By Mary Stadnyk | News Editor
A stream of thoughtful memories flowed among the friends, former parishioners and brother priests who gathered to commemorate the life and priesthood of Father Laszlo F. Rauch.
Father Rauch, who had served as a priest for 64 years and was pastor of Our Lady of Peace Parish, Normandy Beach, from 1986 until his retirement in 2000, died March 5 at age 87. His funeral Mass was celebrated March 8 in Our Lady of the Rosary Chapel in Morris Hall, Lawrenceville, by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., with Msgr. Ronald Bacovin, pastor emeritus of St. James Parish, Pennington, and former director of the diocesan Office of Priest Personnel, serving as homilist.
“He was a priest of God to the end,” said Msgr. Bacovin, who recounted significant high points and challenges that Father Rauch encountered in his adult life, including his three-year imprisonment during the communist regime and dealing with an addiction. “Perhaps his most cherished time was when he was pastor in Normandy Beach. Had it not been for the destructive storm, Hurricane Sandy, we would be celebrating this Mass in that church.”
Father Rauch was born Sept. 12, 1926, in Budapest, Hungary. As a young man he joined the Order of St. Paul, the First Hermit (Pauline Fathers). With one year of further required study and during a time when priests and bishops were being arrested by the Communist government, he was ordained a Pauline priest when he was 23 years old in Pécs, Hungary, March 13, 1949. Within a year, he was arrested for attempting to flee the communist-dominated country. His actions were deemed a crime and he was sent to prison for three years.
Recalling his conversations with Father Rauch, Msgr. Bacovin cited how during their imprisonment, Father Rauch and fellow inmates offered each other support. One particular occasion occurred at Christmastime when Father Rauch opined that the inmates’ sufferings “were similar to those of the Holy Family in exile.”
“If they could bear up under their exile then we must do the same in ours,” Father Rauch told his fellow inmates.
While in prison, the Pauline order was disbanded and upon Father Rauch’s release, he was forbidden to function as a priest because of his criminal record and his refusal to be an informer.
The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 became a source of high drama for the young Father Rauch, who was making a second attempt to flee Hungary. A few hundred feet from the Austrian border, he encountered men who were on the other side calling him to come to them. Though Father Rauch feared that the men might have been government police within the Hungarian border waiting to arrest him, he “took the leap of faith and it was a start of a new life for him,” said Msgr. Bacovin.
Father Rauch went to Rome for post-graduate studies at the Gregorian University where he earned a licentiate in liturgy. After serving an assignment in Bern, Switzerland, he arrived in the United States where he served for the next 18 years in the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, Doylestown, Pa., and in that time, he was also chaplain and assistant professor in Gwynedd Mercy College, Gwynedd Mercy, Pa.
Father Rauch’s first experience as a parish priest occurred in June, 1978, when he was assigned to Mary, Mother of God Parish, Flagtown (Hillsborough), which is now a parish in the Metuchen Diocese. In November, 1978, he was assigned by Bishop George W. Ahr to serve as associate pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Keyport, where he worked with then-Father Bacovin who was also an associate pastor, and Father Ronald Cioffi, who was pastor.
Father Rauch was incardinated a priest of the diocese March 23, 1982, by Bishop John C. Reiss, followed by his appointment as associate pastor of St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville, in September, 1984. He was named pastor of Our Lady of Peace Parish June 6, 1986.
Father Rauch however, was faced with yet another personal challenge in dealing with his “great weakness and disease” – alcoholism, said Msgr. Bacovin. Although Father Rauch initially tried to “cure himself” of his addiction, his recovery truly began when he was sent to a facility at the urging of the diocese.
Following Father Rauch’s recovery, alcoholism, went from being his “greatest weakness” to becoming his greatest strength, said Msgr. Bacovin. “He saw it as if he could recover then he could be an instrument of God and help others who carried this cross as well.”
Father Rauch often returned to Hungary where he encouraged diocesan bishops to set up recovery homes for priests in need of help, and he also translated the 12-step recovery booklet into Hungarian, Msgr. Bacovin related.
“Laszlo gave so much to so many,” said Msgr. Bacovin, noting that in retirement, Father Rauch continued to study and minister to persons suffering with alcoholism.
“He carried his cross to the end,” said Msgr. Bacovin. “And if he wore a crown of thorns, he sought also to live in the glory and love of his God.”
As she waited for Father Rauch’s funeral Mass to begin, Angela Rivella of Incarnation-St. James Parish, Ewing, smiled as she recalled meeting the priest through her husband, Deacon Thomas Rivella, who would bring him Holy Communion during the time he resided in St. Lawrence Rehabilitation Center. She also told of bringing her grandson, Nathan Stephenson, to visit Father Rauch and how they “became buddies.” Father Rauch would tell Nathan that he was named after a major person in the Bible.
“He was very friendly and he would tell stories,” said Rivella, who added how the Father Rauch also enjoyed the occasions when was able to celebrate Mass and preparing homilies in St. Lawrence.
“He would get so excited,” she said. “He would say ‘I’m able to live out my priesthood’” even though he was not well, she added.
Beth Meenan recalled Father Rauch during the years he was assigned to Our Lady of Peace Parish and how she appreciated how he was present for the special sacramental times in her family’s life, such as when he presided at her wedding, anointed her mother during illness and offering encouragement to her daughter to become an altar server.
“He was an amazing priest and person,” she said.
Father Rauch is survived by several nieces and nephews who live in Hungary. He was buried in St. Joseph Cemetery, Toms River. [[In-content Ad]]