My patron saint for 2017 is Blessed Sára Salkaházi. The first paragraph of her Vatican biography is more than forthcoming about the providence involved:
Teacher, bookbinder, milliner, journalist: this was the resume of Sára Salkaházi when she applied to join the Sisters of Social Service, a Hungarian religious society that today is also active in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Taiwan and the Philippines. The Sisters of that new congregation, founded in 1923 by Margit Slachta and devoted to charitable, social and women’s causes, were reluctant to accept this chain-smoking, successful woman journalist, and she was at first turned away from their Motherhouse in Budapest. But 16 years later, she became the Society’s first martyr, at the hands of the Nazis.
Right?! What can I say? I’m fond of chain-smoking agnostic journalists turned Nazi-resisting nuns, I guess.
Sára was a woman of many trades, an activist in the Christian Socialist Party and the editor of the party’s newspaper, focusing on women’s issues. She was engaged to be married when she ended the relationship in order to pursue her calling as a sister at the age of 30. Her motto as a sister was Isaiah 6:8b: “Here I am! Send me!”
Her assignments definitely made the most of her talents. She organized Catholic Charities in various cities, edited a women’s journal, managed a bookstore, supervised a shelter, taught leadership courses, and organized the Catholic Working Girls’ Movement. In that last capacity, she built the first Hungarian college for working women, opened homes for working girls, and organized for their training. While she longed to go off on mission in Brazil, her order (and the war) had other plans, and she was needed in Hungary more than ever. She recognized that, and the dangers of rising Nazism. She changed her last name to the more Hungarian-sounding “Salkaházi” in protest, wrote and directed a play on the life of St. Margaret of Hungary, and promised herself to God as the first to protect her sisters when war came.
When it did, she made good on her word. Sára hid refugees in the girls’ homes, and personally saved 100 Jewish lives (her fellow sisters saved 1,000 in all). She was eventually captured and executed by Hungarian Nazis on 27 December 1944.
I am in awe of that level of dedication to service, to that complete, unashamed match between talk and walk, to that absolute commitment to perhaps the hardest path of the many that were available to her. Blessed Sára is my patron saint this year because of her laser-focus on being a woman of service, but also because of her practicality. She had dreamy visions for her life, but she ultimately submitted to providence: okay, Lord, here I am, let’s see what being a Christian looks like today. She just happened to live in a time and place with a wildly demanding answer to that prompt.
Blessed Sára Salkaházi, pray for us, that we may seek occasions of joy and service this year, that we may glorify God in the work that we do, that we may respond with generosity to everything that lies ahead.
Happy and blessed new year, everyone.