Sister Ida Peterfy
Angelus News May 27, 2015
On Nov. 10, 2014, Dr. Waldery Hilgeman, approved by Archbishop José H. Gomez as Postulator for the Cause of Beatification and Canonization of the Servant of God Sister Ida Peterfy (1922-2000), foundress of the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart, formally petitioned the archbishop to initiate the diocesan inquiry on her life, heroic virtues and reputation of holiness and of intercessory power. The norms issued by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints state that “once the petition has been accepted … the bishop is to publicize the petition of the postulator in his own diocese … and to invite all the faithful to bring to his attention any useful information which they might have to offer regarding the cause.” (Normae servandae, n. 11b). Accordingly, The Tidings now publishes the petition in this cause, in a summarized form in its print edition and in its full form online, www.angelusnews.com. Anyone who has useful information about Sister Ida Peterfy, SDSH — that is, about her heroic virtues and/or about her reputation for holiness and for intercessory power — is asked to put this in a letter addressed to Archbishop Gomez in care of his office at the Archdiocesan Catholic Center, 3424 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90010.
ANGELORUM IN CALIFORNIA
Beatificationis et Canonizationis
Fundatricis, Societatis Sacro Cordi Devotae
I. BIOGRAPHY OF IDA PETERFY
Ida Peterfy [Péterfy Ida in Hungarian] was born on 7 October 1922 in Košice [Kassa in Hungarian], at that time part of Czechoslovakia, from a Catholic family of Hungarian descent. She was the only child of Dr. Péterfy József, professor of law and history, and the fourth daughter of Kristóf Ida, who had been widowed during the First World War. During her primary education with the Ursuline Sisters, she began her lifelong participation in activities of Catholic movements like the Sacred Heart League [Szívgárda in Hungarian]. Faith and devotion developed in every aspect of her young life. As an avid member of the Hungarian Girl Scouts, she lived its ideals of loving God and neighbor through the exercise of truthfulness, reliability, and readiness to help. During summer camps, she found creative means to impart Catholic teachings on young participants.
The sterling qualities of Ida Peterfy became increasingly apparent as the Second World War dawned on Central Europe. Along with her family, she courageously helped many Jews to escape Nazi roundups. Her actions in behalf of the Jewish people – rooted in the conviction that “Jesus loved everyone” – caused her to break up with an upper-class boyfriend who harbored anti-Semitic sentiments.
Ida was preparing to go to college in 1940 to pursue a degree in chemistry when she attended a three-day retreat that would change her life direction. She received the grace to understand that God knows her by name: “I clearly realized that God does not know me as [if I were] a cabbage in a cabbage field. Rather, He knows and loves me very personally and uniquely – as Ida.” During the same retreat, she thought of the children of the summer camp, wondering who would continue bringing them close to Jesus as Nazism and Communism were looming. She thought and answered her question, “The Church will.” But in the light of grace, she found herself continuing this inner dialogue: “And who is the Church? You are the Church, you teach the children.”
This experience had a profound effect on Ida. In total surrender, she abandoned her plans to go to college to pursue a call from God to catechize His children. Convinced of the authenticity of her vocation, Bishop Madarász István, Ordinary of Košice, encouraged her to pursue it. On 7 October 1940, her eighteenth birthday, Ida pronounced private vows of poverty, chastity and obedience before the Blessed Sacrament at the Franciscan Church of Košice.
With faith and determination, Ida began to live a life of total dedication to the Heart of Christ. Drawn to her vision, four fellow girl scouts – all in their late teens, like her – joined in her undertaking and constituted themselves as the Fraternal Community of the Sacred Heart [Jézus Szíve Testvéri Közösség in Hungarian]. Ida was convinced that development of the community’s catechetical apostolate had to be in conjunction with the continuing academic studies of the members and establishing means for their material sustenance. As food was already being rationed because of the war, the members had to rely on both Divine Providence and the labor of their hands. Ida established a business school in Košice so that her fledgling community could have a basic source of livelihood. Convinced that training Catholic leaders was important for the Church’s future, Ida used money she inherited from her father to purchase a property in the mountains near Košice to build a leadership center and camp.
The escalation of the Second World War further impacted the development of the community. Persistent rumors that the Nazis were suppressing religious congregations compelled Ida and her companions to take prudent steps in their activities. They decided to do their apostolate quietly, attract as little public attention as possible, and wear simple street clothes. Concerned by the further incursion of Soviet forces into Czechoslovakia in 1944, Ida decided to move the center of her community to Budapest. At the end of the war – and after enduring several life threatening situations during battles waged by German and Russian forces in Hungary – Ida was able to reconnect with her scattered companions and gather again her little community.
The devastated economy of post-bellum Europe forced Ida and her companions to live once again in utter poverty. Being employed by the Catholic Action of Hungary (Katolikus Akció in Hungarian), Ida was able to provide a meager income to support her sisters and finance their further education. Repression of Catholic activities began to intensify after the electoral triumph of the Hungarian Communist Party in 1947. Through creative means, Ida and her companions were able to maintain a business school they opened in Budaörs in operation. This enabled them to have a livelihood and continue to live as a community. Despite restrictions, Ida continued to conduct catechist formation courses and children’s retreat days, mostly disguised as puppet shows to protect attending children, parents and catechists from the unexpected raids of the Communist secret police. Ida would often say: “We have to teach children the essential truths of our faith in a very short time and bring them to the Heart of Christ so that they can live their faith in every circumstance.”
The arrest of the Servant of God Mindszenty József, cardinal primate of Hungary, in 1948 signaled the intensification of persecution in Hungary. Ida was determined to continue her work and accept the consequences for it. However, she was prevailed upon by Monsignor Potyondi Imre, provicar of the Diocese of Székesfehérvár to “go to a free country, develop the community, and come back some day when it would be possible.” Ida secretly left Hungary on 14 February 1949. After a brief stay in Innsbruck, Austria, she migrated to Toronto, Canada.
After working as a housemaid for a year, Ida was able to gather members who managed to flee to Canada and reconstituted her community. For a few years, the refugees supported themselves as unskilled laborers in the tobacco harvest of Hungarian farmers near Hamilton and Courtland in Ontario. With the money they earned, they were able to buy both printing equipment and a four-story house in Toronto to establish St. Joseph’s Press in 1952. In this new endeavor, Ida beheld a new vision for religious life where members work together as a team to fulfill a common task, rather than the follow the custom of dividing members between choir and lay sisters. It was around this time that Ida began to call her community as the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart and allowed each member to be openly called as “Sister.”
Although they were still struggling with English, Sister Ida and her companions re-engaged themselves in the field of catechesis. They conducted courses for leaders of Polish, Czech, Lithuanian, Hungarian and German Catholic communities in Toronto. With the support of the Paulist Fathers and the help of Chinese Catholic students, Sister Ida launched a catechetical mission for Chinese immigrants. Many parents and young people were instructed and converted through the work of the Society.
In 1956, Sister Ida received an invitation from the James Francis Cardinal McIntyre, Archbishop of Los Angeles (California), to begin a community in his see. Convinced that the Providence of God was leading her to the United States, Sister Ida accepted the invitation. Likewise, after years of instability and uncertainty – their tense development and escape from Communist Hungary and their transitional start in Canada – Sister Ida felt that that would be the opportune moment for the community to have a fixed mother house and novitiate.
In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart grew in membership and became more juridically defined. On 29 April 1957, Cardinal McIntyre canonically erected it as a pious association. To ensure that the development of the congregation would be in accordance with the mind of the Church, the Vicars for Religious in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles conducted annual canonical visits to the mother house to examine sisters preparing for temporary and perpetual profession. In 1976, the congregation held its first general chapter during which Sister Ida was elected Superior General. The same general chapter approved the Constitutions she had written. Under her leadership, the congregation developed a novel method of catechesis – which she called “Joyful Apostolate” - to evangelize children, adults and families. On 24 June 1985, Feast of the Sacred Heart, with the approval of the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes, Timothy Cardinal Manning established the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart as a congregation of diocesan right.
The congregation began to expand beyond the United States not long after. In the very year of its establishment as a congregation of diocesan right, Sister Ida became instrumental in opening its first foreign in the Archdiocese of Taipei (Taiwan) at the invitation of Archbishop Matthew Kia Yen-wen. In 1992, after the fall of Communism, Sister Ida opened a convent and a catechetical center in the Archdiocese of Esztergom-Budapest, at the invitation of László Cardinal Paskai – thus returning her congregation to its roots in Central Europe.
While the years after the Second Vatican Council were a period of blossoming for the Society, it was also a time of deep suffering for Sister Ida. As many religious in the United States began to misinterpret and misappropriate the council documents and directives, Sister Ida chose to keep her faithful to the Church’s teachings on religious life and religious education. Consequently, some religious and clerics began referring to her and her Sisters as “old fashioned,” “pre-Vatican II” and “reactionary.” Within her own congregation, sadly, sisters influenced by radical changes taking place in other religious communities began to refer to her as “authoritarian,” “narrow-minded,” and “unfit to direct the community.” Although they eventually left the Society, their departure was a source of great suffering and sorrow for Sister Ida.
During the summer of 1995, Sister Ida was diagnosed with cancer. However, even in the midst of chemotherapy, she continued teaching the young sisters, giving community seminars and retreats. In the next few years, although her health continued to wane, she continued to give classes to the novices and participate in meetings, community seminars and events. On 8 February 2000, surrounded by her sisters who have come from all communities, including those in Taiwan and Hungary, Sister Ida Peterfy died at the mother house of the Society in Northridge, Los Angeles. Her funeral was held on 12 February at St. John Eudes Church, filled with 1200 members of the Faithful who mourned the passing of a great servant of God and His Church.BASES OF THE PETITIONER FOR REQUESTING
THE OPENING THE CAUSE OF THE SERVANT OF GOD
The Petitioner of the Cause, the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart, truly feels that there is ground for the opening of the Process of Beatification and Canonization for Sister Ida Peterfy because of the indisputable existence of her reputation of holiness and of intercessory power among the People of God.
Many times during her lifetime, the efficacy of the intercessory power of Sister Ida was experienced by her Sisters and others. One such occasion was the following: On the first night of the community’s pilgrimage to the Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia in 1976, the bus broke down on a dark, deserted mountain highway. Sister Ida asked the Sisters to join her in asking the help of Our Blessed Mother. After praying one Hail Mary, an empty charter bus stopped next to the Sisters’ bus. The driver, who called himself Charlie, said he was on his way home to Salt Lake City after a day-long site seeing tour, and was happy to take the Sisters, free of charge, to the next city where they planned to spend the night. All Charlie asked for was that the Sisters would sing religious songs on the way. After the pilgrimage, the Sisters wanted to thank Charlie, but the bus company said that they did not have a driver named Charlie, and the company had no record of taking a group on a sight-seeing tour on that day.
Within her lifetime, the charism that the Holy Spirit entrusted to Sister Ida became widely recognized. During the community’s years in Toronto, The Canadian Register (24 September 1955) interviewed Sister Ida after coming across a copy of the “Joyful Apostolate,” and noticed how she led her Sisters in prayer and work, joyfully living the evangelical counsels, and finding strength in the promise of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to pour abundant blessings on their undertakings. The Telegram, (2 November 1955) recognized Sister Ida’s faith and hope as she expressed confidence in the care and protection of St. Joseph. When Sister Ida was asked about her life of consecration either privately or publicly, she would most often respond in the context of the whole community, expressing her humble conviction that God called her to community. She said that she would not want to be called “foundress” because it is God who called forth the community. Today’s Family (September 1964) described Sister Ida’s imaginative love for families, her zealous and compassionate care to help them and their children, when for example it meant to prepare a dying child or a deaf-mute child for First Holy Communion. The Los Angeles Times (28 June 1981) highlighted the joy and love of Sister Ida.
In the article “Sister Ida Peterfy: A Study in Joy” published by Ultreya magazine (March 1968), the writer expressed the insight of many others about Sister Ida leading souls to the Heart of God: “She touched me and I loved her. I loved her and met Christ. I met Him and I loved Him... Sister Ida may also be found spreading Christ’s Word in a home for delinquent boys, or thoughtfully bringing encouragement through a visit or a letter, or sharing with others in praying, singing, working, laughing or listening. Always she is serving as a bridge to Christ for all. She is an inspiration to be treasured – ever cheerful, gentle and kind, patient and optimistic... To quote an observant little girl, “She is just like an angel. Surely, she is a saint.”
The love and admiration of those who knew her in her lifetime was clearly seen after her death. For her funeral Mass in February 2000, Roger Cardinal Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles was the main presider for the Mass of Christian Burial. He was assisted by Archbishop Justin Rigali, the Ordinary of Philadelphia (and later Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church), several bishops and forty priests. Around 173 cars followed the funeral cortege to San Fernando Mission Cemetery.
In his homily, Archbishop Rigali said the following:
It was th[e] great reality of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that years ago attracted the young Ida Peterfy in her native Hungary. This love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus not only attracted her; it motivated her and sustained her to give a generous response of love to the Christ whom she heard in the Gospel telling her: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Remain in my love. I have told you this” – she heard Him to say – “so that my own joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.” She listened further, and Christ in His Gospel told her: “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.”
What she heard as a commandment then became her response to Christ’s love, and finally, with the blessing of the Church, an ecclesial community, a religious congregation, the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart.
The attraction of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, sign of God’s love and motivation for all Christ’s mysteries was what Sister shared with all the women who joined her in consecrated life. It became the motivation for her catechetical zeal. Above all, it was -and is- the inspiration for their lives.
Today, this inspiration and this motivation, God’s love passing through the humanity of Christ and rendered visible in the Sacred Heart of Jesus becomes a legacy to the community, and to all those whom they serve in the church of Los Angeles and beyond.
All this is in accordance with what Jesus assures us in the Gospel: “You did not choose Me; no, I chose you, and I commissioned you to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”
As we gather around the sacred body of Sister Ida to pray for the repose of her soul, to worship God, and to proclaim the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we, her friends, the entire community, and especially the Sisters must not lose this moment of inspiration, motivation and challenge.
It is also a moment of recommitment to the Gospel, to our holy Catholic faith, and to the charism of Sister Ida that was so much at the service of the catechetical and evangelizing mission of the Church. It is - as never before- for all of us the moment, as St. Paul says, “to make known the glory of God shining on the Face of Christ.”
The life of Sister Ida becomes a call to fidelity and zeal in the Joyful Apostolate. It is an invitation to grow in faith and love, as a response to the love of God that has entered into our lives through the Heart of Christ.
Sister Ida, in her legacy of generous love still speaks to us. In the consummation of her faith, and in the newness of eternal life, she challenges us in the words of the Prophet Isaiah: “This is the Lord for whom we looked; let us rejoice, and be glad that He has saved us!”
The Joyful Apostolate must go on! The commandment of Jesus must be fulfilled: “Love one another as I have loved you.” The inspiration and motivation of all Christ’s mysteries remain unchanged: the love of God! And this love passes forever through the humanity of Christ, and is made visible in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
This rite of Christian burial, this funeral for Sister Ida is above all an act of worship to the Most Blessed Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is a hymn of praise and thanksgiving for the love of God manifested in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and reflected in the gentle life and zealous devotion of our Sister Ida.”
In the words he delivered the end of the funeral, Cardinal Mahony said the following:
“For the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, this is a very unique moment, because this is the first time that we had a foundress of a religious community die in our midst. So, it is a very special and a very wonderful grace. These are moments that we read about in the lives of holy men and women. These are the things that we read about in history. But we were blessed, for whatever reason in God’s providence, to have Sister Ida here, to have the opportunity to know her and love her.
On behalf of all of us who have so greatly benefitted from her vision, her pastoral zeal, her goodness, her wonderful spirit; for all of us who are grateful to God for her, I express to Sister Jane and to the Sisters our deepest gratitude for being the witnesses of Christ’s love in our midst.
Sister Ida and her community are extremely well known by their very creative initiatives in the field of evangelization. Sister Ida and her community realized that in this modern age of communication it would be so important for passing on the faith, and very early on they began to bring God into the media, especially in the teaching of children: the television series, the “Sacred Heart Kids’ Club”, all the things that they developed through the media, way ahead!
Sister Ida and the Sisters realized the importance of this particular medium in bringing the good news of Jesus Christ, especially being here in the entertainment industry capital, where so many efforts are made to bring the Gospel, the love of God to people through the media. We are grateful to God’s providence that inspired all of you to bring the Gospel to people through television and videos.
As we bid farewell to Sister Ida, we do so with the wonderful knowledge that she has left behind this extraordinary community of wonderful women religious who serve our Archdiocese, the diocese of Orange, San Bernardino and, of course, Taiwan and the mission that the Sisters opened in Hungary. I am very confident that her spirit will continue through the Sisters in her community, and it will flourish for the benefit of the Church throughout the ages.
So, as we move to our words of final commendation, we also pray that we would be able to capture that spirit of Sister Ida in our own commitment of faith in Christ, and in our lives we would live out the discipleship which she lived out to the full, and shared with us in such a visionary fashion. Then, when our moment comes to pass on from this life to eternal life, then we, too, will benefit from knowing first hand, fully, the great love that God has for us. So in that spirit of faith, as we continue on our journey, let us stand and bid our farewell to Sister Ida.”
Soon after her death, people who knew her began to ask for her intercession, and some have even asked for pieces of her clothes as relics. Following canonical advice, members of the Society instead offered to them a Sacred Heart medal touched on her grave. Over the years, many people have written personal testimonials to the sisters about what they believed were intercessions of Sister Ida for various needs: for their families, for their children, illnesses, etc. There have also been some medically documented healings that were attributed to Sister Ida’s intercession.