ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Emeric Szlezak, OFM, a professed Franciscan friar for 79 years and a priest for 74, died on March 16 in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he had lived since 2005. Emeric was 101 years old and the longest-living friar in the history of Holy Name Province.
A wake is planned for March 22 from 9 to 10 a.m. at St. Mary Our Lady of Grace Church, 515 4th Street South, St. Petersburg, with a Mass of Christian Burial scheduled for 10 a.m. It will be celebrated by Provincial Councilor David Convertino, OFM.
Emeric was born on Dec. 17, 1917, in Budapest, Hungary, to Kalman and Elizabeth (née Beck). He moved with his family to the United States in 1923. Emeric attended Catholic grammar school in Brooklyn before enrolling in St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y.
He was received into the Order of Friars Minor in 1938 at St. Bonaventure Friary in Paterson, N.J., and professed his first vows there in 1939. He made his solemn profession in 1942 and in 1944 was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Amleto Cicognani at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington.
After completing theology in 1945, Emeric’s first assignment was to St. Stephen of Hungary Parish on East 82nd Street in New York City, where he served for 42 years. There, he ministered to the Hungarian immigrant community in New York City. After World War II and again after the Hungarian Revolution in the 1950s, he assisted displaced persons, refugees, and struggling immigrants.
For 30 years, Emeric gave weekly sermons in his native Hungarian language for a New York radio station that conducted a Hungarian broadcast. He also served as a chaplain to Catholic War Veterans on both state and national levels and to local sheriff departments.
In 1986, he was assigned to St. Emery Parish in Fairfield, Conn., where he served for 19 years. In 2005, Emeric retired to St. Anthony Friary in St. Petersburg, from which he traveled to neighboring towns to celebrate Mass and offer pastoral care to Hungarian Catholics. He also served as chaplain to the Knights of Columbus in St. Petersburg.
In 2017, Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, designated Dec. 17 – Emeric’s 100th birthday – as “Emeric Szlezak Day.”
Emeric is survived by a brother, Emery, and sister-in-law, Ann Marie.
Memorial donations may be sent to Franciscan Friars – Holy Name Province, 144 West 32nd Street, New York, NY 10001-3202.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.