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Father Haigli, Mater Dei Teacher, Dies : Priest Fled Hungary, Headed Physics Dept. at Santa Ana School

Times Staff Writer

Funeral services will be held Friday for Father Siard A. Haigli, a Roman Catholic priest who escaped from Hungary during Communist persecution in 1950, then later taught physics at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, from which he retired in 1984.

Haigli, 72, who died Wednesday from the effects of a stroke suffered in 1985, was one of seven priests from the Norbertine Order who decided to flee Hungary after the Soviets invaded and ordered them to surrender their schools to the government, said Father Ladislas Parker, who joined Haigli in the escape.

Parker, abbot at St. Michael’s Abbey northeast of El Toro, said the seven followed their abbot’s orders to flee Csorna, Hungary, in July, 1950, and with the help of a demolitions expert traveled to the Austrian border.

Once there, the demolitions expert “dismantled three mines,” and the priests cut and crawled under barbed wire fences to Neusiedler Lake, which they swam across and eventually made their way to Vienna and freedom. The seven came to Wisconsin a year later, and Haigli taught mathematics at St. Norbert College in DePere.

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The group moved to Santa Ana in 1957 and lived in the Mater Dei Residence of Norbertine Fathers at Bristol and Bishop streets while teaching at the Catholic high school. Haigli headed the school’s physics department, into which only the best students were permitted, said Parker, who described Haigli as a “very strict, demanding teacher” who won the respect of his students.

During his time in Santa Ana, the priests built and opened a novitiate and junior seminary high school northeast of El Toro that became St. Michael’s Abbey, where he taught part-time after his retirement from Mater Dei. The Norbertine Order grew from the original seven refugee priests to 22 priests and 27 seminarians, Parker said.

Haigli taught until he suffered a stroke in February, 1985. Parker said the stroke left him partially disabled so that he could only nod “yes” or “no” and give his blessing to friends.

He suffered the stroke while working in the greenhouse at the Mater Dei residence, Parker added, noting that Haigli’s favorite pastime was gardening. “His roses were so famous around the residence and among the faculty,” he said. “People would stop and stare at them.”

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Services will be held at St. Anne’s Church, 1344 S. Main St. in Santa Ana, Friday at 8:30 p.m. Mass is scheduled for Saturday at 11 a.m. at St. Michael’s Abbey, 19292 El Toro Road, northeast of El Toro, followed by interment at Ascension Cemetery, 24754 Trabuco Road in El Toro.

Haigli is survived by a nephew, Frank Bodo of Santa Ana, and a cousin, Francis Szabo of La Habra.


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