St. Hedwig’s Parish in Wilmington has been the spiritual home of Polish Catholics in the Diocese of Wilmington for many years. The pastor, Father Andrew Molewski, is a native of Poland who has led the parish since 1998, giving it a taste of the homeland.
His newest brings a bit more of Europe to the mid-Atlantic. Father Tomasz Pietrzak, a member of the Society of Christ in America, is also from Poland — from Poznan, as a matter of fact, like Father Molewski — and is happy to be in Wilmington.
His religious order is dedicated to ministering to Polish expatriates around the world. It is based in Lombard, Ill., where Father Pietrzak had worked from 2016 until arriving in Delaware in October. One of Father Molewski’s brothers is a priest in that order, but that is not how Father Pietrzak found St. Hedwig’s.
“My superior from my religious order, he connected with (Father Molewski) and told him about my work here in this parish (in Illinois),” he said. “So, I also know the brother of Father Andrew from Poland. One of his brothers is also in our religious order, the Society of Christ. But most important was the connection with the superior, Father Superior Jacek Walkiewicz, of the Society of Christ. He connected with Father Andrew and the bishop.”
At his previous assignment at Divine Mercy Polish Parish in Lombard, a weekend’s Masses would regularly attract 3,500 people from the large Polish population in nearby Chicago.
“It was big, big Masses and a lot of young families with children,” he said.
Father Pietrzak encountered Polish immigrants frequently in Chicago. “You can go to the shop and speak Polish.”
Wilmington has many more third- and fourth-generation Polish people, but Father Pietrzak, 42, likes being with them “and leading them to purer spirituality.” He likes to speak Polish with the young people he comes into contact with because he believes it’s important for people to know more than one language.
One of the things about St. Hedwig’s parishioners that has impressed him is the connection between the people and their parish. Another is the connection the parishioners have with their priests and their community.
“This is very important to create good circumstances for growth of relationship,” he said.
The parish has been very welcoming. “They are very, very nice to me. It’s a good parish and good parishioners. They are very open to me.”
He and Father Molewski both hail from the Poznan area of Poland, which helps their conversations. Different areas of the country have different ways of speaking.
“For example, when you are in New York and in Texas, there are little language changes,” he said. “We have the same kind of speaking of same words in Poland.”
Father Molewski has been in the United States for a long time, but that hasn’t impacted his abilities with his native tongue. “His Polish is perfect,” Father Pietrzak said.
Ordained in 2006, Father Pietrzak has various interests. He studied science in high school, and once he joined the Society of Christ, his seminary training focused on theology and philosophy. He did some graduate work in anthropology and psychology. He has studied the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits.
“We have to know many things because we need to explain many things. Sometimes, 20 years ago, the world was much easier,” he said.
He was a teacher in Poland in a public school, but the country has religious education for two hours during the week. He said he also worked in a prison for about four years. In Illinois, he led a group of charismatics.
He is a sports fan, and he likes to run. Before the weather cooled, he would run along the Brandywine River. He will try to visit some of the nearby attractions once the coronavirus pandemic is over, but he has plenty to keep him busy at St. Hedwig’s.
“Now this is a problem for traveling,” he said. “It is important for me to do work in this parish.”
He has a brother in Poland who is married and has four children. He normally goes back to his homeland once a year.
He said he celebrates Mass every Sunday in Polish. It is streamed live on Facebook, “Which is nice because people in Poland and from the other parish where I was, they want to see this Mass.
“Many, many people from Poland watch this Mass from the United States. I think it is important to be in social media. Of course, not everything. Maybe some kind of psychology or therapy, but not confessions.”