Blessed Vilmos Apor; 1892-1945
By Sister Irene Hartman, OP
Holy Ones of Our Time
Vilmos (William) Apor was a courageous minister of the Gospel who during World War II could say publicly in Hungary which had been occupied by the Nazis: “Anyone who renounces the commandment of charity that is the foundation of Christianity, and claims that there are men and races that one must hate; anyone who maintains that the blacks and Jews can be oppressed –that person must be considered a pagan. If he takes part in or encourages such activities, he commits a mortal sin and cannot receive absolution unless he makes reparation.” For this statement he was threatened with internment and replied, “I am ready.”
William Apor was born Feb. 29, 1892 in Transylvania, seventh in a family of nine, of a lawyer father and a very devout mother. His father died when William was six, a lad who had just begun taking violin lessons. He told his mother, “Mama, I am learning the violin — I will play such beautiful things that you will forget Papa’s death.” Mother raised her children in a very religious atmosphere.
William started school with the Jesuits and was known to be a very good student. Early on, he heard God’s call to be a priest and responded by entering a seminary in northwest Hungary. He was ordained in 1915. It was war time; his oldest brother was at the front, and his mother and sister were caring for the wounded.
Father William was assigned to the parish of Gyula where he remained for twenty-five years. He was not a dazzling preacher but his faith was strong and his messages won all hearts. A Communistic dictatorship decreed that all religious instruction cease. William held a protest in front of town hall and forced the committee to withdraw the measure. Hungary was then occupied by Romania, intimidating the population by taking hostage the Hungarian officers.
Father William went all the way to Bucharest to obtain an order to free the hostages. Enthusiastic about the Gospel, Father worked day and night to Christianize the population. He became known as “The Pastor of the Poor.” He gave away his own clothing and shoes to the needy. He often celebrated Mass in rest homes for the elderly, but closest to his heart was the welfare of the orphans. Father William never neglected his own spiritual life, and was often seen praying in the church. When Father William was made bishop of Gyula in the midst of World War II, he worked tirelessly to inspire his priests to live holy lives. He was brother to them, even inviting them to his daily open lunch and encouraging them in their prayer life and celebration of Divine Office and Eucharist.
When Gyula was bombarded and the main factory demolished, the bishop worked to comfort and assist the population.
In 1944, the Hungarian Jews were deported to concentration camps. The bishop assisted them by sending food and clothing. When he asked to visit his flock in prison, this was denied. He was able to hide many Jews in his house and protected 100 women who were about to be raped.
During an encounter with the enemy, the bishop was shot and died on Easter Monday, April 2, 1945, after forgiving his murderers and praying for his priests.
In November of 1997, Pope John Paul II raised Father William to the altar, naming him Blessed, and calling him “a Good Shepherd.”