Sister Judith Fenyvesi, founder of the social work program at Daemen College, died Monday in Sisters Hospital. She was 82.
Born into a Jewish family in Salonta, Romania, she converted to Catholicism during high school. Although an outstanding student, she was rejected from medical school because of the restrictive laws against Jewish people.
She found studies in social work with the Sisters of Social Service and became a social worker in Transylvania. The only member of her family to survive the Holocaust, she was sheltered by the Sisters of Social Work and professed her first vows in 1947.
During the Communist takeover of Romania in the late 1940s, Sister Judith, along with other Sisters of Social Service, was involved in the Catholic Resistance Movement and carried secret messages to the papal nuncio to keep communication open with Rome. She was arrested and held for 28 months before she was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
After prison, she left Romania under auspices of an organization that ransomed prisoners of Jewish background. Through the efforts of the Catholic Church, she came to Buffalo in 1964.
She earned a bachelor's degree in sociology with highest honors from D'Youville College and received her master's degree in social work from the University at Buffalo.
Sister Judith worked at Catholic Charities, then taught in the sociology department of Daemen College, where she established and directed an accredited social work program. The department established a humanitarian award in her honor in 1997.
During the civil rights movement in the 1960s, she was active in helping change the welfare structures and worked for fair housing for minorities. Working with the international community locally, Sister Judith risked her life many times to visit and give training to leadership and retreats to sisters in Communist Eastern Europe and Cuba.
Sister Judith was a member of Network, a Catholic lobbying group; the Western New York Peace Center; and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. She was a longtime member of Blessed Sacrament Church in Buffalo and more recently of St. Andrew Church in the Town of Tonawanda.
She recently published her memoirs, "A Journey of Light in the Darkness."
A Mass of Resurrection will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in Blessed Sacrament Church, 1029 Delaware Ave. Burial will be in Holy Cross Cemetery, Lackawanna.