Up Front and Personal

Change in Greenpoint Was a Hairy Situation

by Veronica Szczygiel

The Polish-American parish of St. Stanislaus Kotska Church in Greenpoint has radically changed almost overnight. I have attended Masses there often in my childhood, and I currently teach second-grade CCD religious education classes. But never have I seen the parish so vibrant and alive as it is today.
What was the cause for this positive change?  It came in the form of the pastor, who arrived three years ago. I took an immediate liking to Father Marek Sobczak, C.M., because of his long hair. I intuited that he was the type of priest who could think outside the box.
And indeed, his charm and spiritual fervor has imbibed the parish with a sense of belonging and energy that is stronger than ever before. He began a plethora of social activities that make the parishioners feel like a tight community. Every Saturday and Sunday from September to May, there is a flea market open to the public. Parishioners donate their gently used, unneeded items, and volunteers re-sell them at reasonable prices. All proceeds go directly to the parish, and in just this past year it profited $16,138.  This surely is recycling at its best.
Also happening every Sunday is the parish’s Kawiarnia or Café. Volunteers run the café and sell coffee, baked goods, and chocolate to parishioners. There are tables and chairs in the simply decorated space where friends and families can relax and catch up.  St. Stan’s priests always drop by for a snack, and conversation with their parishioners. This modest yet profound idea brings the community even closer, while simultaneously raising needed funds for the church.
Other types of activities include hosting guest speakers, selling religious items from the Holy Land, and organizing parish parties which honor the ordination anniversaries of the priests.  And on Sunday, July 24, Father Sobczak and his priests will be running a blessing of cars in honor of St. Christopher’s Feast Day.
These types of activities not only invigorate parish life but also unite the community in times of trouble.  When a parishioner was recently paralyzed in a tragic accident – and his wife is pregnant with their first child – the parish immediately rallied to support the family, not only financially, but also spiritually.  This support would not be as great if the parish hadn’t already felt like a family.
Of course, all these things don’t just happen with Father Sobczak alone. His ideas are buttressed and enacted by his fellow priests, by devoted volunteers, and by the vibrant parishioners themselves.
Today, Father Sobczak sports a shorter haircut.  But he is still the innovative thinker and doer as the long-haired priest I met years ago.
I personally can’t wait to see what more there is to come.