Orchard Lake Schools’ Chancellor Installation
Fr. Tom’s Homily
Delivered Sunday, February 19, 2012
Your Eminence, Cardinal Szoka, Your Grace, Archbishop Vigneron, Reverend Monsignor Peter Vaccari, representative of my Bishop, Bishop DiMarzio, Reverend Monsignori and Fathers, Esteemed Sisters, Your Excellency, Zygmunt Matynia, Consul General of the Republic of Poland, members of the Knights of Columbus, Members of the Equestrian Order of the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchere of Jerusalem, Members of the Board of Regents, Chancellor’s Senate and Ambassadors, Beloved Seminarians, Dear Faculty, Students, Staff, Friends, My Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,
In today’s Gospel the paralytic man and his friends approached Jesus with great faith and hope but also with great humility. They knew that Jesus was their only hope; they knew He was the one who would answer their prayers and fulfill their request.
Today, with that same sense of hope and faith and with great humility I stand before God and His Church as I assume the role of Chancellor of The Orchard Lake Schools, of becoming the Eleventh Successor to the founder of the Orchard Lake Schools, Father Joseph Dąbrowski and the Third Chancellor of these institutions that have played and continue to play an important role in Polonia and the Church in the United States. Like that paralytic man and his friends in today’s Gospel I too know that Jesus is my hope and it is this knowledge that strengthens me as I accept the obligations and responsibilities of this office. Almost forty years ago, on Labor Day 1973, I arrived on the campus as a thirteen year old far from home and family. Little did I realize then that one day I would be called upon to serve as successor of Father Joseph Dąbrowski. I never imagined that I would be successor to two priests that I met shortly after my arrival- the then Fathers Ziemba and Milewski. I never imagined that my name would be added to the list of priests who are legends in the history of these schools- some who have gone onto their eternal reward like Monsignors Jasinski and Peszkowski, Fathers Rozak, Skrocki, Zebrowski, Buszek, Torzala, Czopp, Werenski, Wotta, Rackoczy and Swastek; and others who still, thank God are with us, like Monsignors Piorkowski and Koper and Fathers Skindeleski, Zamorski, Borowski, Janiga, Chrobot, and Ruskowski.
127 years after its founding I now stand at the helm leading these schools into the 21st century. Much has changed in these 127 years but much has also remained the same.
On March 27, 1884, The Michigan Catholic published an article concerning the establishment of the Polish seminary. It stated: “…[this project] if successfully carried out will prove a great blessing to the Polish Catholics of this country…”. The article went on to state: “…there seems to be no reason why Father Dombrowski’s efforts should fail to meet with success since the institution is the first of its kind.”
For 127 years, Father Dąbrowski’s vision and dream have been successfully carried out. Today, I stand before God and all here assembled and pledge that I will continue to make the vision and dream of Father Dąbrowski a reality and I he recalls but the victories and defeats that will devote all my energy to doing so.
In a monumental work by a great historian who was especially knowledgeable about Polish-American history, Father Joseph Swastek, entitled The Formative Years of the Polish Seminary in the United States one can read about the victories and defeats that Father Dąbrowski experienced in his quest to make his vision and dream a reality. There were those who wholeheartedly and enthusiastically supported him and there were those who were naysayers. Sometimes his name and reputation were dragged through the mud. Yet, Father Dąbrowski moved forward because he knew that Jesus was his hope and he was convinced that he was doing the will of God. 127 years later, there are still some who do not see the need for an institution such as ours to exist or others who think that we will soon go the way of the dinosaur. But I and countless others know that Orchard lake is needed more now than ever.
Our beloved countryman, Blessed John Paul II, after his election to the Throne of Peter said to a delegation of priest- faculty members from Orchard Lake who traveled to Rome for his installation, the following: “If The Orchard Lake Schools did not exist, it would be necessary to create them.” Fill Orchard Lake! Sustain Orchard Lake! The Pope needs Orchard Lake!” I pledge myself today to fill Orchard Lake and to sustain Orchard Lake. I will do all in my power to make sure it flourishes for years to come and for the next generation. However, I cannot do it alone. I beg you please support me by your prayers!
In an article published in The Detroit Free Press on July 23, 1885- the day after the cornerstone of the seminary was laid- Father Dąbrowski was quoted as saying: “I deem the building of this seminary more necessary than the building of expensive churches.” It was a shocking and scandalous statement for some who heard him say it or who read it in the newspaper. But Father Dąbrowski being a man of vision knew what he was saying. He knew that without priests there would be no Eucharist and without the Eucharist there would be no need for all these huge, expensive churches. He wanted those who heard him or read his words to understand how necessary the seminary was. 127 years later the necessity continues. Times have changed, the world has changed, and the Church has changed. We in 2012 are not concerned about building churches but rather our bishops are faced with painful, heart wrenching decisions about merging and closing parishes due to demographic shifts and the lack of priests. The reality of “now” proves that Father Dąbrowski’s words spoken long ago still ring true. Orchard Lake still prepares men for the priesthood. The young men presently in our seminary- 26 from Poland and one from Mexico- have left behind family, friends, and homeland to answer the Lord’s call to follow Him and to also be missionaries to the Church in the United States. Yes, the continuation of this seminary, which is the heart of the Orchard Lake Schools, is a necessity. To paraphrase Blessed John Paul II – Polonia in the United States needs the seminary! The Church in the United States needs the seminary!
Although Father Dąbrowski’s initial vision was of a seminary it soon developed and a college and high school became part of the plan. At first, these were linked with the seminary. But along the way Father Dąbrowski accepted the fact that not every student that passed through his institution was indeed called to serve as a priest. He knew that Polonia would need educated leaders with a solid Catholic foundation. St. Mary’s College-from which I graduated in 1980- prepared men and then from 1972 on women for leadership roles in the community and Church. Unfortunately, for many reasons the college closed its doors in 2003. However, the void was filled when Madonna University opened a satellite campus at the college. The Felician Sisters who run Madonna University are closely linked to Orchard Lake because Father Dąbrowski our founder was the force behind bringing the Felician Sisters from Poland to help him and the other Polish priests in the United States to minister to the needs of the growing Polish community.
Eventually, the high school went from being a high school seminary to being a solid Catholic college preparatory- St. Mary’s Prep- from which I am a proud graduate of the Class of 1976. Our high school has become renowned for its academic excellence and athletic prowess. The young men who attend St. Mary’s Prep are the best of the best. They are provided with a solid academic and Catholic foundation. Father Dąbrowski would be or should I say is proud as he smiles down upon us.
Recently, a number of students from China have begun to attend the Prep. I believe Father Dąbrowski would approve of this because he was a man of vision. One of the first things he did after arriving in the United States was to learn English. He then, especially while working in Wisconsin, learned various Native American dialects. He then prepared dictionaries of the various dialects and Polish. After completing that task he translated the catechism into the various dialects to evangelize the Native Americans. In that same spirit, the presence of these young men from China affords us a chance to evangelize by what we say and what we do. These young men come from a country where religion is frowned upon. Many have never heard about God. We have an opportunity to, in a concrete way, fulfill the mandate of Blessed John Paul II regarding the New Evangelization. In fact, one young man asked to take instructions last year and was baptized here in this chapel. This year, four more young men have approached me and asked to begin taking religious instructions. I am sure Father Dąbrowski is pleased with this missionary work at his schools.
I am committed to continue to do all I can to support the prep in its mission of providing young men with the “ moral guidance, discipline and education to become Christ-like models of service and leadership for the world” in an atmosphere founded upon our Polish-American heritage and legacy. I am so proud to be a son of St. Mary’s Prep!
Recently, The Polish Mission has been established on our campus to ensure the preservation of Polish language, history and culture and to safeguard the archives of Polonia. I am so proud to be a Polish-American. I am a fourth generation Polish –American but my Polish roots are an important part of my life. For most of the 27 years I have served as a priest in the Diocese of Brooklyn I have ministered in Polish parishes and in the Tribunal where I handled all Polish speaking cases.
I pledge to Polonia today that I will continue to work with you and for you. I pledge to work with all Polish-American organizations and the Polish media- press, radio and television- so that our heritage will be preserved and our so that others may come to appreciate our role in society and the Church in the United States.
Many times during campaigns candidates for office adopt a slogan that will mark their term of office if elected. Bishops choose a motto when they are consecrated and this motto reflects the focus of their episcopal ministry. At the outset of my term as Chancellor-Rector I too have chosen a motto that I hope I (and indeed all of us) will be able to fulfill during my term of office at Orchard Lake. I have chosen the words of the Blessed Mother spoken at the wedding feast in Cana- “Do whatever He tells you” (in Latin- “Quodcumque dixerit vobis facite”). (Contrary to what some people on the staff at Orchard Lake think the “he” in that motto does not refer to me!)
Together with the priests, faculty, seminarians, students, staff and friends of the Orchard Lake Schools I hope we always “Do whatever He tells us.”
I make these promises because in Jesus I, like the paralytic man and his friends in today’s Gospel, find my source of hope.
But know this too- I make these promises not out of a sense of obligation because I am soon to be installed as Chancellor. I make these promises to you out of love. I am a son of Orchard Lake! I have loved, I do love and I will always love Orchard Lake-my Alma Mater!
Here’s an archive of Press from the Installation: