Little known facts: Fr. Roch Kereszty

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Eight Cistercian monks pose outside Our Lady of Dallas Abbey. Photo courtesy of UD Archives.

The Cistercian monks helped welcome the first University of Dallas students into the classroom and contributed to the university’s distinctly European tradition. UD owes much to their ongoing contribution to the students’ intellectual growth and to the institution as a whole.

The road that led the Hungarian Cistercians to Dallas was difficult, to say the least. Their stories are filled with daring escapes, acts of bravery, loyalty to their order and its mission, but above all, faith in God.

Fr. Roch Kereszty is one of the five surviving Hungarian Cistercian monks, and his is one such story.

Kereszty was born in 1933 in Budapest, Hungary. Beginning in the fifth grade, he attended a Cistercian preparatory school in Budapest.

Five years later, in 1948, the Communists took power and closed all the religious-affiliated schools in Hungary, according to Kereszty.

The state-run school was very different from the Cistercian school, Kereszty said.

“For the Cistercians, education was their vocation; the students were their family; but at the public school, the teachers had their own lives and families,” Kereszty said. “Teaching was just their job.”

“You didn’t know which teachers you could trust, and which were spies,” Kereszty added. “After a while, though, we figured out which teachers thought like us.”

In 1950, the Communist regime arrested Abbot Wendelin Endrédy and forced all 100 of the Cistercian monks to give up the habit and relocate, according to Kereszty.

Kereszty is proud that “the Jesuits and Cistercians were the main enemies of the regime.”

Despite the closing of the Cistercian schools, the members of the order continued practicing their way of life.

“The order was still alive and accepted novitiates; they just lived at home,” said Kereszty.

Kereszty told me that he was one of five novitiates who studied under Fr. Lawrence Sigmond in the years after the Communist Party took control.

“We met in private houses, by the Danube River, and out in the mountains,” Kereszty explained. “I was 18 years old, and it was very exciting to be defying the regime like that.”

Since it was dangerous to practice the faith openly, the novitiates needed cover stories. Kereszty covered as a university student studying library science. Kereszty lamented, however, that he did not actually enjoy this study.

Kereszty attended state university full time while also studying theology and philosophy with the Cistercian monks.

“I did this for five years,” Kereszty said.

“All the while we trained as reserve officers in the army,” Kereszty went on. “All of the university students had to be in the ROTC program.”

“We were each given an old Russian World War II rifle and five bullets, and we trained for three hours a week,” Kereszty added.

In 1956, Sigmond sent Kereszty and other students to finish their studies in Rome.

In 1963, Fr. Anselm Nagy, vicar of the Abbey of Zirc for Cistercians outside of Hungary, came to Rome and told the Cistercians studying there that he needed all of them in Dallas, according to Kereszty. He needed them, of course, to teach at the University of Dallas. Kereszty finished his schooling in Rome that year and emigrated to the United States.

While some of the monks did not speak English when they arrived, Kereszty told me that he had studied English since the first grade, so that wasn’t a problem for him.

“I started teaching [at the University of Dallas] right away,” Kereszty said. “And that same year I also became the university’s chaplain.”

In the 1970s, Kereszty began teaching full time at the Cistercian preparatory school and part time at UD.

Kereszty taught at the Cistercian preparatory school until 2013 and, to this day, he continues to teach a series of theology classes at UD.

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