For Auxiliary Bishop Witold Mroziewski, 49, his appointment is another opportunity to serve the diocese he has loved for almost his entire priestly life.
“It is a great surprise for me from the Holy Father,” said the Polish priest. “It is a great responsibility to care for God’s people.”
When the appointment was announced May 19, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio described him as “a parish priest who, at heart a missionary, is pouring himself out for others.”
His devotion to the diocese, along with the opinions of relatives and parishioners reaffirmed this description.
Bishop Mroziewski was born on March 25, 1966 to Waclawa Jablonska and the late Jan Edmund Mroziewski in Augustow, Poland.
He said the awakening of his vocation took place within the family.
“Vocation comes from prayer; individual prayer and the family prayer life,” he said. “My family has a strong devotion to the rosary, the Blessed Mother and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. … Also daily prayer took place at our home in the morning and at night.”
With the nearest church being more than 15 miles away, the whole village would live their faith as a community.
“People from the village used to come to one of the family houses to pray together,” he recalled. “Another moment that caused an impact in my vocation took place when the government gave the permission to build a church in our village.”
Through faith and hard work, villagers of Kolnica built a beautiful church in the 1980s. The village also yielded several vocations to the priestly and religious life.
“From that small village of 80 houses, I have five colleagues, if you will, who became nuns. And from the same village, after the Second World War, there were four priests ordained,” he said.
He decided to enter the seminary after finishing high school. Although his parents were not enthusiastic at first, they told him that they would support his decision, he recalled. While in the seminary, he realized that a vocation – however strong or weak – needs to be cultivated through prayer and obedience in order to persevere.
He listed holy men as examples of dedication to God’s people.
“As a Pole, a great influence came from Pope John Paul II,” he said.
Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko, a priest who was murdered by communists in 1984, also was an inspiration. A young Witold participated in his funeral Mass a year before becoming a seminarian.
“He fought for the truth,” Bishop Mroziewski added. “He said that the truth will make you free – like Pope John Paul II. We grew up on those sentences.”
After joining the seminary, he earned a master’s in theology from the Catholic University in Lublin, Poland, in 1991. Bishop Juliusz Paetz ordained him a priest at the Cathedral of Lomza on June 29, 1991. He served as a parochial vicar at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Kadzidlo.
Witold Mroziewski as a 6-month-old baby with his parents Waclawa Jablonska and Jan Edmund Mroziewski in Poland.
Embracing the Unexpected
In 1992, he was informed that the Diocese of Brooklyn needed a priest from Poland for a canonical contract of five years.
“And my former bishop said, ‘We decided to send you there,’” he recalled.
Father Mroziewski traveled to minister to Poles in New York at the beginning of 1993. It all happened so quickly that the priest – who knows a bit of French, Italian and Russian in addition to Polish – did not have time to learn English before his trip.
“My personal experience is that Brooklyn is a wonderful place,” he said. “I received a great welcome by the priests and the laity. They became my teachers, all of them. The priests taught me how to be a parish priest and to build up relationships with the Polish Americans and representatives of the other ethnic groups.”
He became a parochial vicar at Our Lady of Czestochowa-St. Casimir, Sunset Park, in 1993, and served as pastor there from 2000 to 2013.
Soon, he was learning “not from school but from the great example of people in the diocese” and he found himself at home.
He was incardinated in the Diocese of Brooklyn in 2001. He returned to the Catholic University in Lublin, Poland, and earned a master’s in canon law in 2001 and a doctorate in canon law in 2003.
He currently serves as pastor of Holy Cross parish, Maspeth, since 2013. In addition to his parish work, he has been an associate promoter of justice on the Diocesan Tribunal since 2009, and the defender of the bond on The Tribunal since 2013.
Ministering to People
He shared that the Polish community is rejoicing because they have somebody who represents them in the local church’s hierarchy, but is quick to add that he will be a bishop for all of the faithful.
“I will be ordained as a bishop for the universal church, particularly for the Diocese of Brooklyn and that is a diocese with many ethnicities,” he said. “Those ethnicities form something like a mosaic or a stained-glass window in the church with many elements, one of the elements of that mosaic or stained glass is the Polish culture.”
Though his assignments have taken place at parishes with a great population of Polish immigrants and Polish Americans, Bishop Mroziewski explains that he ministers to people from around the world.
At Our Lady of Czestochowa, he met people from different nationalities and saw “their way of life, which is the way of the faith.” Just like the Polish people bring certain devotions and traditions, so do Spanish-speaking people, Filipinos, Haitians and others, he said.
“With the ethnicities, we see the richness of faith and it is a great gift,” he added. “For example, we have this great sign in the Co-Cathedral (St. Joseph’s) of the images of the Madonnas. That is something unique coming from different places, but has one final thought: living our faith.”
A moment that touched him was when a couple from Haiti – who lived in East New York but attended Mass at Our Lady of Czestochowa – wanted to get married on the feast of that Madonna.
“After their prenuptial investigation, I said, ‘You are immigrants like I am. You are from Haiti, your parents are from there and maybe they can find some Haitian priest who would come to bless your marriage,’” he recalled. “They said, ‘No, no, Father, you are our priest.’ That was amazing and so thoughtful and it comes from that way of faith.”
Another moment when he felt welcomed was when one of the families from the Polish immigrant community came for his anniversary of the priesthood and said, “Father you have been with us for the burial of our parents, for our marriage, for the baptism of our children and right now you are part of our family.”
Father Mroziewski accepting offertory gifts from a First Communicant at St. Matthias Church, Ridgewood, one week after being named a bishop.
Father Mroziewski at a Polish camp in Pennsylvania shaking hands with Peter Zarzecki, of Our Lady of Czestochowa.
Father Mroziewski poses after unveiling the official street sign declaring the block on which Holy Cross Church stands as Pope John Paul II Way.
Shepherd to Others
Richard Wisniewski, president of the Golden Age Club at Holy Cross, said Bishop Mroziewski always makes time for others.
“People will stop him when he is walking back to the sacristy (after greeting people at the end of Mass), and he would always stop and console or answer them in whatever way they need,” Wisniewski said. “And I have yet to see him say ‘Sorry, I can’t do this right now.’ He is always there for the parishioners.”
“He is a people’s person, a servant of the people of God,” said Teresa Ornas, lay ecclesial minister at Holy Cross.
Parishioners see him as a great leader who guides parishioners to Christ by his encouragement.
“He has respect for cooperative leadership and lets people express their individual charisms of service,” she added.
The bishop also takes special care to make sure the church is in good condition and has worked on several renovation projects at his parishes.
One time, he was working on outdoor repairs at Our Lady of Czestochowa parish, not wearing his priestly garments, when several seminarians from SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary, a private Polish seminary in Orchard Lake, Mich., visited the church. The seminarians introduced themselves to another priest thinking he was the pastor.
“It was a surprise but good for them to see the pastor working with the laity,” the bishop said with a laugh.
At Holy Cross, he has worked to physically maintain the 100-year-old parish. He renovated the rectory, the sacristy and is now working on the floor and stairs of the church. He believes the altar is the most important part and it should be in perfect condition.
“He is so good at knowing what people need spiritually and what they need materially,” said Father Dariusz Blicharz, parochial vicar at Holy Cross.
“He rolls back his sleeves, carrying stuff, helping with a ladder. He is totally involved even in physical labor,” said Maria Bielski, Senior Scout Mistress at Our Lady of Czestochowa, who has worked with Bishop Mroziewski for more than 20 years. “That is why we are so elated; he is a wonderful person.”
He has been active in supporting the troops of the Polish Scouting Organization at Our Lady of Czestochowa and Holy Cross.
Bielski added that for 18 years, Bishop Mroziewski has visited their annual summer children’s camp in Pennsylvania, always bringing Polish treats for the kids.
“Today, he arrived unexpectedly and the kids were overjoyed to see him. The young people from his former parish had a wonderful rapport with him,” she said in an interview on July 1. “He is much loved by everyone.”
Marek Mroziewski, the bishop’s nephew recalls when he came to the U.S. with his family in 2001 and Father Mroziewski received them with open arms.
“We would see him helping other people and working in the congregation. His work is the best way to describe the kind of person he is,” Marek said. Like everybody else, he wishes the best to his uncle. “This is life changing for him,” he said. “He is also a humorous person. That will help him, especially when dealing with difficult situations.”
Those who have worked with him also talk about his positive and calm demeanor.
“Lectors and people in the sacristy tell me, ‘We never felt so comfortable,’” Ornas said. “People are more willing to serve and volunteer their time. He is truly a shepherd to us.”
“He is very intelligent, he has all these degrees and studies. Yet he is always easy to relate to,” she added. “And every time somebody meets him for the first time, he goes out of his way to greet them and tell them the parish is open to welcome them.”
He also does things on the spur of the moment, sometimes deciding to add a certain chant during a special Marian devotion and encouraging people to do what they think is best. And although sometimes he looks serious, he has a keen sense of humor.
“He would say something and you ask ‘Is that a joke?’ and he has this little grin and his eyes kind of light up and then you know that he is teasing you,” Ornas said.
Wisniewski, who also worked with the bishop as the chairman of Holy Cross’ parish council, recalled his unassuming, can-do attitude at the ceremony when 56th Road was renamed to be John Paul II Way in 2014.
“There was a cover on the street sign and we were supposed to pull the string for it to come off, but the string did not work. So Father Witold, being tall, climbed a small ladder and picked it off himself.”
Ready to Serve
Bishop Mroziewski said that he will do his best to help Bishop DiMarzio and the other bishops in ministering to the needs of the diocese’s 1.5 million Catholics. He also hopes to continue serving the diocese as he has done for the past 22 years.
He focuses on New Evangelization efforts and vocation committees, which support through prayer the seminarians in the diocese.
“I hope that we will have more vocations to the priesthood, the religious life and to the permanent diaconate,” he said.
Other ministerial interests include facilitating retreats, meetings with young adults, working with children and planning events that focus on family life.
“These areas are the future of the Church,” he said. “I like to organize retreats for the young adults, even some liturgical gatherings for the children once or twice a year. It is good for communities and also for strengthening family life.”
Father Blicharz added that the appointment is a great thing for everybody in the diocese, “Especially now, thinking about the pope’s decisions about these bishops and the other bishops of the world, there are shepherds of the people.”
Bishop’s motto “Parare Vias Domini” or “Prepare the Ways of the Lord,” describes what he wants his episcopacy to be like. After prayer and reflection, he selected this motto “because all our lives are lives of preparing the way, not for ourselves, but for Him.”