The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century – János Hám

János HámArticle

The Hungarian episcopate is represented by the servant of God, John Ham, bishop of Szatmar on the Szamos. He was born on 5 January 1781, in the town of Gyongyos and was the son of a tradesman of moderate means. A Franciscan priest, observing the excellent qualities of his mind and character, assisted him in his studies and remained a prudent and watchful admonitor to him during the years of his development. A few months after his ordination to the priesthood, which took place on 17 March 1804, John Ham was appointed professor of theology in the seminary of his native diocese of Erlau (Eger). He afterward became regent of the seminary and canon of the cathedral. While exercising these offices he unexpectedly received his nomination as bishop of Szatmar in 1827. A striking feature in Bishop Ham was his unaffected, deep humility. He shunned every mark of honor. He made himself the servant of all, not only of his clergy but even of his domestics. It was thus that he won the confidence of all. They knew that he did not seek his own advantage, but only the welfare of his flock. It was said that his mildness was like that of Saint Francis of Sales. If a priest, so it was remarked, received a reproof in the forenoon, he was sure to get an invitation to dinner. In the episcopal residence everything was as simple as possible. It was like the house of a religious community. The same was true of the bishop’s own life. The time was accurately distributed between prayer and work, and the whole household had to be present at appointed common prayers in the domestic chapel. “To pray more interiorly and with greater devotion than Bishop John is given to few mortals,” says his biographer. He had had for himself satisfactory experience of the blessings of prayer. His demeanor during celebration of the Holy Mass and at liturgical ceremonies made a deep impression on all. They could see how convinced he was of the sacredness of these functions. The servant of God crucified his body by severe practices of penance. On Fridays and Saturdays he ate, as a rule, only bread and fruit, and for his rest at night he rarely used a bed.

The good bishop was indefatigable in the care of the flock entrusted to him. He considered it his first duty to train up a clergy distinguished for knowledge and virtue. As far as his occupations permitted he devoted himself to preaching the word of God. Again and again he exhorted his priests not to neglect the religious instruction of the people, knowing well that the enemies of the Faith could prevail little on a people well instructed in their religion. Therefore, he contributed willingly from his own means to the erection of schools and of new parishes. In the city of Szatmar alone, not to mention other works of less importance, he founded a large institution for the education of girls, which he confided to the Sisters of Saint Vincent, a college for boys under the direction of the Jesuits, a convent of Franciscans, and a hospital of the Brothers of Charity of Saint John of God. He was, in truth, a good shepherd who had no other interest than to lead his flock into green pastures and to protect it from the attacks of the wolves.

To be sure, the enemy of all good was unceasingly at work to hinder the bishop’s activity. He was calumniated at the court in the expectation that he would be deposed. But the Catholic population, knowing the falsity of these groundless misrepresentations, stood firmly with its pastor. For a long time they had looked on him as a saint and at the blessed death of the beloved bishop, on 30 December 1857, the whole of Catholic Hungary overflowed with praise for this true successor of the apostles, whom it hopes to have as its powerful intercessor in heaven.

MLA Citation

  • Father Constantine Kempf, SJ. “János Hám”. The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century, 1916. CatholicSaints.Info. 16 September 2018. Web. 30 October 2020. <>