Polish priest celebrates 80 years with faith and treasured memories

2014-01-15T15:15:00Z 2014-01-15T15:48:13Z Polish priest celebrates 80 years with faith and treasured memoriesBy Stephen Lesniewski Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
January 15, 2014 3:15 pm  • 

Rev. Jozef Zuziak of Merrillville is known to many for not only for his devotion to prayer, but also for his harmonica and skiing hobbies.

On Jan. 17, Zuziak celebrates his 80th birthday with a reception open to the public celebrating his faith and more than 60 years of memories.

"He has the ability to come into a room and make everybody happy," said Dennis Noskoskie, an administrative assistant at St. Hedwig.

"Around the holidays, either during the service or after the mass, he takes the harmonica out and plays a couple of Christmas carols. It really lifts everybody up and gives us a lot of enjoyment."

The harmonica is one of Zuziak's trademarks among people who know him.

"When he plays the harmonica, everybody gets such a kick out of it," said Carol Mytyk, a parishioner of St. Hedwig.

In fact, according to Zuziak, he even played his harmonica for Pope John Paul II.

"This was something he liked because it was unusual to play such a small harmonica," he said.

"Playing the harmonica is nothing special."

Zuziak said he began playing the harmonica as a child as a way to pass the time while watching the cows. He is the second youngest child among his brother and three sisters born in southern Poland. He said he considered joining the priesthood while in high school and shortly after graduation, he joined the Salvatorian fathers. After a brief stint in the army, Zuziak decided he would become ordained.

He was ordained in 1966 by Cardinal Wojtyla, who eventually became Pope John Paul II. Zuziak said he had the opportunity spend time with Wojtyla when some of the priests were invited to a ski lodge in Zakopane, Poland to ski on the Tatra Mountains, the tallest in Poland

Three years after his ordination, Zuziak was sent to the Merrillville, Ind., where he has served ever since.

"In the beginning, it was difficult. There is some nostalgia for your country, for your home," Zuziak said. "But I've spent more than half my life here. I'm a citizen of the U.S. now."

Zuziak has held many roles for the Church. When Our Lady of Czestochowa was first constructed, he was the Father Superior, a position he has since resigned. Now, he helps at St. Hedwig in Gary, and many of the parishioners are grateful for it.

"When he finally does retire, he is going to break a lot of hearts," Noskoski said.

Until then, Noskoski says he will continue to appreciate the hard work Zuziak constantly puts toward the community.

Others have taken notice as well, and the Church is having a celebration at the Our Lady of Czestochowa Shrine on Jan. 19 for Zuziak's 45 years in Merrillville and for his 80th birthday.

"During the summer, people were already calling for reservations for the banquet," Zuziak said. "There aren't many spots left."

Both Noskoskie and Mytyke said they were attending the banquet, and Father Piotr Filas, provincial superior of the Polish Province of the Salvatorians, will also speak. While none of Zuziak's family will make the trip, he said he may travel to Poland during the summer to celebrate with his family.

"I am afraid there's not much for celebration," Zuziak said. "I'm a useless servant. That's my job; my duty."

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