Father Roch Kereszty, O. Cist.
Father Roch Kereszty was born in Budapest, Hungary, on Feb. 6, 1933, to retired army officer Ödön Kereszty and biology teacher Margit Csighy. By the age of 14, he was sure he wanted to be a priest, and, through the influence of his teachers at the Cistercian school of St. Imre in Budapest, he eventually entered the Cistercian Abbey of Zirc. At the time, however, the monastery had been closed by the Communist government, so his formation took place literally in the woods nearby and through clandestine meetings of an “underground” novitiate. During the tumultuous time that followed the uprising of 1956, Father Roch and other young monks escaped Hungary. He found his way to Rome where he lived out his dream of studying theology. Along with other students, Father Roch was present in those dynamic years leading to the opening of the Second Vatican Council. He was ordained to the priesthood in Sankt Pölten, Austria, on October 2, 1960. After this adventurous youth and period of profound study, on May 1, 1963, Father Roch came to join his Hungarian brothers in the new Cistercian monastery of Dallas, where he began a faithful ministry in which he persevered for the rest of his life.
Father Roch’s theological studies bore fruit in a lifetime of important work as a teacher and writer. He taught courses at all levels of theology, from fifth-grade boys at Cistercian to graduate students at the University of Dallas; moreover, with important textbooks on Christology, the Eucharist, spiritual life, the nature of the Church, priestly life, and with other writings, he established himself as one of the preeminent Catholic theologians of his time. Inspired by his model, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Father Roch aimed to speak of theology in a stalwartly orthodox but also spiritually open way; the mysteries of the Christian faith were not abstract ideals but true experiences and encounters with the Person of Jesus Christ calling the soul to life. Father Roch was dedicated to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue in academic and official ways, but also through many personal relationships.
Father Roch never viewed his profession as a career; his intellectual life and scholastic work were always part of his greater mission to draw all God’s children back to their loving Father. Father Roch lived out St. Paul’s words: “With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us.” (1 Thess 2:8). To countless people – children, students, alumni, married couples, priests, and friends of all faiths and none – Father Roch became an invaluable and beloved spiritual guide and friend. He was never a passive listener, but he demanded to know exactly what you were doing with your life and would always tell you what he thought of it. When a former student would show up after years away, he would say, “You scoundrel! Where have you been?” and promptly open his heart to all the deepest joys and sorrows of his visitor. Beyond his rough exterior – the imposing presence, the deep, loud monotone of his voice, the face that turned to a scowl whenever he tried to smile – was a man deeply in love with all that was good in those around him and whose hopes for you always exceeded your own. He knew that teaching alone is never enough; rather it is by passionate insistence and loving devotion to others that we can help them on the path to God.
In the monastery, Father Roch served for many years as Novice Master. Under his charge, the monastery ushered in a new generation of monks who entered after the year 2000, several of his own former students among them. He knew how much he had gained from the Cistercian Order and his fellow monks, and he was eager not to squander any of God’s gifts. With the unflagging zeal of a true apostle, he handed on what he himself had heard and experienced.
In his last weeks, Father Roch was confined to bed but was surrounded by a stream of visitors young and old. Even when he could no longer speak, he would look into your eyes and begin mouthing words. He died peacefully on Dec. 14, right after the Cistercian students finished their first day of final exams and on the eve of the feast day of Bl. János Brenner, a Hungarian Cistercian martyr murdered in 1957, to whose cause Father Roch was especially devoted.
Father Roch is survived by his sister Zsuzsa and his nephew Andras, both of Budapest, and by his community of Cistercian monks. The Rosary and Vigil will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 20 in Our Lady of Dallas Cistercian Abbey, 3550 Cistercian Rd., Irving, TX 75039, and the Mass of Christian Burial at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 21.
Memorials can be made to The Fr. Roch Kereszty Scholarship Fund at Cistercian Preparatory School, https://www.cistercian.org/giving. Funeral arrangements are being handled by Sparkman Crane Funeral Home.