During his early childhood he was pagan, but he was baptized around the age of 10, together with his father, who was the chief of the Magyar people. This was a group who migrated to the Danube area a little over a hundred years before. When young Stephen was 20 years old, he married Gisela, who was from a powerful and influential family. After the death of his father, Stephen became the leader of his people, and did all he could to turn his people into a Christian people. He put down a series of revolts by pagan nobles and through the banishment of paganism, and the establishment of the Church, Stephen made the Magyars into a strong national group. He asked the pope to send more clergy so that the Church could become more organized throughout Hungary, and he also made the request that the pope confer the title of king upon him – not because he wanted the honor for himself, but because he knew his people needed the dignity of being ruled by a Christian king, rather than just a leader with no title. He was crowned on Christmas day in 1001.
Stephen established a system of support for the local churches and priests, and he worked very hard to bring people out of poverty. Out of every 10 towns, one had to build a church and support a priest. He abolished pagan customs, and urged all his subjects to marry, except clergy and religious, because he knew that strong families make a strong society. He was easily accessible to all, especially the poor.
He had hoped that his son Emeric would succeed him as king, but in 1031 Emeric died, and the rest of King Stephen’s days were made very difficult by controversy over who should succeed him as king. His pagan nephews even attempted to kill him. King St. Stephen died in 1038. As he was dying, with his right hand he raised up the Holy Crown of Hungary, and prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary, asking her to take the Hungarian people as her subjects and to become their queen. After his death, people made pilgrimages to his tomb, where many miracles were recorded, and soon he was canonized – the first king to be venerated as a confessor and saint of the Church.
Grant thy Church, we pray, Almighty God: that she may have Saint Stephen of Hungary, who fostered her growth while a king on earth, as her glorious defender in heaven; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
The Crown of St. Stephen.