The Life and Work of Ottokár Prohászka (1858-1927)

By Niessen, James P. | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2011 | Go to article overview
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The Life and Work of Ottokár Prohászka (1858-1927)


Niessen, James P., The Catholic Historical Review


The Life and Work of Ottokár Prohászka (1858-1927). By Ferenc Szabó,S.J. Translated by Attila Miklósházy SJ. (Budapest: Szent István Társulat. 2007. Pp. 459. Paperback. ISBN 978-9-638-01436-8.)

Bishop Ottokár Prohászka was a towering figure in the history of Hungarian Catholicism, known (rather than Venerable Cardinal József Mindszenty) as its most profound leader since Cardinal Peter Pázmány, the leader of the Catholic Reformation. His funeral in Budapest was the largest the city ever experienced, and on his grave in the western town of Székesfehérvár, where he served as bishop since 1905, are inscribed the words Apostolus et praeceptor Hungariae (apostle and teacher of Hungary). He achieved his reputation through inspiring oratory, retreats, advocacy of Christian democracy and the social gospel (he was the first Hungarian translator of Rerum novarum and helped organize three communities and one political party), and prolific writing: his collected works (1928-9) run to twenty-five volumes.

To Budapest theologian Ferenc Szabó, SJ., we owe the first substantial biography in English, translated from the Hungarian edition. The Jesuit school in Kalocsa provided the foundation for Prohászka's vocation; then he studied at the Collegium Germanicum et Hungaricum in Rome beginning in 1875. Returning to the seat of the Hungarian primates in Esztergom after his ordination in 1881, he rose to spiritual director of the national seminary and mentor of a generation of clergy beginning in 1890. It was during these years that Prohászka entered the public arena as a writer and public speaker. His appointment to the University of Budapest in 1903 brought him to the center of national life, and he moved to his episcopal see two years later.

One of Szabó's seminal achievements is to complement Prohászka's wellknown public record with the examination of his inner life as documented by his diaries (which have been supplemented recently), huge correspondence, and the diaries of contemporaries. These sources leave no doubt that his asceticism and mysticism helped determine his critical view of Hungarian social structure, which was not shared by other members of the Hungarian hierarchy.

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