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Hungarian Catholics in America

Information about Hungarian immigrants in the United States

Hungarian Catholics in America. —The Kingdom of Hungary (Magyarorszog) comprises within its borders several races or nationalities other than the one from which it derives its name. Indeed the Hungarians are in the minority (or perhaps a bare majority) when contrasted with all the others combined; but they outnumber any one of the other races under the Hungarian Crown. It therefore frequently happens that immigrants to the United States coming from the Kingdom of Hungary, no matter of what race they may be, are indiscriminately classed as Hungarians, even by persons fairly well informed. The Kingdom of Hungary, which is separate from Austria except in matters affecting foreign relations, comprises within its borders not only the Hungarians proper, but also the Slovaks, Ruthenians, Rumanians, Slavonians, and Croatians, as well as a large number of Germans and some Italians. Representatives of all these races from the Hungarian Kingdom have emigrated to America, and articles concerning them will be found under other headings. Those immigrants from Hungary who are of the Greek Rite, but who may be of Hungarian education and language, have already been mentioned in the article Greek Catholics in America. This article is devoted to those immigrants who are of the Hungarian race and language and who are of the Roman Rite. Their mother tongue is of Asiatic origin and is quite unlike any of the Indo-European languages in its vocabulary, structure, and grammatical forms. All its derivative words are made up from its own roots and for the most part are wholly native. Although it is surrounded and touched in social and business intercourse on every side by the various Slavonic tongues and by the Italian, German, and Rumanian languages, besides having the church liturgy and university teaching in Latin, the Hungarian (Magyar) language has nothing in it resembling any of them and has borrowed little or nothing from their various vocabularies. It remains isolated, almost without a relative in the realm of European linguistics. This barrier of language has rendered it exceedingly difficult for the Hungarian immigrant to acquire the English language and thereby readily assimilate American ideas and customs. Notwithstanding this drawback the Hungarian Americans have made progress of which every one may well be proud. Although Count Beldy and his three companions, Boloni, Wesselenyi, and Balogh settled in, America in 1831, immigration to the United States from Hungary may be said to have set in, after the revolution of 1848-49 in Hungary, by the coming of Louis Kossuth to the United States in December, 1851, on the warship Mississippi, after the failure of his struggle for Hungarian liberties. He was accompanied by fifty of his compatriots and many of these remained and settled in various parts of the country. During the Civil War and the wars between Germany and Austria, more and more Hungarian immigrants arrived, but they were then for the most part reckoned as Austrians.

It was not until 1880 that the Hungarian immigration really set in. Between 1880 and 1898 about 200,000 Hungarians came to America. The reports of the Commissioner of Immigration show that the number of Hungarian (Magyar) immigrants from the year 1899 to July, 1909, amounted to 310,869. The greatest migration year as 1907, when 60,071 arrived. There are now about three-quarters of a million of them in the United States. They are scattered throughout the country from the Atlantic to the Pacific and fill every walk in life. This immigration, while caused in a great measure by an effort to better the condition of the Hungarian of humbler circumstances, has been largely stimulated by the agencies of the various European steamship companies, who have found it a paying business to spread tales of easily earned riches among dissatisfied Hungarian laborers. Peculiar political conditions, poverty among the agricultural classes, and high taxes have contributed to cause such immigration. But it cannot be said that a desire to emigrate to other lands is natural to the real Hungarian, for his country is not in the least overcrowded and its natural resources are sufficient to afford a decent livelihood for all its children. There are but few Hungarians emigrating from the southern, almost wholly Magyar, counties. They come either from the large cities or from localities where the warring racial struggles make the search for a new home desirable. While a very large part of this immigration to the United States is Catholic, yet the combined Protestant, Jewish, and indifferentist Hungarian immigrants outnumber them, so that the Catholics number not quite one-half of the total. The Hungarians in the City of New York are said to number over 100,000. They are numerous in New Jersey and Connecticut; and every city, mining town, iron works, and factory village in Pennsylvania has a large contingent; probably a third of the Hungarian population resides in that State. Cleveland and Chicago both have a very large Hungarian population, and they are scattered in every mining and manufacturing center throughout Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, while West Virginia has numbers of them in its mining districts.

For a long time after the Hungarian immigration began no attention was paid, from the racial stand-point, to their spiritual needs as Catholics. They worshipped at German and Slavic churches and were undistinguishable from the mass of other foreign Catholics. During the eighties their spiritual welfare was occasionally looked after by priests of the Slavic nationalities in the larger American cities, for they could often speak Hungarian and thus get in touch with the people. About 1891 Bishop Horstmann of Cleveland secured for the Magyars of his city a Hungarian priest, Rev. Charles Bohm, who was sent there at his request by the Bishop of Vac to take charge of them. The year 1892 marks the starting point of an earnest missionary effort among the Hungarian Catholics in this country. Father Bohm’s name is connected with every temporal and spiritual effort for the benefit of his countrymen. Being the only priest whom the Hungarians could claim as their own, he was in demand in every part of the country and for over seven years his indefatigable zeal and capacity for work carried him over a vast territory from Connecticut to California, where he founded congregations, administered the sacraments, and brought the careless again into the church. He built the first Hungarian church (St. Elizabeth’s) in Cleveland, Ohio, as well as a large parochial school for 600 pupils, a model of its kind, and also founded the two Hungarian Catholic papers, “Szent Erzsebet Hirnoke” and “Magyarok Vasarnapja”. The second Hungarian church (St. Stephen’s) was founded at Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1897, and the third (St. Stephen’s) at McKeesport, Pennsylvania, in 1899. Besides those named, the following Hungarian churches have been etablished: (1900) South Bend, Indiana; Toledo, Ohio; (1901) Fairport, Ohio; Throop, Pennsylvania; (1902) McAdoo and South Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; New York City, New York; Passaic, New Jersey; (1903) Alpha and Perth Amboy, New Jersey; Lorain, Ohio; (1904) Chicago, Illinois; Cleveland (St. Imre’s) and Dillonvale, Ohio; Trenton and New Brunswick, New Jersey; Connellsville, Pennsylvania; Pocahontas, Virginia; (1905) Buffalo, New York; Detroit, Michigan; Johnstown, Pennsylvania; (1906) Dayton, Ohio; South Norwalk, Connecticut; (1907) Newark and South River, New Jersey; Northampton, Pennsylvania; Youngstown, Ohio; (1908) East Chicago, Indiana; Columbus, Ohio; (1909) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There are about thirty Hungarian priests who minister to the spiritual wants of these congregations, but more priests are urgently needed in order effectually to reach their countrymen. Although there are nearly half a million Hungarian Catholics in the United States, including the native born, only thirty-three churches seem a faint proof of practical Catholicity; yet one must not forget that these Hungarian immigrants are scattered among a thousand different localities in this country, usually very far apart and in only small numbers in each place. Only in a few of the larger places, such as New York, Cleveland, Chicago, Bridgeport, is there a sufficiently large number to support a church and the priest in charge of it. Besides it has been found extremely difficult to procure Magyar priests suitable for missionary work among their countrymen here in America. An attempt has been made in various dioceses to supply the deficiency. In the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, Rev. Roderic McEachen, of Barton, and Rev. Joseph Weigand, of Steubenville, have devoted themselves to the Magyar language and have become sufficiently conversant with it to meet the religious needs of their Hungarian parishioners. In Pocahontas, Virginia, Rev. Anthony Hoch, O.S.B., is familiar with this difficult language, having spent over a year in Hungary at the request of his superiors, in order to learn the Hungarian tongue. The late Bishop Tierney of Hartford, in order to meet the wants of his diocese, sent eight of his young clerics about two years ago to study theology and the Magyar language in Hungarian seminaries [six to Budapest and two to Karlsburg (Gyulyafehervar)] where they are preparing for the priesthood and learning the language and customs of the people. Two of them have just returned, having been ordained at Budapest. It is not intended by this policy to place American priests over Hungarian congregations, but to supply mixed congregations, where Hungarians are numerous, with priests who can speak their language and keep them in the practice of their religion.

While Catholic societies and membership in them are constantly increasing everywhere in this country the Hungarian element can boast of only a relatively small progress. The Magyars have one Catholic Association (Sziiz Maria Szovetseg), with headquarters at Cleveland, Ohio, which was founded in 1896under the leadership of Rev. Charles Bohm, assisted by Joseph Pity, Francis Apathy, and John Weizer. This association has 2500 members comprising about eighty councils in different States. Besides being a religious organization it is also a benefit association providing life insurance for its members. There are also several other Catholic Hungarian benefit societies throughout the country, the largest being at Cleveland, Ohio, the Catholic Union (Szent Erzsebet Unib), with 800 members. There are many other non-Catholic Hungarian societies, to which Catholic Hungarians belong, the two largest being the Bridgeporti Szovetseg with 250 councils and Verhovai Egylet with 130 councils. The Hungarian Reformed Church has also a church association based upon the same lines as the Catholic societies and with about the same membership. In 1907 the Hungarian National Federation (Amerikai Magyar Szovetseg), an organization embracing all Magyars of whatsoever creed, was founded with great enthusiasm in Cleveland, its object being to care for the material interests and welfare of Hungarians in America. Julius Rudnyansky, a noted Catholic poet and writer, was one of the founders. Despite its good intentions it has failed to obtain the unqualified support of Hungarians throughout the country. The parochial schools established by the Hungarians have grown rapidly. The finest was built in Cleveland, Ohio, by Rev. Charles Bohm, and now contains 655 pupils. There are altogether (in 1909) twelve Hungarian parochial schools containing about 2500 children. No attempt at any institutions of higher education has been made, nor are there any purely Hungarian teaching orders (male or female) in the United States today.

The first Hungarian paper was a little sheet called “Magyar Szamuzottek Lapja” (Hungarian Exiles’ Journal), which made its first appearance on October 15, 1853, and lived a few years. The next one was “Amerikai Nemzetor” (American Guardsman) in 1884, which has long since ceased to exist. The “Szabadsag” (Liberty) was founded in 1891 in Cleveland, Ohio, by Tilmer Kohanyi, and is a flourishing daily published there and in New York. Catholic Hungarian journalism in America presents but a meagre history. Soon after the arrival of Father Bohm he started a religious weekly at Cleveland called “Magyarorszagi Szent Erzsebet Hirnoke” (St. Elizabeth’s Hungarian Herald). Two years later this weekly developed into a full-fledged newspaper of eight pages called “Magyarok Vasarnapja” (Hungarian Sunday News), and became quite popular. In the beginning of 1907 the Hungarian Catholic clergy, hoping to put Catholic journalism on a stronger foundation, held an enthusiastic meeting at Cleveland and took the “Magyarok Vasarnapja” under their joint control and selected as its editor Rev. Stephen F. Chernitzky, from whom in great part the facts for this article have been obtained. But notwithstanding his hard work in Catholic journalism the panic of 1907 deprived it of financial backing and it lost much of its patronage. At Cleveland there is also a Catholic weekly “Haladas” (Progress), started in 1909. Rev. Geza Messerschmiedt of Passaic, New Jersey, is conducting a monthly Catholic paper “Hajnal” (Dawn), and there is also another Catholic Hungarian monthly, “Magyar Zaszlb” (Hungarian Standard), published at McKeesport, Pennsylvania, by Rev. Colman Kovacs. Other clergymen like Rev. Alexander Varlaky of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and Rev. Louis Kovacs of New York City have undertaken the task of keeping alive small Catholic weekly papers for the benefit of their countrymen.

A great many of the Hungarians in America are indifferentists and free-thinkers and from them the Liberals and Socialists are recruited. But a large number are Protestants of a Calvinistic type, somewhat similar to the various Presbyterian denominations in this country. Although actually less numerous than the Catholic Hungarians, they have more churches here. There are forty in all, consisting of thirty-nine Reformed churches and one Hungarian Lutheran congregation. One division of the reformed Church is aided by the Reformed Board of Missions in Hungary, having under its control 19 churches and 20 ministers, while eight churches of the other division are controlled and supported by the Board of Home Missions of the Reformed Church in America, and twelve by the Presbyterian Church of America. The Lutheran congregation is located at Cleveland, Ohio. Too short a time has elapsed since the establishment of Hungarian Catholic churches in America to speak of the distinguished participants therein, except as they have been incidentally mentioned above, since nearly every one of those interested in spreading and keeping the Faith among the Hungarian immigrants is still alive and engaged in active work. There is also a slowly growing settlement of Hungarian colonists in three provinces of British Canada, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, with headquarters at Winnipeg. Two of these farming centers have been named Esterhaz and Kaposvar, after towns in southwestern Hungary. Rev. M. Erdujhelyi undertook in 1908 to found churches in the country places for them, but was unsuccessful because of the great distances between their respective settlements. The spiritual welfare of the Magyar farmers and settlers has been chiefly taken in charge by three Canadian born priests, Rev. Agapite Page, Rev. Joseph Pirot, and Rev. Francis Woodcutter, who undertook to acquire the Hungarian language and thus put themselves in close communication with the immigrant settlers.


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