Sisters of Charity Hospital chaplain recalls Bishop Grosz's early life

Thu, Jan 22nd 2015 09:00 am
Bishop Edward M. Grosz is presented with flowers as he returns to celebrate Mass at his childhood parish, Assumption Church, on May 16, 1990.
Bishop Edward M. Grosz is presented with flowers as he returns to celebrate Mass at his childhood parish, Assumption Church, on May 16, 1990.

Bishop Edward M. Grosz, auxiliary bishop of Buffalo, celebrates the 25th anniversary of his episcopal ordination this month. In honor of Bishop Grosz, we are celebrating him all week with a series of stories about his ministry prior to his anniversary Mass Sunday, Feb. 1, at 2 p.m. at St. Joseph Cathedral. All are welcome.

Father Richard E. Zajac remembers fondly his childhood, growing up with Bishop Edward M. Grosz.

Father Zajac, chaplain of Sisters of Charity Hospital in Buffalo, said he has known Bishop Grosz since the boys were students at Assumption School in Buffalo. Although Bishop Grosz was about four years older than Father Zajac, they still knew each other when they both served as altar boys for the parish in their school days.

"He lived on Kail Street and my parents owned a grocery store at Amherst and Peter Streets, right across from Assumption Church," Father Zajac said. "I think I met him as an altar boy. We had captains back then, and whole teams of altar boys, several squadrons of us, that were kind of assigned to different Masses."

Although Father Zajac said he was not immediately under Bishop Grosz, they were still able to meet one another through their ministry. They were under the direction of one pastor and two assistant pastors.

"Father Ladislaus Brejski was the pastor at the time," Father Zajac said. "But we never saw him. He was kind of like a ghost - he was the pastor when I was a kid. (The assistant pastors) were the ones you interacted with, and I think they were also the ones who set up the squadrons of altar boys."

It was during this time period that Father Zajac had his first experiences with the boy who would later become auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo. Since all of the altar boys were able to interact with one another, Father Zajac remembered him as an older student he normally would not have seen or talked to in the course of a regular school day, since altar serving let them meet new people.

"I knew him as a faithful, friendly and active person who was obviously very devoted to Assumption - the church itself and to the neighborhood in which he lived," recalled Father Zajac.

Since then, the two have periodically run into one another, but Bishop Grosz was able to share a close relationship with Father Zajac's mother as well as with him. She "loved (him) dearly" and, in turn, the young bishop referred to her using an endearing Polish term for a mother figure.

"My mom really appreciated the bishop's friendliness toward her," Father Zajac said. "In my mother's eyes he was a saint, and then I loved the way he treated my mother. I think that was the thing I most admired about him, and how good he was to my mom."

Additionally, Bishop Grosz has always been an "extremely friendly" person who comes across well with various groups of people, according to Father Zajac. On the occasions that Bishop Grosz has done confirmations, he has been criticized for spending too much time with each individual candidate to the extent that it causes the ceremony to last longer than it normally would. However, this is not a bad thing, Father Zajac said, since this tendency demonstrates he is personable and cares about people.

"You can be there three hours, but the fact that he takes that personal interest, that he makes it a point to be warm and friendly to the people he serves, is probably his greatest trademark," Father Zajac added. "I think that's the one thing that holds him in esteem amongst the many groups with whom he works. He's always outgoing, he's always friendly, and always makes it a point to ask people how they're feeling, how members of their family are. He makes it a point to make sure that you're all right."

As a man of faith, Bishop Grosz is also someone who is always interested in what he is doing when he is saying Mass. He "doesn't look distracted" and parishioners can tell he "is taken into the spirit of what he is doing," which shows in his face, the way he sings and his enthusiasm, Father Zajac said. His faith is "something that (Bishop Grosz) wears well, especially when he is celebrating liturgy."

In addition to his quarter of a century as a bishop, Bishop Grosz has also been a priest for over 40 years, which began when Bishop James A. McNulty ordained him on May 29, 1971, in Buffalo. During his span of time as a bishop, he has also made it his mission to take retired and elderly priests of the diocese under his wing and ensure they are well cared for as their health starts to decline over time.

"I think he's trying to make a difference in the lives of our senior priests, and make sure their quality of life is maintained in spite of the rigors of aging," Father Zajac said.

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