SUMMERVILLE—When Msgr. Chet Moczydlowski looks back fondly at his 46 years as a priest, what he will remember most are all the diverse people that have made his time in the priesthood so rewarding.
His journey started in the inner city of Baltimore, where he attended St. Mary’s Seminary and the University of Baltimore. It was there that he found his passion for the priesthood and for serving his community.
Baltimore, at that time, was in a unique situation, Msgr. Chet, as he prefers to be called, said.
“It was the late 1960s and racial tension was high. I was there in the heart of the city during the race riots. Cars were being set on fire right outside of our seminary walls,” he said.
He didn’t shy away.
“As priests, we went out to them during the riots to talk to the people and they never wanted to hurt us,” he said. “They respected us and our charitable work. I learned so much from them. I loved the inner city work I did there.”
After he was ordained in 1973, he returned to his hometown of Paterson, N.J., and served as a diocesan priest until 1991.
“Up there I was one of five priests at a church,” he recalled. “I sometimes felt lost in the shuffle.”
He knew there was a need for more priests in the south, so he requested a temporary assignment to a diocese that was experiencing a shortage of clergy.
“There were areas in the south with no priests at all,” he explained. “I wanted to go to where the need was.”
One of the main differences he noticed when he came south was the decrease in the Catholic population in general.
“Up north it is about 50% Catholic overall and down south, it was more like 3%,” Msgr. Chet said.
It made him realize that faith formation was going to be a very important aspect of his duties.
“I knew I was going to have to encourage people to really know their faith because they would be questioned about it more in the south by non-Catholics,” he said.
In light of that realization, Msgr. Chet made religious education and faith formation his most important mission.
Since 1991, Msgr. Chet has served several parishes, including St. James in Conway, Prince of Peace in Taylors, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, St. Andrew in Myrtle Beach, and St. Benedict in Mount Pleasant. He has been with St. John the Beloved in Summerville since 2012.
John and Mary Jo Martin have been members of St. John the Beloved since 1973 and have seen the church through four pastors and 10 or more associates.
“He has been so generous in his support, recognition and expressions of gratitude to all those serving in parish ministries,” Mr. Martin said of Msgr. Chet. “He leaves our parish with a firm foundation and blueprint for the future.”
Some of his accomplishments at St. John include a new room for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a new work sacristy closer to the altar step, new liturgical furnishings and art, plus significant improvements to the parish hall including kitchen upgrades and room dividers. He also made sure that every sick and homebound member of the church was being served.
One of the biggest contributions in his career was probably the effort he helped lead to build St. Benedict Church.
“When I came, it was a 10-year-old parish with no building, no church. They were having Mass in a cafeteria,” he said. “I got there in 2008 and in 2011, their first church and community campus was dedicated. It was such a rewarding experience to be a part of.”
Virginia Falcone, former secretary of St. Benedict under Msgr. Chet, expressed great admiration for the priest.
“He also started religious education for our kids and hired a youth director,” she said. “When he started, our women’s club had 15 members, now there are 70 or 80. He is responsible for all of that.
“He did a great job here. I remember him fondly and I wish him the best of luck in retirement. Our prayers are with him always,” she continued.
After a recent setback to his health, including the amputation of his left leg due to complications with diabetes, Msgr. Chet wants to focus on his health, but will remain active in the church.
“I will help out anywhere that I can,” he said. “Of course I will miss being a pastor, but I look forward to the future and this chapter of my life.”
Msgr. Chet will remain in Summerville and will continue to celebrate Mass as needed.
By Theresa Stratford/Special to The Miscellany