By Msgr. Thomas Machalski
The episcopal ordination of Bishop Witold Mroziewski is a time of great joy for all the faithful of the Diocese of Brooklyn but especially for the Polish community in the Diocese. Poles have had a presence in the diocese from its founding in 1853. In 1875, the first Polish parish – St. Casimir’s on Adelphi Street – was founded. However, this is the first time that a bishop of Polish ancestry had been named to serve in our diocese and we Poles are proud and thank God for this great gift!
In 1992, I was serving as administrator of the parish of Our Lady of Czestochowa-St. Casimir in the section of Brooklyn that the Polish community refers to as South Brooklyn. There were two other priests serving with me at the time. One of the priests became ill and had to spend a good bit of time away from the parish recuperating, and the other priest, a member of a religious community, was recalled to service in his community by his provincial superior. I relied on the assistance of the retired pastor of my home parish, the late Msgr. Edward Fus of Holy Cross, Maspeth, for weekend help. I had also asked Bishop Thomas V. Daily if I could make contact with bishops in Poland to see if they had a priest who they could send to work in the parish with me. He gave me permission to contact dioceses in Poland. A few days later, I was talking with two priest friends in the Diocese of Łomza, Poland who were the rector and vice-rector of the seminary. I told them about my situation and they immediately asked me if I wanted them to ask their bishop if he could help me. I thanked my friends for their desire to help me, and told them that would be great and that I would wait to hear from them.
Shortly after my friends offered me their assistance, they called to inform me that the bishop looked kindly on my request and that he was willing to send a very young, fairly newly ordained priest to assist me in the parish. The rector and vice-rector of the seminary assured me that he was a very fine young priest and that he would work out well in Brooklyn. Getting all the paperwork done to allow the priest to come to the U.S. took a while but he finally arrived in February, 1993. The young priest that had been sent by the Bishop of Łomza was Father Witold Mroziewski.
I only worked with Father Mroziewski for a few months in the parish before I was transferred to another assignment, but the short time we spent together gave me an insight into him. At first, he had a hard time due to the fact that when he arrived here he did not speak any English, so we had to send him to school so that he could learn the language. It was difficult but he never complained because he knew it was necessary if he was going to minister to God’s people in our diocese.
After I was transferred, we remained in close contact and chatted on the phone frequently. A few years later, I was assigned to work in the Tribunal full time. The number of cases that were presented to us in Polish was almost equal to those presented to us in Spanish. I was having a hard time keeping up with them so the Judicial Vicar, the then-Msgr. (now Bishop) Edward Scharfenberger, asked me if I knew any Polish priests who could assist us. I knew Father Mroziewski was studying canon law at the Catholic University of Lublin so I asked him if he could assist us at the Tribunal. Father Mroziewski readily agreed and together we worked on the majority of cases that were presented to the Tribunal by people who only spoke Polish. The opportunity to work with him in this important ministry showed me that he was a man who was compassionate and concerned about people’s spiritual well being.
During Father Mroziewski’s tenure as coordinator of the Polish Apostolate, I had the privilege of serving as secretary and chairman of our annual Diocesan Polish Heritage Mass. Working closely with him revealed his great organizational skills and his attention to detail.
Father Mroziewski Also has a great sense of humor! A few years ago, he and I were named Honorary Canons of Cathedral Chapters in Poland in the space of a few days – Father Mroziewski, the Chapter in the Diocese of Łomza, and I to the Archdiocesan Chapter in the Archdiocese of Lublin. We were congratulating each other in a phone conversation when we realized that the decrees of appointment for both of us were published on the same day – Oct. 28 – by the respective dioceses.
Father Mroziewski said to me: “Tom, October 28 is the feast day of St. Jude. Is there a message here? Are they trying to tell us that we are hopeless?” We both had a good hearty laugh.
Bishop Mroziewski’s appointment by our Holy Father is a great gift to the Church in Brooklyn and especially the Polish community in the diocese! He has chosen for us a shepherd who is compassionate, kind, and yes, at times funny! It is interesting to note that the bishop was born in 1966 when Poland celebrated the Millennium of Christianity and he becomes a bishop as we Poles prepare to celebrate the 1,050 anniversary of Christianity in Poland.
Ks. Biskupie! Jestesmy dumni! Bishop, you make us, especially your Polish brothers and sisters, very proud! Sto Lat! Plurimos Annos!
Msgr. Machalski is a Brooklyn priest who serves as rector of SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary, Orchard Lake, Mich.