Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 30, 1999
Hungarians recruit a priest
Parish used prayer, head-hunting trip, letters to find new pastor
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
The parishioners at St. Emeric's (Hungarian) Parish are true examples of the saying that if you want something done, you have to do it yourself.
What they wanted was a full-time Hungarian-speaking pastor.
What they did was go to the motherland in search of one.
"I went to Hungary for two and a half weeks," said Elvira Barabash. "I went to visit every archdiocese and diocese in the country asking for a priest."
Her asking turned into begging. But her pleading was unsuccessful since there is a shortage of priests in Hungary and none of the bishops would spare any.
Barabash returned to Edmonton in March empty-handed and ready to give up on the search.
St. Emeric's long-time pastor Salesian Father Jozsef Hamor served at the parish for 39 years. He retired in 1996 and died in February.
When Hamor retired, he was replaced by Salesian Father Luc Lantagne. But Lantagne's stay at St. Emeric's was short-lived because of his commitment to the much-larger St. John Bosco Parish.
Salesian Father Joseph Occhio served as an assistant pastor for St. Emeric, but his lack of knowledge of Hungarian made the Mass incomplete for parishioners who had become accustomed to having it celebrated in their native tongue.
Most pastoral duties for the parish of 125 families were performed by Sister Margaret Benedek.
So, with the knowledge that Lantagne could not take on extra duties at St. Emeric and that Occhio was being transferred to Ontario this summer, the parishioners went in search of a new pastor.
"In order to keep our parish, because we are an ethnic parish, we had to find a priest," Barabash said. "With all the talk of ToPs (Transformation of Parishes) there weren't any priests available and there weren't any Hungarian-speaking ones."
So they sent out letters and faxes to Hungarian dioceses. Barabash took the head-hunting trip to Hungary, while at home parishioners prayed the rosary before Mass asking for a priest.
They prayed to God the Father, they prayed to their patron saint, they prayed to Mother Teresa.
It was a letter from Eva Fekete to Father Lajos Tusa, who was overseeing a parish in Erdely, Romania, which was once under Hungarian rule, that led to the answer to their prayers.
Sensing their desperation, Tusa, 41, agreed to come to Edmonton.
"He said that our letters sounded so sincere, so desperate, that he felt he was needed more here," said Fekete translating Tusa's comments about choosing to come to Edmonton.
There was one obstacle - Tusa's archbishop insisted he could not be spared.
But Tusa spoke with his archbishop and after much convincing, he was given the archbishop's blessing and found himself bound for Edmonton.
Arriving in the city Aug. 13, Tusa immediately started to work. He has spent that time visiting sick parishioners and celebrating Mass.
"He celebrated two Sunday Masses," Fekete said. "It was beautiful. Our prayers were answered."
Tusa's greatest challenge will be learning English which he will get an intense immersion in when he starts his daily six-hour English classes this week.
As for his duties as St. Emeric's pastor, he doesn't see a big change from what he was already doing in his homeland.
"In faith, (St. Emeric) is the same as those in Hungary," Tusa said as translated by Fekete. "The basic life, the Christian life, it's the same."