Asheville couple shows lasting love despite war, separation
ASHEVILLE — "We are Hungarian refugees from the Second World War," Mary Zichy begins, as she and her husband Tom tell their story. "We lived there with our families until about 1944 when Russian troops invaded." Long-time parishioners of St. Lawrence Basilica in Asheville, and married for almost 64 years, the Zichys survived a treacherous early courtship.
Tom and Mary Zichy each remember a comfortable home and lifestyle in their country before the Russian occupation, but their families had to make the difficult decision to leave Hungary. "My father feared for our family's safety," Mary recalls, "and he was concerned that our property would be seized as well." At the time, she was only 18 and had just completed school.
Her family ended up in Austria for a while and Tom ended up in Germany. They had been childhood pals separated by the war, but later reunited. Their courtship, as Tom jovially recalls, included an unorthodox and risky move. "When Germany and Austria separated again, you couldn't go anywhere. It was terrible," Tom recalls of the closed borders that separated him from Mary. He found a way, though.
"There was a building with a dam close to Salzburg," Tom remembers, "and I contacted someone there, and they helped me hide in a barrel on a small industrial train, and I was able to get over the border into Austria to see Mary." Despite the risky multiple trips, Tom was never caught. He remembers that he "barely fit into the barrel."
By the time Mary and Tom and their families emigrated to America, the two were married and had one child. Mary and her large family ultimately settled in Asheville. Her father struggled to find a job at first.
"He was very broken-hearted, you know. He left everything behind." She remembers as children that she and her siblings were glad to be in America, but there was still some homesickness. "You would think about that, but then you would get busy and you have your life going, and slowly you forget that. Not completely, but you do."
Despite the initial homesickness, Mary and Tom remember that the Asheville community was welcoming. They learned English from the newspaper and the radio, Mary says. They worked hard to fit in, and over time they built strong roots here. Mary's siblings moved north to look for jobs, but Tom found work as a draftsman for American Anka, a yarn factory founded by the Dutch, and he worked there 32 years until his retirement.
From the beginning, their faith played a vital role in their lives, and remains so. The Zichys joined St. Lawrence Basilica shortly after moving to Asheville in 1949. "The Basilica reminded us of the European churches," Mary says. They raised four children in the parish and celebrated several family sacramental events, the installment of many priests, and two major milestones – their 50th and 60th wedding anniversaries.
Their first child was born in Austria, and the other three in the Asheville area: Andrew, Bernadette, Charlie and Doris. "It's ABCD," Tom chuckles, referring to the way they were named. "But we stopped before E." They are also blessed with 13 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Through the years the couple has been active in various ministries in the parish, including the Altar Society, the choir, Adoration and ushering. Mary enjoys knitting and cross-stitching and still makes sweaters. Tom continued to design homes in early retirement. They each say their prayers and the rosary in their native tongue, a meaningful reminder of their heritage.
When asked about their remarkable life together, Mary says simply that they "get along, and we never fight." She credits their shared love for their children, their faith and each other.
— Beth Searles, correspondent
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FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy