Feast Day: August 16
Born at Esztergom, Hungary, Stephen was Hungary’s first Catholic king. The son of the Magyar chieftain Geza, Stephen succeeded him as leader. Already raised a Christian, in 996 he wed the daughter of Duke Henry II of Bavaria and devoted much of his reign to the promotion of the Christian faith. He gave his patronage to Church leaders, helped build churches, and was a proponent of the rights of the Holy See.
Stephen crushed the pagan counter reaction to Christianity, forcibly converting the so-called Black Hungarians after their failed rebellion. In recognition of his efforts, Stephen was anointed king of Hungary in 1000, receiving the cross and crown from Pope Sylvester II, who sent him a royal crown so he could be crowned as an “apostolic king” and an example of tireless charity. Despite resistance from the royal court and the remaining pagans, he devoted most of his energies to the political and religious unity of Hungary and summoned many Cistercian missionaries to help in the conversion of the country.
The remainder of Stephen’s reign was taken up with the consolidation of the Christian hold on the region. His crown and regalia become beloved symbols of the Hungarian nation, and Stephen was venerated as the ideal Christian king. Canonized in 1083 by Pope St. Gregory VII, he became the patron saint of Hungary.
“Be merciful to all who are suffering violence, keeping always in your heart the example of the Lord who said, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ Be patient with everyone, not only with the powerful but also the weak. Finally, be strong lest prosperity lift you up too much or adversity cast you down. Be humble in this life, that God may raise you up in the next. Be truly moderate and do not punish or condemn anyone immoderately. Be gentle so that you may never oppose justice. Be honorable so that you may never voluntarily bring disgrace upon anyone. Be chaste so that you may avoid all the foulness of lust like the pangs of death. All of these virtues I have noted make up the royal crown and without them no one is fit to rule here on earth or attain the heavenly kingdom.” – St. Stephen
Bunson, Matthew, Margaret Bunson, and Stephen Bunson. “Encyclopedia of Saints-Revised.” Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2003.
Giorgi, Rosa. “Saints: A Year in Faith and Art.” New York, NY: Abrams Books, 2005.
Pennington, M. Basil, O.C.S.O. “Through the Year with the Saints.” New York, NY: Image Books, 1988.