Challenges unbidden, enduring faith, and love of outreach marked Father Roch Kereszty’s life
IRVING — Father Roch Kereszty, OCist., a renowned theologian, died Dec. 14 in the monastery of Our Lady of Dallas at the age of 89, where he had served as form master, spiritual director, and as one of its founding members.
Although hardships and dangerous, harrowing events not of his own making that few could imagine enduring filled Fr. Kereszty’s life, especially early on, he never abandoned his deep love of Christ or his passion for teaching and helping others.
Born in 1933 in Budapest, Hungary, Fr. Kereszty knew that he wanted to become a priest. This despite the fact that neither his father, a retired army officer, and mother, a biology teacher, were actively religious but nonetheless provided their son a loving childhood.
Because of its reputation for academic excellence, Fr. Kereszty’s parents, retired army officer Ödön Kereszty and biology teacher Margit Csighy, enrolled him in Budapest’s Cistercian School of St. Imre in 1943, which influenced Fr. Kereszty’s decision to pursue priesthood.
Fr. Kereszty also credited discerning his vocation to his “beloved nanny” Erzsebet Kosztolanci who took him to a Catholic church at a young age, showed him the tabernacle, and said, “Little Jesus is there!”
Hermin Kapolnasy, a religious teacher at Fr. Kereszty’s elementary school, proved an influence as well through her focus on her student’s inner life and promotion of a communal learning style.
When German forces occupied Budapest in 1943 and allied bombs fell, Fr. Kereszty’s class broke into smaller groups and dispersed to various locations to continue their education.
Soviet occupation of Hungary following World War II led to seizure of state schools and closure of the Cistercian Abbey of Zirc, which Fr. Kereszty had entered as a postulant in 1951. Undaunted, Father Lawrence Sigmond, O. Cist., form master of the school, and his students, including Fr. Kereszty, continued formation classes, clandestinely secretly meeting in nearby woods and other places.
“We met in private houses by the Danube River, and out in the mountains,” Fr. Kereszty said in a 2018 interview with the University of Dallas’ University News.
Simultaneously, Fr. Kereszty enrolled in a Budapest university to study library science. Though he harbored scant interest in the subject, it provided plausible cover for his vocational studies.
Drafted into obligatory ROTC training in 1956, Fr. Kereszty found himself stationed at a military base near Vaskut.
During that year’s Hungarian uprising against Soviet rule, Fr. Kereszty’s commander ordered them to shoot demonstrators.
“I cannot and will not shoot my countrymen,” Fr. Kereszty remembered in a 2006 interview with The Continuum, the magazine of Irving’s Cistercian Preparatory School.
Instead, Fr. Kereszty and his fellow soldiers shot into the ground and joined forces with the freedom fighters.
“I was just elated,” Fr. Kereszty said. “I couldn’t believe this was real.”
Brutal Soviet reprisals dashed Hungary’s short-lived hopes of independence. Shortly after, Fr. Kereszty and others, through much difficulty, escaped the country.
Arriving in Rome, Fr. Kereszty continued his studies and witnessed the opening of the Second Vatican Council. He was ordained to the priesthood on Oct. 2, 1960.
Fr. Kereszty subsequently relocated to Texas in 1963, which he beforehand imagined as a vast, dry prairie. He taught theology, first at the University of Dallas then, from 1967 to 2019, at Cistercian Preparatory School.
Inspired by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Fr. Kereszty viewed theology as “stalwartly orthodox but also spiritually open.” His goal being to teach theology not as “abstract ideals but true experiences and encounters with the person of Jesus Christ calling the soul to life.”
Students recalled his rough exterior, monotone loud voice, and imposing presence balanced by his deep love “of all that was good in those around him” and his hopes for their success.
Bishop Michael Olson commended Fr. Kereszty’s impact on faith and education.
“Fr. Roch was a very faithful monk dedicated in his priestly ministry to seeking understanding for his faith and sharing that with his students,” Bishop Olson said. “It must be remembered with gratitude that he was very dedicated to the work of the Second Vatican Council and, with the Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur, assisted in fostering its early phase of implementation among the laity in the Diocese of Fort Worth.”
A Rosary and Vigil for Fr. Kereszty were held Dec. 20 in Our Lady of Dallas Cistercian Abbey in Irving, and a Mass of Christian Burial was held Dec. 21.