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He saw his former archbishop beatified

By Dolores Madlener | Staff writer
Sunday, July 31, 2011

Father Robert Lojek, with only a year at St. William Parish, has been proactive in increasing parish attendance by adding a Polish Mass. He also enjoys getting to know the people of the community such as Diana Chudzik. (Julie Jaidinger / Catholic New World)

He is: Father Robert Lojek, 39. Ordained in 2003 after graduating from St. Mary of the Lake Seminary. Marking first anniversary as pastor of St. William Parish on the North Side.

Early years: “I was born and raised in a village in the south of Poland, the Highlander area, close to Zakopane and the Tatra mountains. My married sister and my parents still live on a farm in the same village. Father worked in a shoe factory, but before that and now in retirement, they still live and work the farm.”

What about Pope John Paul II? “Karol Wojtyla was archbishop of our diocese of Krakow! I was in kindergarten when he became pope. It was a joyful shock for us, living under the Communists and the dictates of Moscow. There were only public schools to attend. We went for religion classes to the rectory or in people’s houses. The faith was very strong, and it still is, even now in that area of Poland. Many religious vocations come from there.

“I was in Rome for the beatification of Blessed Pope John Paul II on May 1 this year. I led an 11-day pilgrimage with 43 people from St. William and other parishes in our archdiocese. It was a powerful and touching moment to be in St. Peter’s Square for the High Mass with a million people from all over the world praying quietly.”

Thoughts of priesthood: “Maybe after my first Holy Communion and as an altar boy I wanted to be a priest, but as a teenager I felt differently. Then came the Solidarity Movement in 1980 and I questioned what I wanted to do with my future. The August 1991 visit of John Paul II for World Youth Day in Czestochowa was really touching and moving for me. My thoughts of a priestly vocation returned and when I was 21 or 22 I went to the college seminary.”

America: “In my first year of philosophy a priest visited from SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Mich., and talked about the need for Polish priests in the United States. You had to finish your third year to be eligible. I was excited about the prospect and wanted to serve the sacramental life of Polonia in America. My parents were concerned for me, but I was open to come here and minister.

“Aug. 24, 1997 I came to Orchard Lake. After a year I transferred to Mundelein. I lived at St. William’s in 1999 to learn English at Concordia University.” After ordination in 2003 he was assigned to St. Richard, then St. Constance for six years, and became pastor of St. William a year ago.

Nurturing vocations: “First, prayer is very important for your own vocation. I try to talk to young people about priesthood and preach by example. Sharing your vocation story with them is another way. On Good Shepherd Sunday I told my story at all my Masses. I belong to a support group with other Polish priests. We come together about three times a year to pray the rosary and the liturgy of the hours. I also belong to “PAPA” – the Polish American Priests’ Association, for priests in America of Polish ancestry. We meet together to help each other strengthen our ministry.”

Leisure: “A couple years ago I tried to play golf, OK? It’s not for me! I enjoy traveling or shopping – meeting some friends at the mall for lunch or go to the movies. I drive up to Mundelein to relax, or to Marytown, or Merrillville, Ind. to the monastery there for a day in prayer or to spend time with friends.” Since there is no rectory chef he practices cooking 101 by opening a jar of Prego sauce over his spaghetti for dinner.

Books and music: “I just finished the ‘Confessions’ of St. Augustine. It’s very good. I read it again every couple of years because it’s so powerful. I enjoy Pope John Paul II’s books and just finished Pope Benedict’s ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ This summer I’ll try and read Volume II. In the evening after meetings, there’s not a better way to relax than listening to Chopin.”

Favorite saint: “St. Robert Bellarmine, my patron. Why? As an archbishop and priest he was always available for his people who needed help.”