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A contemporary giant in the world of philosophy passed away on September 24, 2002.
Dr. Francis J. Kovach had dozens of articles published in scholarly journals, many more addresses to philosophical conventions along with numerous books ("Scholastic Challenges" was his most recent volume) and was a featured or keynote speaker at dozens of philosophical congresses in the U.S. and abroad. Kovach was listed among the "Who's Who in America"
many times over and was cited among the notables in 2000 Men of Achievement. Feature stories and interviews were done about Dr. Kovach by publications including Time-Life, and by the television and radio media as well. He died from complications after an extended hospitalization for triple-bypass heart surgery.
Dr. Kovach was 84.
(Original photo was given to Dr. Kovach by Time-Life publications)
More than a great thinker, Dr. Kovach was also an acknowledged artist and was gifted and award winning in music as well. During his life he supported numerous charities, and his family recalls how he secretly helped feed Jews during the Nazi occupation of Hungary. That Kovach had the will to study Hebrew during those dark days under Hitler’s occupation speaks of his courage and character.
Francis Kovach had 7 children, two of whom died toward the end of WWII. This took place as he and his family crossed the German lines heading west toward the Allied sector in 1945, fleeing as the Soviet troops were bringing decades of Communism in their wake to Eastern Europe. Kovach spent years in a refugee camp in Germany where he helped organize and run a school with his wife, Elizabeth, before he was able to come to America with his family in the early 1950s. Like so many immigrants, they came to the U.S. with a single trunk holding all they owned. Though a teacher in Europe, he humbly toiled for some time in the cold winters of Minnesota - inside and out - at various jobs like shoveling snow and being an orderly, until he would finally get the opportunity to teach once again.
Dr. Francis Joseph Kovach was born in Budapest, Hungary July 19, 1918 to Anna Roch and Joseph Kovacs. He completed his undergraduate and graduate studies at Pazámány Péter University of Budapest, Hungary. He was the first student to graduate summa cum laude at the Albertus Magnus University of Cologne, West Germany, and was awarded the Ph.D. in Philosophy. Dr. Kovach taught at 3 American Catholic Colleges from 1953-1964, including Villanova University, before he came to the University of Oklahoma and taught for 24 years until his retirement in 1988.
When the Catholic Church was going through the gut-wrenching challenges of the post Vatican II era, Dr. Kovach and his wife stood for orthodoxy, publicly and privately. His powerful voice filled classrooms at O.U. and elsewhere. He was known for being able to address hundreds of students clearly without a microphone. He taught thousands of students in various Catholic colleges and the University of Oklahoma during his teaching career, many of whom have since gone on and had fine careers as philosophers in their own right.
Kovach’s areas of specialty were mediaeval metaphysics, philosophy of beauty and art, philosophy of science and ethics. He was an internationally respected expert on St. Thomas Aquinas. He was fluent in 9 languages, including ancient Greek, Latin and Hebrew, as well as English, German, French, Italian, Portuguese and his native Hungarian.
Like all men, Kovach had his faults and weaknesses. But as his son L. A.
"Tony" said, "That he struggled heroically against the wounds of his soul in cooperating with God’s grace is what allowed him to do so much with his life - it is what made my father a treasure in clay."
Among his many accomplishments, he won an award in a national contest in 1958 for his original composition of an "Ave Maria." He and his wife also headed a school for Hungarian refugees in Germany for two years. He was an accomplished artist, with his works displayed in the National Museum in Hungary. He enjoyed writing music, listening to classical music, playing chess, drawing and travel in the U.S. and abroad.
He married Elizabeth Thököly in 1941 in Hungary. In 1951 he came to the United States with his wife and their two children. He was proud to become a naturalized citizen in 1957.
He is survived a brother Vincent Paul Kovach of Budapest, Hungary and a sister Maria Taiko of Dorog, Hungary, and by five of his children, Elizabeth Cowan of Dallas, TX., his son Ákos of Stillwater, his son Leslie Anthony "Tony" of Houston, TX, his daughter Ági Lurtz of Norman, his son Tom of Norman, along with 10 grand children, and 7 great-grand children.
He was preceded in death by his parents, his wife Elizabeth in 1988, an infant son Francis and a daughter Máriá and his brother Tibor Kovacs. The funeral Mass was held at St. Joseph’s Church in Norman, OK Saturday September 28, at 11 AM.
Sample comments from colleagues, that have been received...
Francis Kovach was a respected colleague (he was always a colleague, even after he retired) and, more important, a treasured friend for nearly forty years. His passing is a sharp grief to me.
Dr. Laura [Schleschinger] says that we don't need more smart people; we
need more good people. Francis Kovach demonstrated by his life--the most
convincing way possible--that being smart and being good are not mutually
exclusive: He was both. He knew what he believed, and he was fearless in
declaring and defending his beliefs. Within the past three weeks, I
described him to one of my newer colleagues this way: "No one ever accused
Francis Kovach of temporizing or equivocating."
With sympathy and a prayer that God will comfort you in your grief,
Dr. Kenneth Merrill, PhD
Your father (Dr. Kovach) is as kind and as humble as he has been brilliant and so
faithful to the Divine Wisdom. I personally believe that he was better
than almost every living philosopher: even better in many ways than Gilson
and Maritain. I will always tell colleagues to "Go to Francis" even as I now
ask you to tell your father to "Go to Joseph" (Patron of a Happy and Holy
Passing to Our Blessed Lord and His Loving Mother...).
For the sake of many,
I also pray that his way of Catholic learning and teaching rises for the many
over time. So few saw what he saw in Philosophy - I look to his own celestially
written "Action-at-a-distance..."! I met him but once: I will always remember...
with heartfelt sympathy in Christ,
MAY DR. FRANCIS J. KOVACH REST IN PEACE
| Information on Dr. Kovach's final book, "SCHOLASTIC CHALLENGES" |
Visit again for more photos and commentary for this tribute to Dr. Kovach in the future.
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