Father Stephen Gerencser, Founder of Calasanctius School

Obituary of Rev. Stephen Gerencser, Calasanctius founder

by Tom Buckham
(reprinted from The Buffalo News without permission)

The Rev. Stephen Gerencser, the founder and first headmaster of Calasanctius School, died Wednesday (July 21, 1993) in his Williamsville home after a two-year illness.

A Mass of Christian Burial was offered at noon today in St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, North Evans. Burial was in St. Vincent's Cemetary, North Evans.

The Hungarian native started the school for gifted children from prekindergarten through high school in 1957. The Windsor Avenue institution closed in 1991 because of financial problems, but Father Gerecser was delighted to learn during his 80th birthday celebration May 29 that alumni and former staff members plan to reopen a Calasanctius Day School in September.

A member of the Order of Piarist Fathers, he was primarily responsible for developing the school's broad-based and diverse curriculum, which offered a unified sequence of historical study covering both Eastern and Western civilizations, numerous languages and a seminar program in which students often surpassed college requirements.

Father Gerencser introduced a radical educational philosophy based on the teachings of Joseph Calasanctius (1556-1648), the founder of the Piarists and a friend of the scientist Galileo who established schools in Rome that still are considered among Italy's best.

He revived Joseph Calasanctius' idea of providing underprivileged children the most challenging, highest-quality education possible, and he described the program's success in an autobiography completed a few months ago.

Many such children, he wrote, "transcended their environmental restrictions, were motivated to select the best colleges and eventually found ways to become productive for all of society. Ninety percent of all Calasanctius graduates now work outside the Buffalo area, in the national or international community."

Born in Kolozsvar, Hungary, in the region known as Transylvania, he earned doctorates in theology and psychology at the University of Budapest before joining the Piarist order because of his love of teaching.

He spent the years between the two world wars exploring ways to improve Hungarian-Romanian relations in ethically divided Transylvania. A lover of rural folk cultures, he was an early opponent of Nazification, which eventually engulfed Hungary.

During World War II, he was the most decorated chaplain in the Hungarian army, earning a medal for leading the remnants of an entrapped division to safety during a winter battle on the Russian front. After fleeing Hungary and Communist persecution in 1946, "with one dollar and hope in my heart," he later recalled, he lived in Austria, Spain and Cuba before becoming an American citizen in 1954.

He and other Hungarian Piarists who came here "believe that God led us into the United States because this free country is the hope of every enslaved nation. We know that here we can carry out fourth vow -- special care to educate the youth -- which we take besides the usual religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience."

For all his Renaissance-style love of academia and learning, Father Gerencser was a dedicated outdoorsman who traveled constantly to explore the world's geographical and cultural diversity. Fluent in seven languages, he felt learning to survive in the wilderness was an essential part of education -- a principle that was the basis for a field study program he introduced at Calasanctius.

He was also a proponent of the Chinese and Indian philosophies of self-control who practiced yoga and an epicure whose educational philosophy reflected his interest in food and wine. Under his guidance, lavish meals featuring as many as 27 dishes were served during the Piarist Ball, Calasanctius' annual fund-raiser.

Father Gerencser taught at colleges and universities in Hungary, Italy, Spain, and Los Angeles before coming to Buffalo, where he was on the faculty at Mount St. Joseph's Teacher College, now Medaille College; Rosary Hill College, now Daemen College, Canisius College; and Stella-Niagara.

At various times, he was a clinical psychologist at Our Lady of Charity Refuge, Mount St. Joseph College, Msgr. Carr Mental Health Clinic, the state Department of Social Services, the county Department of Social Services, the Railroad Retirement Board, People Inc. and St. Augustine's Center. He also maintained a private practice.

Father Gerencser was a member of numerous philosophical , psychological and theological associations and wrote extensively on philosophy and religion. A number of his works concerned childhood and adolescence and love and marriage.

He was named a Citizen of the Year by The Buffalo News in 1988.

He is survived by his sister, Anna Kocsis of Esztergoni, Hungary.

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