By Deacon Tom Picciano
Sun contributing writer
ENDICOTT —Father Matt Wieczorek is often seen walking his dog along McKinley Avenue. The latest companion, named Harper, is fond of playing catch with visitors to the small rectory behind the sanctuary. There, Harper settles down on the floor, while Father Matt, as he is known, sits in a large chair to listen and to talk. With a welcoming smile, Father Matt dispenses advice while sharing stories of his ministry. His strong voice emphasizes the most important points. He would use the same tone for his final Sunday Mass as St. Casimir’s pastor on June 30.
As the choir rehearsed that day, the pews started to fill. Father Matt sat behind the pulpit, pen in hand, putting the final touches on his homily. But instead of a clergy shirt with collar, Father Matt wore a red and white long sleeved T-shirt bearing the image of the church’s patron saint. Looking up at a visitor, he remarked that he expected photographers and a television crew for his final Sunday at the church.
Father Matt joined the altar servers in the sacristy and emerged for Mass promptly at 11 a.m., while some people were still looking for seats. He was led up the aisle by a contingent of more than a half-dozen altar servers. When it came time for the homily, he was a bit choked up.
“This will be my last Mass as pastor,” he said.
He took time to remember his brother, Alfred, who had died the Thursday before. Then Father Matt remembered all those who had come before at St. Casimir’s.
“As I look at the faces today, I can see the communion of saints,” he said. “How do you become a saint? Striving to do the right thing at the right time.”
Ordained in 1957, Father Matt spent 36 of his 56 years as a priest at St. Casimir’s. He came as an associate in 1957 while also teaching at Seton Catholic High School in Binghamton. He returned in 1973, serving as pastor until 1987. Then, after a few stints elsewhere, Father Matt returned again as pastor in 1999. He decided to retire due to health concerns, and he will fully enter retirement on August 1.
“Where did the time go?” he asked in his homily. “There’s a time for everything under heaven.”
Father Matt recounted the history of the parish, from its founding in 1928 as a mission of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Binghamton, to the placement of its first pastor in 1936, to his retirement as its final pastor in 2013. With Father Matt’s retirement comes the closing of St. Casimir’s and its merger with nearby St. Joseph’s Church, a plan announced by the diocese in 2007. [See related story on page 11.]
“Unlike Elijah, I have no one to pass my mantle to,” Father Matt said. Yet he noted that one altar server was wearing a red “mantle” over his robe with the image of Ss. Peter and Paul.
As he concluded the homily, Father Matt held up a red and white T-shirt similar to the one he was wearing.
“I’m wearing St. Casimir’s T-shirt so it’s close to my heart and yours as well,” he said.
That afternoon, a retirement dinner was held in his honor at the Polish Community Center in Binghamton. Father Joseph Zareski, a native son of St. Casimir’s, recalled first meeting the young associate Father Matt when he was an altar server. He later spent time as a seminarian and as a priest visiting Father Matt.
“I just remember all of his guidance up to now. It’s been wonderful having Father Matt,” Father Zareski said. “Father Matt is not retiring from the priesthood, because he will always be a priest. But he’s retiring from the everyday normal activities of being a pastor.”
Father Jim Serowik is now pastor of nearby St. Anthony’s in Endicott. He, too, grew up at St. Casimir’s under the guidance of Father Matt.
“He kept saying it time and time again. ‘Jim your priesthood is going to be based on your personhood. The person you are is the priest you are going to be,’” Father Serowik said. “In a very real sense that’s really what Father Matt is all about. He’s been shepherding us here at St. Casimir’s.”
Despite some joking by Father Serowik about the length of Father Matt’s speaking, he had only brief comments at the dinner. Father Matt offered thanks for many people and related a few stories of his time at St. Casimir’s. He also asked that St. Casimir’s remain in their hearts.
“My first love, my first parish,” he said.