After Fr. András Mezei was called home to Hungary by his bishop, St. Emeric and St. Elizabeth Parishes received a new pastor in the person of Fr. Richard Bona. On July 19, he celebrated the first Mass following his appointment and was grateful to the faithful for their warm welcome. Fr. Bona is no stranger to America or to the life of the local community. He arrived here 23 years ago from Bratislava.
(The interview is in Hungarian language.)
He grew up in a Hungarian family in the former region of Upper Hungary, which is in present-day Slovakia. In the Slovak capital, he grew up in an environment of different ethnicities. While his elementary school education was in Slovak, he attended a Hungarian language high school. His parents found it important that their children experience their Hungarian roots, so they signed them up for the Hungarian Scouts and attended Hungarian Mass at the Franciscan Church. Despite his wide range of interests in school, he knew in the depths of his heart that he was going to be a priest. His sense of a calling strengthened over the years, and by the time he graduated from high school, he knew that he would apply to the Theological College, a decision that he has never regretted.
Regarding the circumstances of his career path, there is an interesting story from his childhood. He made his First Communion in the third grade, after which he immediately joined the group of altar servers. It was customary for only boys to assist at the altar where he grew up, so he once asked his parents on the way home from church if every altar server must become a priest. They jokingly said yes, but from that moment the young Richard agreed that he would become a priest when he grew up. Of course, he came to realize that most servers do not become priests, but the idea of a priestly vocation always remained in the back of his mind and intensified the feeling that God was calling him. There are many important things on Earth, but among those, the most important is the salvation of our souls. For this reason, Fr. Bona believes that it is a priest’s duty and mission to help as many men as possible reach Heaven. He gladly works toward this end and will continue to do so in the future.
He had been a student at the Bratislava Theological College for five years when, through cousins living in America, Fr. Ladislaus Rosko sought him out to come to America, continue his studies, and participate in the ministry to the Hungarian Catholic community in Cleveland. After much thought and prayer and trusting in the will of God, Fr. Bona accepted the new opportunity. During the first year, he concentrated on learning English and then entered Cleveland’s diocesan seminary. His theological experiences from back home were very different. Here, it was not enough to reach the end of the semester; he had to remain active throughout the entire school year. His grade at the end of each year was not determined solely by his exams but also by the work he had done throughout the course of the academic year. In Bratislava, there were 130 students, while in the Diocese of Cleveland, there were only 28 seminarians at that time. He successfully adapted to these differences and integrated himself into his new life.
Following his ordination at St. John’s Cathedral in 2003, his first appointment was at St. Christopher’s Church in Rocky River. After four years of priestly service, he was transferred to St. Albert the Great in North Royalton. During these early years of his ministry, he became even more convinced that he had found his calling. While at St. Albert’s, the Bishop asked him to continue his studies in order to assist at the Diocesan Tribunal. His studies took him to the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., where he earned a Licentiate and later a Doctorate in Canon Law in 2014 and 2018, respectively. The Church, like any society, has to organize its internal life and is regulated by laws to ensure its smooth operation. Fr. Bona works at the Diocesan Tribunal, where he focuses primarily on cases relating to marriage, but questions involving the liturgy, religious orders, and property rights also appear occasionally.
As the pastor of St. Emeric and St. Elizabeth Parishes, Fr. Bona will seek to lead the flock entrusted to his care to Jesus Christ, to strengthen them, and to have the faith become part of their daily lives. He does not want them to take the presence of God for granted, but rather, he wants them to value it as a treasure, especially now when the world is increasingly abandoning the laws of religion. In addition to nurturing their souls, Fr. Bona desires that the two Hungarian communities remain and pass on the message to later generations that their ancestors kept their faith and language alive even in the diaspora. He knows that the churches are the institutions that bring together the Hungarian community in Cleveland and serve as its spiritual pillar. Fr. Bona promises the faithful his support and would like them to take the following message to heart: “God is the most important thing in our lives, and every decision that we make, every endeavor that we undertake, all of our projects should have the greater glory of God at their center so that we may be recognized as faithful Hungarians.”
By Zsófia Dorgay
Translated by Nicholas Boros