Collection of Lénárd Ödön
Kismaros Szuttai dűlő, Hungary 2623
Show on map
Name of collection
- Collection of Lénárd Ödön
Provenance and cultural activities
The Piarist monk, Ödön Lénárd is one the most important figures of the Hungarian Piarists in the 20th century. He is known first and foremost as the Hungarian priest who jailed for the longest period of time (18 and a half years) by the communist dictatorship.
After 1989, documents of the party state were gradually declassified, and this gave Lénárd a new mission. Originally, he had been trained as a historian: beginning in 1992, Lénárd conducted extensive archival research focusing on the recent past of Catholics in Hungary. In 1988, already anticipating the fall of state socialism, he started to think about the future of the source material related to the history of the Catholic Church after 1945. In his assessment, the ideal solution was to return all such documents to the Church as their rightful legal owner. He was aware, however of the fact that there was little chance that this would happen. He wrote a letter on 4 January 1989 to the members of the Episcopacy in which he suggested that, following the model of the Kommission für Zeitgeschichte, which operated alongside the commission of the German Episcopacy, the Hungarian state should also establish a working group with specialists on Church history. The bishops showed little interest in this, so Lénárd started the work himself.
Originally, Lénárd was looking for documents about himself, as he wanted to compare them with his own memoirs. Given the relative indifference of the bishops and his own rich experiences as a researcher, he expanded the personal dimension and started to explore the history of Hungarian Catholicism after 1945 in general. Lénárd discovered that individuals who had committed their memories of the era to writing usually remained within the frames of their own personal lives. In the end, he concluded that the “only way to understand the period properly was to connect these two kinds of source material: personal memoirs and archival documents.”
Thanks to the support of high-ranking members of the clerical elite, Lénárd was given access to important documents in the gradually opening state and church archives (he was one of the first people to be granted such access), including archives that currently (once again) are not available. He began his extensive research in 1992. With the permission of Major General Dr Ferenc Tari, who was the commander of the Prison Warden department of the Ministry of Justice, Lénárd was able to join a research group in June 1992, which worked in the record office of the Budapest Jail and Prison. After a while, he was given permission to expand his research to the record offices of the jails in Vác, Márianosztra, Kalocsa, Szeged, Miskolc, Tököl, Esztergom, and Sátoraljaújhely.Originally, Lénárd had hoped that an institute would be founded by the Church which would control all research on the recent past of the Catholic Church. As this institute was never created, he started pursuing research and collecting documents alone. After the accumulation of more and more copies of documents and other materials, and also because of his age, Lénárd started to find ways of institutionalizing and creating legal frames for his private collection, which he called the “Archives of the Contemporary History of the Hungarian Church.” In 1998, he established the Church Historical Institute of the Cistercian Abbey of Kismaros. After his death, the Institute was closed. The Recent Christian Archive Foundation (2004) received the records of the Institute, but Lénárd’s collection remained in the abbey, in accordance with his last will and testament. Now it is an independent collection in the public-private archive of the Cistercian Abbey of the Blessed Mother of God.
Description of content
Ödön Lénárd created a sizable collection over the course of a period of almost ten years of research and collecting work. The approximately 26 linear meters of material (which is kept in cardboard boxes or in colour binder inserts) contain mostly copies of documents from archives, but there are also some original documents, private records, memoirs, and even newspaper clippings and manuscripts.
Lénárd had two criteria according to which the material was sorted. For one group of documents, he used the principle of provenance. He preserved the material in its original structure: documents from each archive were put in colour binder inserts. There are also some units in which he used thematic sorting: in the blue dossier bearing the title “PÓCSP R” (in which he put sources about the 1948 show trial of Pócspetri against the catholic Church) we find documents from the Episcopal Archive of Vác, the National Archives of Hungary, the Historical Office, and even the record office of the Supreme Court. In the white dossier bearing the signature “MKPK” he collected separately the documents of the State Office for Ecclesiastical Affairs (Állami Egyházügyi Hivatal) about the main actors of the Catholic clerical elite.
The documents about Lénárd’s trials are also in separate dossiers. The collection of documents on the Piarists is “overrepresented” in comparison with the collections on materials on other Christian orders because of Lénárd’s personal connections. His intention to analyse the history of the Catholic Church and society after 1945 comprehensively led him to compile a vast collection of materials from the State Office for Ecclesiastical Affairs, different leading organs of the communist party, and even the important church governmental organizations (generally from different diocesan archives).
This collection contains more than mere copies: it also includes materials created or collected by others, which Lénárd was able to obtain thanks to his large network of connections, his credibility, and his systematic research methods. For example, the collection includes the manuscript Pictures from Prison Life by Márta Ádám, who was condemned in the trial against Jesuit monk János Tamás and his alleged associates, the bequest of the prolific Cistercian spiritual writer Piusz Halász, and even the typed text of the interview with Imre Miklós, former president of the State Office for Ecclesiastical Archives, which was done by Peregrin Kálmán and Csaba Szabó.
Ödön Lénárd’s personal legacy is the important part of his collection. It includes documents from the last two and a half decades of his life (official correspondence about research requests, letters from his personal correspondence which survived, and the manuscripts of his published works) and some rare documents from the earlier period of his life, for instance copies of his letters from prison to his brother, Ernő Lénárd, fragmented manuscripts of his doctoral dissertation, which was eventually destroyed (and thus never defended), poems written in prison, and some of his personal documents.
One of the most valuable sections of the personal legacy is what was created between his last release from jail (1977) and 1989. First and foremost, it includes the manuscripts of his prison poems, which he wrote “in his mind,” recording them on paper only afterwards. It also includes documents created after he had become active again as a pastor. For example, the Salt, Light, Salt and Light trilogy, which originally were oral teachings and were later typed. The trilogy offered answers to the challenges faced by Hungarian Catholic society in the 1970s and 1980s based on the teachings of the Gospel. A similar work is the book Vision of History, which is a synopsis of thoughts from Lénárd’s prison years. These thoughts were first shared orally and were only committed to paper towards the end of the 1980s. These works were published after 1989, but originally they were parts of a Christian samizdat literature, to which many notes in the collection refer.The relevance of this collection is not a function merely of its content, since the original documents are accessible at their original sites. The value of the collection lies in the fact that these documents, collected from several state, private, and church archives, offer a unique point of departure for an understanding of the history of Hungarian Catholic society after 1945.
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 100-499
Date of founding
Place of founding
Kismaros Szuttai dűlő, Hungary
Show on map
Creator(s) of content
Important events in the history of the collection
- parts are closed to the public
Author(s) of this page
- Fejérdy, András
- Pál, Zoltán
Lénárd Ödön: Erő az Erőtlenségben. (2Kor 12,9). Eszmélődés élmények és dokumentumok fölött a magyar katolicizmus helytállása köréből a kommunista diktatúra alatt. [Power in Powerlessness. 2Kor 12,9. Thinking of experiences and documents about the persisting of Hungarian Catholicism under the communist dictatorship] Márton Áron Kiadó, Budapest, 1994.; Not a complete bibliography about Ödön Lénárd: Hetényi Varga Károly: Elfelejtett hitvallónk. A kilencvenéves Lénárd Ödön köszöntése. [Our Forgotten Confessor. Salutation of the 90 year old Ödön Lénárd] Pro Domo, Pécs, 2001. 55–56. Posthumous published books about his researches: Lénárd Ödön–Tímár Ágnes–Szabó Gyula–Soós Viktor Attila: Utak és útvesztők. [Roads and Mazes] Kairosz, Budapest, 2006.; Lénárd Ödön–Tímár Ágnes–Soós Viktor Attila: Istennel, vagy Isten nélkül. A katolikus iskolák államosítása Magyarországon a II. világháború után [With or Without God. Nationalization of Catholic schools in Hungary after the Second World War]. Kairosz, Budapest, 2008.
Lénárd Ödön: Kutatástörténet [History of Research]. Szerk. [edited by] Tímár Ágnes. METEM, Budapest, 2012.
Letter from Imre Fejes Colonel of Law Enforcement, Head of Main Department to Ödön Lénárd, 22th June 1992. – Ödön Lénárd’s personal inheritance. White binder folder with the sign ’K JOG.’
Letter from Dr. Ferenc Tari Major-General of Law Enforcement to Ödön Lénárd, 22th September 1992. White binder folder with the sign ’K JOG.’
Letter from Dr. Ágnes Tímár, OCist abbes to Lajos Gecsényi, Main Director of the National Archives of Hungary. Kismaros, 15th January 1999.
Lénárd Ödön: Rácsosztotta ég. Válogatás a Szürke habitusban, A második élet, Söma Izrael, Három év versei című kötetekből. [Sky Divided By Bars. Compilaton from the books ’In Grey Habit,’ ’The Second Life,’ ’Söma Israel,’ ’Poems of Three Years’] Héttorony Könyvkiadó, Budapest, 1991.
Lénárd Ödön: Só. A mai keresztény egyéni gondjai. [Salt. Personal Problems of Today’s Christian] Márton Áron Kiadó, Budapest, 1996. Lénárd Ödön: Só és mécs. A mai keresztény krisztusi lelkülete. [Salt and Light. Christial Spirit of Today’s Christian] Márton Áron Kiadó, Budapest, 1996.
Lénárd Ödön: Történelemszemlélet [View of History]. Szerk. [Edited by] Tímár Ágnes és Soós Viktor Attila. METEM, Budapest, 2008.; Fejérdy András: Lénárd Ödön történelemszemlélete [Ödön Lénárd’s view about history]. In: A piarista rend Magyarországon [The Pious Order in Hungary]. Szent István Társulat, Budapest, 2010.