By JESSICA DILLON
PUBLISHED: SATURDAY, JANUARY 27, 2018 LANCASTER —
Rev. Thaddeus S. Peplowski, bishop emeritus of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Diocese of the Polish National Catholic Church, was laid to rest on Friday. He died last week, after a lengthy period of declining health, at the age of 81.In his nearly 60 years as a priest, and about half as many as a bishop, Peplowski had been instrumental in the organization of new parishes in New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Arizona and in Europe, including the reopening and re-designation of North Java’s Holy Family Polish National Catholic Church in 2012, the same year he retired.
“He was just a very delightful man, very down-to-earth, very pastoral,” said Fr. Matt Kawiak. “He established 26 different churches all over the world.”
So special was he that church officials granted special permission for his longtime friend, Roman Catholic Bishop Edward M. Grosz, to deliver the eulogy — “Normally, that wouldn’t be allowed,” Kawiak said.
Grosz, who described himself and Peplowski as “two peas in a pod,” detailed the colorful life of the faithful man, who, after completing studies at Savanarola Theological Seminary in Scranton, was ordained in the middle of May, 1958.
His first assignment was to Holy Mother of the Rosary Cathedral, then located in downtown Buffalo. It was Peplowski himself who, years later, spearheaded the construction of the new $3.2 million complex on Broadway, which many priests and deacons have since labeled the envy of the diocese.
Peplowski also organized and hosted the church’s first National Youth Convention in Buffalo in 1963, led youth on tours to Poland and was responsible for countless basketball tournaments, retreats and musical workshops.
His friends and brothers in the faith, remembering his over-the-top ambitions, called him “an energetic ball of creativity, and a creative ball of energy.”
His story was a lengthy one, with many facets — Peplowski often traveled to Europe, his efforts leading eventually to the formation of the Nordic Catholic Church, of which he served as missionary bishop, and he encountered religious leaders Pope John Paul II and Bartholomew I, archbishop of Constantinople in Istanbul along the way. Despite the ever-changing landscape, one thing always remained constant: Peplowski’s undying faith.
“Bishop Thaddeus and myself journeyed together on the road of life,” Grosz said. “On so very many occasions, discussing our priesthood, our episcopacy, our parishioners, our spirituality, our faith journey in our respective faith communities, our pastoral work, our struggles, our joys and our sorrows. Whether on a road in a journey to Scranton for the six years as part of the dialogue between the two churches of which I were a privilege to be a part, it was always dialogue, sharing, talking, lines — but more importantly — hearts.
“Our eyes were opened and the bishop and I recognized the risen Lord Jesus in our midst,” Grosz continued. “We recognized the Lord Jesus who, at table, prayed with his first bishops as apostles and prayed to his heavenly father that ‘All may be one as you, Father, are in me and I in you, I pray that they may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.’ We recognize the risen Lord in our midst because Jesus stated to his followers, ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’ The presence of the Lord among us ... we were one in Christ, we were one with each other.”
Grosz, filled with joy at the multitude of memories he shared with his dear friend, detailed a story that was quite common during their travels together, he said.
“I always teased Bishop about it,” Grosz said. “I said one day as we were traveling along, ‘You know, Bishop, why is it that I always take my car and spend money on gas?’”
And, as was in his nature, Peplowski defended himself ardently.
“I pay for the hamburgers and the milkshakes,” Peplowski had said. “What else do you want?”
Their winding and devoted journey together began 27 years ago, and Grosz soon discovered that Peplowski was quick to offer quips, whether serious or joking. But, more importantly, he said, Grosz saw what a good shepherd Peplowski was to his flock.
“Bishop Thaddeus was indeed a good shepherd for his flock as he looked over his flock, looked after his flock, the flock he so loved in his ministry, in service of the Lord and His people, which has born great fruit — fruit which will endure,” Grosz said. “In his great ministry, this cathedral — this beautiful campus — became a reality, and they stand as a visible reminder and a testament of Bishop Peplowski’s great leadership, his great stewardship, his great faith.”
But even more significant, he continued, was Peplowski’s building up of the capital ‘C’ Church — “of all of you.”
Kawiak, of course, agreed — ever thankful that it was under Peplowski’s watchful eye that his own church became a reality.
“He was truly a great gentleman and a gentle man,” Grosz said. “That’s why it’s so difficult for us to say goodbye.”
But when Peplowski’s time came, and Grosz knew it to be near, he, too, said his farewells.
“I said goodbye, which literally means ‘God be with you’ and I cried and I cried,” Grosz said.
Peplowski was laid to rest in front of the cathedral, the sun shining down on him and so many members of his congregation. There were many tears shed.