Pastor, 1972-1997

Fr. Robert Ceckowski

 

Robert Joseph Ceckowski, son of Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Ceckowski, was born in Westfield, Mass. on February 12, 1930. He had two older siblings, his sister Helen, and his brother Frank. One of his aunts was a member of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph, based in Hamburg, N.Y. In their hometown city, the family worshipped at Holy Trinity Church, a Polish American parish staffed by the LaSalette Fathers, coincidentally the same congregation that staffed St. Adalbert Parish, Bondsville, which began as a mission of Sts. Peter & Paul Parish, Three Rivers.

 

After attending Holy Trinity School, staffed by the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph (again, the same congregation that staffed Sts. Peter & Paul School, Three Rivers), and graduating from high school, young Robert was enrolled at St. Mary’s College, Orchard Lake, Mich. to respond to his vocation and dream to become a priest.

 

After his studies at St. Mary’s College, seminarian Robert continued on to Sts. Cyril and Methodius Seminary on the Orchard Lake campus, also known as the “Polish Seminary.” After two years of college and six years of theologate (that was the structure of studies at the time for most seminaries), Robert J. Ceckowski was ordained a priest on June 4, 1955 for the Diocese of Springfield, Mass.

 

Like most newly-ordained priests in those times of many vocations, the new Father Robert Ceckowski was assigned as a curate (assistant pastor, or “parochial vicar” to use the current

Fr. Robert Ceckowski, c. 1995-1996

preferred term).  He would serve in that role for seventeen years at various Polish American parishes of the diocese, including Christ the King, Ludlow; Sacred Heart, Easthampton; and Immaculate Conception, Indian Orchard.

 

In 1972, shortly before the retirement of our fourth pastor, the legendary Rev. Msgr. Col. Alphonse A. Skoniecki, Fr. Ceckowski was assigned to Sts. Peter and Paul as temporary assistant. He became the fifth pastor of our parish in November of that year, a position he would hold for the next twenty-five years.

Fr. Robert's Pastorate at Sts. Peter and Paul church

Upon his arrival in Three Rivers, Fr. Bob (he actually preferred to be known as Fr. Robert, but went along with those who called him Fr. Bob) set about upgrading the parish spiritual life and facilities. His first major challenge was our 52-year-old parochial school of Sts. Peter and Paul. Because enrollment had declined over the last few years before his arrival, and the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph had alerted him that the order would no longer be able to send teaching sisters to the parish, Fr. Robert made the somber decision to close the school following the graduation of the Class of 1973. But he would not permit the closing of the parish school to overtake his other priorities.

 

His various accomplishments included: the installation of the Our Lady of Częstochowa Icon and Altar in the church (1976); the St. Maximilian Kolbe chapel and meeting room in the church basement (1977); the renovation of the former school into the parish hall and the opening of Sts. Peter & Paul Nursery School (for ages 3-4) that operated from 1980 to 2001; the complete renovation of the church interior for the 75th anniversary of the parish in 1980, and the celebration of that momentous occasion with a Jubilee Mass and banquet in Sept., 1980; the installation of the church parking lot; the renovations of the convent and the rectory; the building of the outdoor Divine Mercy grotto (1980); the enshrinement of the original church bell (“Anne”) on the front lawn of the church.

 

Nor did Fr. Robert neglect the value of consecrated religious in the parish. After the departure of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph, with deep gratitude for their presence as teachers and sacristans for 52 years, Fr. Robert secured the services of two other congregations of women religious: the Little Servant Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (1973-1990) and the Sisters Minor of Mary Immaculate (1990-2001). The sisters served in the cherished roles of nursery school teachers, religious education teachers and church sacristans for nearly three decades. Thanks to Fr. Robert, the parish continued to benefit from the witness of religious sisters, making a total of eighty years of sisters in our parish and in the wider community.

A Dedicated Priesthood

Fr. Robert’s first dedication, and rightly so, belonged to the spiritual life of the parish. In the first place was the centrality of the Blessed Eucharist and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Like his predecessors, he resisted the ill-conceived re-arrangement of sanctuaries and retained the Blessed Sacrament in the main tabernacle of the High Altar in the church. Regular participation at Mass and in the other Sacraments, including Baptism, Penance, Confirmation, Anointing, and Matrimony were encouraged. He conceived of the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the church with the participation of parishioners and friends, a practice that continues to this day.

 

Other devotions that he fostered were to the Blessed Virgin Mary, particularly in a weekly novena prayer to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal and Our Lady of Częstochowa; the Lenten Gorzkie Żale (Bitter Lamentations); the Stations of the Cross; the Forty Hours Devotions.

 

Fr. Robert supported activities (e.g., parish breakfasts and dinners; card parties; penny sales; the annual Parish Picnic) and organizations (e.g., the Ladies Guild, successor to the Mothers Club after the closure of the parochial school; the Rosary Sodality; the Sacred Heart Society; his creation of the Sts. Peter & Paul Men’s Guild in 1996) to maintain active involvement of the laity.

 

Devoted to his Polish heritage, he delighted in celebrating the religious customs and traditions of Poland in which he was raised and which he sought to pass along to the next generations. He did so without alienating those of other ethnic backgrounds who came to the parish.

 

Fr. Robert was a decent man and devout priest who was uncomfortable in the spotlight, attested by his fleeing or turning away at the sight of a camera. It was as if he was always pointing to something…more likely, someone….else. Truly, is that not the task of every authentic priest: to point and lead us to Christ? To that end, Fr. Robert’s quarter century pastorate was successful.

     

Just a few days after the joyous Feast of Christmas, Fr. Robert died suddenly on Dec. 30, 1997 at the age of 67. The Lord called him swiftly: there was no time for drawn-out goodbyes or, thankfully, no lengthy illness. Considering the humility and shyness of the man, that’s probably what he would have preferred. But the abrupt loss of our pastor was a shock. In the days leading to and after his Funeral Mass, parishioners and friends alike felt the deep void created by his passing.

 

Fr. Robert used to joke around with others and claim that Sts. Peter and Paul Parish was his “Camelot.” By the grace of God, may he now be enjoying the only and true “Camelot,” the eternal Kingdom of heaven.

Fr. Ceckowski6.JPG