To be honest, I never even knew the name of the order or its particular mission. Truth be told, it’s a most beautiful place with acres of silence and ponds of serenity. I’ve always enjoyed going there.
Xiao Mei told me that one of the nuns, Sister Chen, wanted to introduce me to someone who would be there today — someone who might help me cut through the bureaucracy I’ve been encountering at the downtown Los Angeles Veteran’s Administration Clinic.
I had no clue that I would be witnessing an event that would inspire me to such a degree.
I did a double take when I saw several men wearing yarmulkes. The Sisters of Social Service is a Catholic organization — why were there Jewish people there? I would soon learn that they were there to honor a Roman Catholic nun named Sister Sara Salkahazi.
I was so moved by what I learned about her that I vowed I would share her story.
Sister Sara died nearly 62 years ago. Today, people from all walks of life gathered to celebrate her Beautification — a ceremony that precedes being canonized. Her story is, indeed, the story of a saint.
In December of 1943 — a year before her death — she wrote about the ugliness of the war that was closing in on her in Budapest:
“The world is crumbling around us, wherever we look, ruins everywhere . . . it is not the bombers that bring the destruction but the mentality that guides them: Hatred! Hatred brings mourning and pain — love consoles and wipes off the tears . . . we want love. And we want to build justice.
Consider the impact of injustice on life in our world: it violates boundaries, burns and destroys, wipes out peoples builds walls and divides! . . .
And justice? Justice recognizes the rights of the countries! It breaks down barriers. . . . Injustice within a nation turns ethnic groups against each other, whereas justice joins them together in unity . . . Injustice blinds those in power and entices them to tyranny, whereas justice trains them to protect law and order and to defend the weak. Social injustice divides social groups, builds barriers between them; it places profit above all and on this false principle it follows the methods of exploitation and abuse.”
She had been an elementary school teacher, but lost the job when she refused to take an oath that would have her pay tribute to what she considered to be a foreign government — a government she did not recognize. She would become a journalist and a publisher and almost a wife before she gave it all up to join the Sisters of Social Service.
Eventually, she was in charge of shelters that were secretly hiding and protecting Jewish women and children from the Nazis. By that time, she had vowed to give up her own life for the Lord.
On December 27, 1944, henchmen from the ruling fascist Arrow Cross Party discovered her and some of the women she was sheltering in Budapest. When they took Sister Sara, her assistants and the Jewish woman into custody, the henchmen said that the Jews would go to one of the ghettos and the Catholics would be released. But instead, they took all of the women onto the bridge that crosses the Danube River and forced them to disrobe and stand at the railing and face the water.
The gunmen shot all of the women from behind — except for Sister Sara.
One of the shooters would later tell what actually happened on the bridge that day. He remembered how one woman, Sister Sara, turned around and, naked, faced the gunmen. Then, she knelt down in the snow, made the sign of the cross and then looked up to the heavens in prayer as the soldiers pulled their triggers.
Nobody ever found a trace of her body in the river.
In all, the Sisters of Social Service saved the lives of at least 1,000 Jews.
At today’s ceremonies, more than a half-dozen survivors of the Holocaust came to give thanks to the Sisters of Social Service and especially to Sister Sara Salkahazi.
In the group photo below, Sister Sara in the third fromt he right in the front row.