director of the Hungarian Catholic Working Women’s Movement, with a membership of close to 10,000! In 15 dioceses 230 groups were organized. She was the guiding spirit of this movement. She prepared themes and processes for the meetings and sent them to the groups’ leaders. She wrote articles in the organization’s paper to offer firm Catholic orientation for the members, who by than were subjected to the Nazi ideology. She opened several hostels in Budapest for working single women to secure a safe environment for them. She founded and secured upkeep for a vacation house for the members of the movement where they could renew their spirits and energy. She established a worker’s training school; she organized courses to offer leadership training and instructions for a holistic human development for workers. She made working women conscious of their human rights and also of their responsibilities. She offered opportunities for retreats and prayer. Sr. Sara loved and spread love all around her.

The political climate since the rise of the Nazi power in1938 became very difficult and dangerous. Sister Margaret, our Foundress, struggled against the Nazi ideology with all the means available to her. She involved our community to resist its power. The Christ-like love which burned in Sr. Sara’s heart, and the recognition of the danger that could befall our community, inspired Sr. Sara for a heroic deed. She felt Christ called her to offer her life for her Sisters, that no one may lose their faith; that their life might be spared. Sr. Sara knew that her life did not belong to her; she asked permission for the offering. She received the permission, and on the 14th of September 1943 she wrote in her diary:

“My heart is filled with jubilant enthusiasm! I may follow the inspiration to offer my life, or rather my death for my Sisters. In the first intoxication of happiness all fear left me. It might return when it (death) happens. It does not matter! …All thanks be to you, o Holy Trinity!”

Sister Sara made her offering sometime in September in the presence of her superiors, Sisters Margaret and Paula. The central part of her offering was as follows:

…O blessed Trinity, I offer myself today with gratitude and love for my Society and my Sisters as a victim for [our] Society, in case that persecution of the Church, our Society or the Sisters would happen, and my death would not be included in your providential plan. Accept my death with all its suffering as a ransom for the life of my Sisters – particularly of the elderly, the ill and the weak. In place of my miserable sinful life spare their life; protect them from torture, from threats, but especially from the loss of fidelity to You, to the Church, to their vocation and to our Society…. O dear Jesus, I now accept with total serenity and willingness that kind of death with all its anguish and pain that you please to send. Amen.

From the time on when the German army occupied Hungary on March 19, 1944, Sr. Margaret opened our homes to offer refuge to Jews. Sr. Sara actively participated in this work. She too, opened one of the hostels, and the vacation house of the movement to the persecuted. One of the working women betrayed her for harboring Jews. When the soldiers came to take Sara on December 27, 1944, she went to the Chapel, and she prostrated before the Blessed Sacrament. Standing up, she followed her captors together with a group she tried to hide, and a catechist who helped her. They never returned. Many years later at a court trial one of the soldier’s confessed the rest. They were taken to the shore of the Danube, deprived of their clothes to be shot. Sister Sara turned around, facing the executioners, and made a great sign of the cross! Their bodies were never recovered.

The process of her beatification was initiated in 1997. Pope Benedict XVI signed her documents on the 28th of April 2006, proclaiming her to be a martyr. Her beatification will take place in Budapest on the 17th of September 2006.