During the rehearsal for my wife’s wedding back in 1981 (I learned early on it was her wedding, I was just an attendee) the priest shook his head and walked over to my best man (a county judge with an Irish last name) and then me.
The priest informed us quietly, in his Irish brogue, that we were what he called Roaming Catholics. We had roamed so far from the church that we no longer even knew when to kneel or stand during mass.
He had a point. Before and after my marriage, about the only time I attended Mass was for a wedding or a funeral, both usually involving cops.
Then in late 2005, just before we moved back to St. Louis from the Washington, D.C. area, I read and followed with interest the story of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church.
Polish brewery workers on the near north side of St. Louis had requested a parish of their own in 1878. The Archdiocese refused to fund a church for them, but gave workers permission to fund and build their own church, which they did. The Archdiocese provided a priest for St. Stanislaus.
Years later, St. Stans was no longer just a neighborhood church. Instead, it drew Poles from throughout the metropolitan area.
Then, beginning in 2003, the Archdiocese tried to take control of the St. Stan property, and the church from the parish and board of directors. In 2004, under Archbishop Raymond Burke, the Archdiocese withdrew the priest assigned to St. Stans.
So in late 2005, the church board hired a young Polish priest, Marek Bozek who was ordained by the Catholic Church and working in the Springfield diocese. The first mass in almost two years was heard to an overflow crowd on Christmas Eve 2005.
The Archdiocese reacted by suspending Bozek. He was then defrocked (also known as laicized) and finally excommunicated from the church.
When Christmas 2006 rolled around, my wife and I had moved back to St. Louis. On the spur of the moment on Christmas Day, we decided to go to church at St. Stanislaus. The Mass was at 10 that morning. We arrived at 9:15 to walk around and see the church.
We were barely out of our car when a parishioner walked up to us, asked if it was the first time we had been to St. Stans and when we said yes, were given a 30-minute tour of the church along with a history lesson.
While I have always liked Marek Bozek, I also felt that whatever the Catholic Church did to him was hard to argue with since, he signed up to play by their rules.
I did think it was worth noting that the Archdiocese really turned up the heat on the board of directors of St. Stan in 2005, after Pope John Paul II died. As a Cardinal, the Polish John Paul II had said Mass at St. Stanislaus. You can't imagine he would miss going to a church made up of Polish-Americans on his visit here.
But the one thing that really got to me was when Archbishop Raymond Burke excommunicated the church’s board of directors.
These people for the most part were older. Some were retired and most were grandparents. They had all brought up their kids in the Catholic faith. And then they were kicked out over a property dispute.
Now Bozek wasn’t following the rules, or if you will, the chain of command. But the church directors were following the wishes of the parishioners by doing such things as making sure the checking account balanced and that the twice-annual Polish Heritage Festivals went off without a hitch.
To continue as a priest, Bozek was then forced to join a breakaway faction of the Catholic Church. He became even more controversial. He was seen in the crowd at a reformed Jewish Synagogue where two women were ordained as priests by the faction. Bozek also called for openly gay inclusion in the church. (This caused some parishioners to leave St. Stans. I thought Bozek might have been better off fighting one battle at a time.)
On Sundays, Bozek holds an English Mass followed by one in Polish. For Christmas and Easter, he does one Mass where he repeats everything he says in Polish.
There are two particularly memorable services at St. Stans from the few I have attended in the past six years. One was on Palm Sunday, when Bozek used a hand puppet that was a Cardinal to help him with his sermon. The redbird, in a high pitched voice, would ask Bozek questions that he would elaborate on for his sermon. At the end, he told everyone to be sure to spread the word about the day a Cardinal gave part of the sermon at St. Stanislaus.
The other memorable moment was last Christmas Eve. Bozek had been waiting since March for the verdict in a civil trial heard in St. Louis County Circuit Court over who owned St. Stans—the parishioners or the Archdiocese?
The Board of St. Stanislaus had been sued by the Archdiocese for control of the church. If St. Stanislaus lost, Bozek would no longer have a job.
Fr. Bozek began the service by taking a camera from his pocket, and taking photos of the faithful filling the pews. He said he wanted some photos for his scrapbook.
On March 15 this year, Judge Bryan Hettenbach finally issued the court's verdict. It was in favor of St. Stanislaus:
"The Archbishop may own the souls of wayward St. Stanislaus parishioners, but the St. Stanislaus Parish Corporation owns its own property," Hettenbach wrote.