John Bradburne: He saw himself as a religious jester, a buffoon and a troubadour but he was murdered while caring for lepers in Zimbabwe
For many years I was aware of having been in close contact in my youth with a priest, later bishop, who was beatified in the Roman Catholic Church. I was also a close friend in the 1950s of a truly odd character whose process of beatification has been started. But recently I accidentally discovered on the internet that two further episcopal personalities whom I knew in Hungary in the 1940s have been elevated among the "blessed". All of them are venerated as martyrs. The three Hungarian bishops are William Apor, Szilárd Bogdánffy and John Scheffler; they were beatified in 1997, 2010 and 2011, and the candidate for beatification is an Englishman, John Bradburne.
To make their stories understandable, I will have to provide a brief autobiographical sketch. I was born in Makó, Hungary, in1924 into a non-religious, totally assimilated Jewish family. My father was a journalist and my mother a schoolteacher. In 1928 we moved to the not distant city of Gyula and in 1931, shortly before my seventh birthday, the whole family was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church. I received a Catholic primary and grammar school (gymnasium) education from 1930 to 1942. By that time recently enacted anti-Jewish legislation prevented me from entering university. The only possible academic opening was theology, implying a clerical future. I first applied to the Jesuits, but was promptly turned down: unknown to me, in those days the Society of Jesus did not admit candidates of Jewish origin. I lowered my aim and was accepted in the theological college of my diocese of Nagyvárad in Transylvania, which between 1940 and 1945 belonged to Hungary. The first two years of a five-year course were taught in Szatmárnémeti (Satu Mare), followed by three years in Nagyvárad. In May 1944, when the deportation of provincial Jewry began, I was ordered to leave Szatmár and go on the run with church help, a peregrination which took me across the whole of Hungary as far as the Austrian border. From there I traced back my steps to Budapest, and on Christmas Eve 1944 I was liberated from Nazi tyranny by the Red Army. I studied for two more years in Nagyvárad, but in 1946 I said goodbye to my theological college and left Hungary to join the French order of the Pères de Notre Dames de Sion, and started my serious theological and Semitic studies in Louvain, Belgium. I was ordained priest in 1950. By 1952 I obtained a doctorate in theology and a "licence" in oriental history and philology.
After a brief trip to Israel and Jordan I was sent to Paris in 1953 and continued there as a scholar until 1957. This was the year when I said goodbye to the priesthood, the Fathers of Zion and France, and started a new married life, becoming a university teacher in Britain, first in Newcastle (1957-1965) and then in Oxford. Having left Christianity, I decided to revert to my Jewish roots without embracing the practices of Judaism. My first wife Pamela died in 1993. In 1996 I married Margaret and adopted her son, Ian. We happily live in a charming house on the outskirts of Oxford, surrounded by a glorious garden, backing onto 700 acres of Bagley Wood.
John Scheffler was born into a family of agricultural labourers on October 29, 1887, in the village of Kálmánd, close to the city of Szatmárnémeti (Satu Mare) in north-eastern Transylvania. Transylvania was part of Hungary until 1920 when the Trianon peace treaty transferred the whole region to Romania; in 1940, it was restored to Hungary, but in 1945 reverted to Romania.
Scheffler received his schooling and theological training at Szatmár, but in 1906 he entered the Divinity Faculty of the Péter Pázmány University of Budapest. He was ordained priest in 1910. Next followed two years in Rome, devoted to specialisation in canon law. By 1915 he was a doctor of theology and taught canon law, church history and theology in the seminaries of the dioceses of Szatmár and Nagyvárad (Oradea). He published a few conventional volumes of religious textbooks for schools, but was never engaged in advanced theology. If he had, he would never have tolerated the abysmal level of instruction to which the Szatmár students were subjected in the seminary under his ultimate control.
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