In memoriam Ildikó Zentai

I was saddened when I learned about the untimely death of Ildikó Zentai.

In the last decade I saw Ildikó at various Hungarian events around the San Francisco Bay Area, said hello, we briefly talked, but we didn’t really know each other. Ildikó was a wife, a mother and a devout Catholic. She moved to the US from Budapest in 1995 and quickly became involved with the Hungarian immigrant community; she organized concerts, Hungarian national holiday celebrations, and became the President of the Hungarian Catholic Mission located at the Woodside Priory.

Remembering Ildikó Zentai

Remembering Ildikó Zentai

The Priory is truly a magical place; it was founded by seven Hungarian Benedictine monks who arrived to the US in 1948. After they learned English, they decided to head West, and in 1957 they came to California to establish a new school.

San Francisco Archbishop John J. Mitty reluctantly gave them a chance; he agreed to support a small, self-supporting, boys-only boarding school. The student body would include international students, Catholics and non-Catholics.

One of the monks, Father Egon Jávor searched for suitable location and came upon a small ranch house on an 18-acre barren site about 30 miles south of San Francisco. He liked the site and it was the cheapest property in the area, $80,000 at the time. The monks had only $18,000 among them and borrowed $5,000 for the down payment on the Gilson property, as they called the ranch.

Father Maurus (in the middle) greets Hungarian President Mr. Áder at the Woodside Priory in 2013

Father Maurus (in the middle) greets Hungarian President Mr. Áder at the Woodside Priory in 2013

The monks lived their motto, “Ore et Labore” (Pray and Work), as they moved into the ranch house and built the monastery and school. The first 14 students arrived in September 1957. Since then the school has grown tremendously. Today it includes a middle school, a new performing arts center, and science and computer labs. The Priory is close to California’s Silicon Valley where thousands of Hungarian Immigrants live and work, and it is a center of Hungarian life in the Bay Area.

Today two Hungarian monks live in the Priory, Father Maurus Németh, who is 77 years old, and Father Pius Horváth who is 85.

In the past, I attended several Hungarian events at the Priory and the organizers were always welcoming. In some occasions I disagreed with the program, recently I protested the invitation of Fruzsina Pregitzer. But these incidents were few and far between, the concerts, dinners and theatre performances brought Hungarian culture to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Ildikó Zentai’s dedication to community service, her energy, charity and enthusiasm will be missed by the Hungarian American community.

György Lázár


  1. Nicholas Molnar says:

    The writing needs a little correction.The founder and organizer of the Priory was not Javor, but Dr.Emod Brunner. He was my French and Hungarian teacher at the Benedict School in Budapest (I graduated in 1945) and he baptized my daughter, Aniko, in September, 1957. The other monk was Lipot Hoffer, who was my chemistry teacher in Budapest. The way I remember, Egon came later.

  2. György Lázár says:

    Dear Mr. Molnár,

    Thank you for your comment, but the text is correct. Father Jávor was one the original founders, in fact he was the one who located the Woodside Priory site with the help of a Fox and Carskadon real estate agent.

    Fathers Emőd Brunner, Christopher Hites, Benignus Barát, Leopold Hoffer, Stanley Jáki and Achilles Horváth were the other founders. All were experienced high school and university teachers.

    More about this:

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