By Jeff Miller
Special to The Texas Catholic
Relationships were central to the life and legacy of Father Denis Farkasfalvy, O.Cist. — the second abbot of Irving’s Cistercian Abbey Our Lady of Dallas and the second headmaster of the adjoining Cistercian Preparatory School —who died on May 20 at 83 years old.
And no relationship among monks in the abbey or students at the school during his 55 years at Cistercian might have been more meaningful than the one developed with a floppy-haired freshman who rode a five-horsepower motorcycle onto the grounds from his Dallas home near St. Monica parish one spring day in 1971.
Jim Bloodgood was a former Cistercian student at the time, having transferred after the eighth grade to his neighborhood junior high in northwest Dallas after finances at home tightened with an extended family of about a dozen under one roof.
Father Farkasfalvy offered Bloodgood, disheartened by the transfer, the opportunity to return for the 10th grade and, instead of paying tuition, work nights and weekends through the school years and summers.
Bloodgood cleaned the art room, mowed the football field, moved books from the library, buffed the basketball court, laid pipe — and thoroughly cherished the next three school years at Cistercian. He graduated in 1974, then earned a finance degree from UT-Arlington and built a career in banking. Following 20 years with Amegy Bank, Bloodgood is in his fourth year as senior vice president of BTH Bank.
“He taught me the value of relationships,” said Bloodgood, still a St. Monica parishioner with his wife, Kelly. “Not once did he push me; he always encouraged me. He always had my back.”
Father Farkasfalvy was instrumental in sustaining and growing the abbey and prep school during challenging times. Our Lady of Dallas was founded in 1955 by Cistercian monks fleeing communist Hungary. The school opened in 1962 in Dallas, moving to Irving in January 1965.
“He simply built the community spiritually and materially,” said Father Peter Verhalen, O.Cist., a 1973 Cistercian Prep grad who was headmaster from 1996-2012 and abbot since 2012.
“He was a spiritual father to us all,” said Father Paul McCormick, O.Cist., who succeeded Father Verhalen as headmaster.
Father Farkasfalvy was ordained in 1961, earned a doctorate in theological studies in Rome and was sent to north Texas in 1962. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in math (while learning English) at TCU in 1965 at the direction of Cistercian’s first abbot, Father Anselm Nagy.
Father Farkasfalvy taught math and theology for the next 40 years at the prep school and across Highway 114 at the University of Dallas. He stayed in the classroom while serving as headmaster (1969-74, ‘75-81) and as abbot (1988-2012).
Father Julius Leloczky, O.Cist., and Father Roch Kereszty, O.Cist., are fellow Hungarians at Cistercian who left their homeland along with Father Farkasfalvy and soon came to call Irving home.
“I can say he was my best friend and not only a monk, a brother,” said Father Leloczky, 87. “We were together for 64 years.”
In recent years, the two would follow Saturday dinner and evening prayer with a night of conversation and chess.
“He played pretty aggressively,” Father Leloczky said. “He didn’t like the usual openings. He liked to be different.”
Father Farkasfalvy was a world class theologian and biblical scholar, appointed by St. John Paul II in 2003 to the Pontifical Biblical Commission.
Father Verhalen said Father Farkasfalvy elevated the school’s position of form master, in which a faculty member advises an entire class through its eight-year Cistercian journey, beyond its original administrative duties and turned it into a spiritual companion. That has essentially limited grade enrollments to fewer than 50 students so a form master can be most effective.
With the number of monks in the abbey perilously small in the early 2000s, Father Farkasfalvy’s dedication to increasing vocations turned the tide over a five-year period.
“It’s indisputable that his charisma and his will brought in a number of young monks, and I would include myself,” said Father Thomas Esposito, O.Cist., a junior master —someone who oversees monks still in formation — at the abbey.
Father John Bayer, O.Cist., the abbey’s vocations director, wasn’t considering a religious vocation as a UD senior until he listened to Father Farkasfalvy during the Easter retreat.
“I don’t think there’s anybody who made me feel more seen and understood than Father Denis,” Father Bayer said.
Father Farkasfalvy’s life was celebrated Monday in the 28-year-old Abbey Church that he was a key figure in building.
“That was the dream of the founders of this monastery,” Father Verhalen said. “He was able to clarify the dreams and make them real.”
The vow of stability taken by Cistercian monks is now tangibly represented in Irving by that sanctuary.
“Those stacks of limestone aren’t going anywhere,” Father Esposito said.
The word abbot comes from the Aramaic abba. “Which Jesus uses for God, our Father,” Father McCormick said. “He (Father Farkasfalvy) was an abba in every sense of the term.”