Remembering Father Egon JavorFather Egon Javor, one of seven Benedictine monks from Hungary who founded the Woodside Priory monastic community and then Woodside Priory School in Portola Valley 50 years ago, was remembered last week by members of the religious and Hungarian community, as well as students, alumni, parents and friends.
Father Egon, a refugee from Hungary, dreamed of founding a Benedictine school in the United States, and lived to see the school celebrate its 50th anniversary this school year. He called it "an American miracle."
He died on Sunday, March 2, at age 91 at the Priory, where he lived his life dedicated to the Benedictine tradition of helping students become lifelong learners and good stewards to humanity, said his colleagues.
More than 600 attended the Mass of Resurrection for Father Egon on March 5 at St. Pius Catholic Church in Redwood City.
Father Egon's casket was attended by 50 members of the Sovereign Knights and Dames of Malta, wearing their official robes. He was a longstanding member of the order as a chaplain.
Retired San Francisco Archbishop John R. Quinn was the main celebrant. Participating in the service were Auxiliary Bishop of San Francisco Ignatius Wang, Hungarian Consul Gabor Kaleta from Los Angeles, and Pastor Gabor Magyari-Kope of the Hungarian church in Redwood City. Abbot Matthew Leavy traveled from St. Anselm's Abbey in New Hampshire to give the homily.
Among former Benedictine school alumni speaking were John Fisher of Atherton and Greg Hampton, also a former teacher at the school.
Much of the following information is taken directly from an obituary prepared by Woodside Priory School.
After World War II, the communists occupying Hungary began confiscating Benedictine property and closing schools. Father Egon and the six other monks who eventually founded Woodside Priory joined many others in leaving Hungary.
Father Egon, a scholar with a doctor's degree in theology and a member of the religious community at historic St. Martin Archabbey in Pannonhalma, Hungary, had been immersed in editing medieval missals from the 13th and 14th centuries. He had expected to continue doing this, but, as he often said, "God had another plan for me."
Father Egon was instructed by his Benedictine order to leave Hungary. He had been imprisoned before, and the monks received information that he was being targeted again.
He escaped on a cold November night across a mined and well-guarded border by taking small steps, listening for the footsteps of the guard, then taking a few smaller, careful steps until he successfully crossed a wide, moonlit meadow.
In 1948, he found refuge on the East Coast of the United States along with six others from the Hungarian Archabbey: Fathers Emod Brunner, Christopher Hites, Benignus Barat, Leopold Hoffer, Stanley Jaki and Achilles Horvath. All were experienced high school and university teachers.
As the likelihood of going back to their homeland diminished, the group focused on learning English and attaining citizenship. Soon they were ready to consider what to do next. They opted to seek their own community and a school where they could transplant their academic tradition.
Father Egon took the lead in finding the right location. He started driving across the country with a few potential sites to check but in the back of his mind was thinking that California could be it.
When he reached the Bay Area, Father Egon was warned that Archbishop John J. Mitty in San Francisco might not be happy to see him, since the diocese already had many schools to support. When he made the obligatory visit, however, Father Egon quickly discovered that the two had in common the experiences of being military chaplains. The visit turned into a warm welcome.
The archbishop agreed to the type of school Father Egon envisioned — small, self-supporting, boys-only, and a boarding school, with an emphasis on developing character and values that would prepare each student to be a successful parent, citizen and individual. He pictured the student body would include international students, Catholics, non-Catholics willing to study the teaching of their own faith, and Catholics who might eventually choose a religious vocation.
Father Egon recalled in an interview with The Almanac that Emmet Cashin of Fox and Carskadon was driving him around the hills in 1956 when they came upon a small ranch house on an 18-acre barren site off Portola Road. He liked the site and it was the cheapest property — $80,000. The monks had only $18,000 among them and borrowed $5,000 for the down payment on the Gilson property.
The monks lived their motto, "Ore et Labore" (pray and work), as they moved into the ranch house and built the monastery and school from the ground up. The first students — 14 boys — arrived in September 1957.
The school has grown to include a middle school, added in the mid 1990s; coeducational day and boarding programs; a new performing arts center; and arts, science and computer labs. On-campus housing has been built for about one-third of the faculty and staff.
The history of the Priory was chronicled by Father Egon in two published books: "Beginnings: The Founding of the Woodside Priory" and "Being Benedictine: 50 Years of Woodside Priory School."
"Father Egon never dwelled on his personal contribution," commented Tim Molak, head of school. He preferred "to tell the stories of all of the people who helped the school thrive. His eyes would light up, and he really took joy in that. Nonetheless, there will be people all over the earth who are glad Father Egon followed God's plan."
The Father Egon (Javor) Endowed Scholarship Fund has been established at Woodside Priory School. Contributions may be sent to Woodside Priory School, 302 Portola Road, Portola Valley, CA 94028.