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President Katalin Novák addresses students about faith and her public life at Campion on 25 October. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
President Katalin Novák addresses students about faith and her public life at Campion on 25 October. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“Build it, and they will come.”

Mere months after Campion College blessed its new academic centre and great hall, the college has enjoyed its first visit from a head of state: Hungarian president Katalin Novák.

President Novák visited Campion on 25 October to address students about her country’s unique pro-family policies, and the importance of faith in public and personal life.

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In 2010 her small country of 10 million, with a unique language spoken nowhere else on Earth, had the EU’s lowest fertility rate—just 1.2 children per couple.

“That was the moment when we said, ‘We have to do something about that.’ So we introduced a very strong family-oriented policy in Hungary,” President Novák said.

“We try to enable people of your age to have as many children as they want to, in the moment when they want to have these children.”

President Novák said her country wanted to address the reasons why young men and women were not having children, and then consider migration “as a tool to overcome our demographic difficulties.”

Hungary now spends around six per cent of its GDP on family welfare policies—more than twice as much as defence.

The more children a woman has, the less tax she pays.

“If you have at least four children, you don’t pay any personal income tax ever in your life, as a woman,” President Novák said, to excited gasps from the ladies of Campion’s student body.

Higher education loans are also reduced after each successive child, and are “totally written off” if a family has at least three children.

Housing subsidies, mortgage reductions, personal loans and other financial benefits tied to childbearing are also widely available.

President Novák, who was elected in 2021 after a career as a diplomat and government minister, said she was proud of her nation’s emphasis on “the importance of traditional family values,” including the definition in the Hungarian Constitution of marriage as the union between one man and one woman.

Her address linked the political with the personal, drawing on her own experience as a “well-educated, emancipated woman” to show how women are discouraged from making family a priority.

“When I graduated from university at the age of 24 I was eager to do something, eager to deliver, eager to prove I was capable, that I could be as good as any man around me,” the president said.

President Katalin Novák also spoke extensively about her Reformed Christian faith, encouraging the students to persist despite opposition from the mainstream culture. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
President Katalin Novák also spoke extensively about her Reformed Christian faith, encouraging the students to persist despite opposition from the mainstream culture. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“I got this message from all over, even from my mother, but nobody told me to have children, nobody told me to become a mother. Nobody told me I’d be much luckier if I first decided to make a family.”

She warned students against postponing family in favour of career, saying that despite having been elected in 2022 as Hungary’s first ever female president, she saw herself first and foremost as a wife, mother, and daughter.

“It’s always a little time, it’s always just one more project, always just some more money. Little by little, this postponing is happening. At the end of the day you might get there and realise it’s too late,” she said.

“I’ve heard from many people who, just before passing away, regretted not having one more child, or not spending enough time with their family.

“I’ve never heard about anyone regretting not signing one more contract, or not working one more day at the office.”

President Novák also spoke extensively about her Reformed Christian faith, encouraging the students to persist despite opposition from the mainstream culture.

“Sometimes you might feel lonely, or you might feel that the way you think about your families, or you think about faith, you might feel that is not the mainstream. I don’t encourage you to go with the mainstream, if it’s against your convictions,” she said.

In response to a question about the importance of Scripture in her life from Campion President Dr Paul Morrissey, President Novák revealed that she blocks out time each fortnight to attend a Bible study with parishioners at her church.

“All my colleagues are aware that this program is fixed,” she said, adding that if the president makes time to read Scripture each day she can set an example for others.

President Novák’s visit was attended by members of parliament, friends of the college and the broader community, but the focus was squarely on the students and their questions.

Many were able to meet her following official proceedings.

Dr Morrisey concluded the landmark event in the college’s history by saying President Novák was “in some very real ways” the successor of the sainted 10th century king, St Stephen I, describing her as a “great witness.”

“You’ve managed to integrate being Christian in a serious public office, which is a tremendous inspiration to us—for everyone here, but particularly for our students,” Dr Morrisey said.

“We commit ourselves to pray through St Stephen’s intercession for your role.”

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