Rev. Stanislaw Kuca said his first Masses at St. Bernardine Catholic Church last Saturday and Sunday. Everyone interviewed gave thumbs up to their new pastor.

What impressed St. Bernardine parishioners most after meeting him for the first time was his personality — his pastoral temperament. 

“He is a very nice, sweet man,” said George Isdale after last Saturday’s 5 p.m. Mass. “We don’t really know him yet, but he makes himself very available.”

St. Bernardine’s new pastor confirmed Isdale’s comment about “availability” with a symbolic statement in last week’s parish bulletin: “Please call me Fr. Stan.” 

In his introductory article, he focused on relationships. Referring to May 30, when he met and chatted with many in his new flock for the first time, Kuca wrote, “I was delighted to see that you, my future parishioners, are a community of good friends who enjoy having fun and spending time together.”

Nancy Keller, a member of the parish for 53 years, mentioned how much she enjoyed Fr. Stan spontaneously borrowing a guitar and leading a sing-along at the St. Bernardine Day event.

“The foundation of my ministry is relationships,” said Kuca. “For me, relationships are more important than programs. I truly believe if you love people, people will love you.”

Julie Doloszycki, who chairs St. Bernardine’s Parish Council, said that, along with being personable, Kuca brings many pastoral skills to his ministry. He was a priest in Poland for 12 years before coming to the Archdiocese of Chicago in 2003. There he gained experience in small towns as well as larger cities. Likewise, during his 12 years here in the U.S., he has been intentional about gaining additional experience in urban and suburban, large and small, wealthy and poor, racially mixed and all-white parishes.

Kuca brings with him a clear vision of the direction he would like to take his new parish. 

“My dream is to attract more people to come to this church,” he said. “I would love to open this church for everyone who wants to come and show them that it’s good to be involved. Our Catholic faith is a beautiful faith. God loves us unconditionally. I would love for this church to be a place where people’s relationship with God could flourish.

“I would be happy to stay here a long time,” he added. “I have hopes. I have dreams. I am open. I believe that everything will be OK. God will bless us.”

What has pleased many of the leaders at St. Bernardine is that their new pastor brings with his skill set a collaborative style of leadership. Ann Stauffer, the longtime director of Religious Education in the parish, was thrilled that already her new pastor is talking about having a staff meeting and working as a unit. 

“I’m elated,” she said. “This is what we need — communication. He’s right on with that already.”

In addition, what endeared Fr. Stan to many is his oft-repeated statement, “I have a lot to learn.” 

Although Lynn Beribak said she had no trouble understanding Fr. Kuca’s English during his first homily Saturday evening, Kuca said he still needs practice in his second language but enjoys the process of learning it.

“My biggest method of learning English,” he said, “is speaking with people even though I make mistakes. I know that without mistakes I would not make progress. I enjoy English. For me it sounds beautiful.”

That willingness to see himself as a learner carries over to his style of leadership. 

“On the one hand,” said Kuca, who until now has served as an associate, “I have a lot of experiences as a priest and I have a vision for this parish. On the other hand, I have to learn how to be a pastor. It’s a process, and it’s not just on myself. During these first days, I am open to people who know more about this parish than I do. Now I am listening. Now I am learning.”

Stauffer appreciates that attitude. 

“He is just so humble,” she said, “to say ‘I’ve never done this before’ and look to the faith community for support.”

“I feel Fr. Stan is exactly what St. Bernardine needs in a new pastor,” said Doloszycki. “He has a great personality, a wonderful sense of humor and great pastoral skills. I firmly believe God has sent him to our parish. I am looking forward to working with him.”

Parishioner Jim Murray emphasized the fact that his new pastor seems to be genuinely happy to be where he is. 

“He seems like a very nice guy with good common sense,” said Murray. “He is enthusiastic and happy to be here and we certainly are glad to have him. I believe he will be a very good fit for St. Bernardine and Forest Park.”

Donna Gawlas, who lives right across the street from St. Bernardine’s rectory, said, “Fr. Stan seems very welcoming and genuine. He has energy, is not afraid to work or learn, and is eager to build. He seems to enjoy family and fun. We are looking forward to building the Kingdom together.”

12 years of ministry in Poland

“I was born in Zlotoryja, Poland, and ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Wroclaw in 1991. I worked as an associate in Poland for 12 years. In Poland there is an abundance of priests, so young priests know they will have to wait a long time before becoming a pastor.

“My first assignment was in a rural parish with four mission sites. It was very charming. Another assignment was in a big city with 20,000 people in the parish. There was one pastor and four associates on the staff. In the rural parish I had a one-to-one relationship with the pastor. In the big city church I had three colleagues who were also associates.

“In Poland, associates are often assigned to work with religious education. Unlike here in the U.S. we would teach religion in the public schools. I enjoyed it. I taught religion at all levels from kindergarten through high school. It was a good experience.

“The parish in which I grew up had 30,000 members. One year we had 1,000 second graders receiving their first communion. The church had 200 altar servers. This was Poland in the 1980s.

Cardinal George came to Poland and asked for help because of the lack of priests in the Archdiocese of Chicago. In 2003 I received an official invitation to move to America. I had to go to the U.S. consulate in Krakow to get an R1 (religious worker) visa which would allow me to stay here for five years, and decide if I wanted to remain here or return to Poland.”