Service as usual for St. Stanislaus.


The Sunday service at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church drew a regular crowd of more than 100 parishioners and included the usual prayers and psalms - in English and in Polish - with little hint that anything was amiss.

A parishioner made announcements about the Oplatek dinner to follow the service, the babka and strucle (sweet holiday breads) for sale to benefit the parish's Polish school, and tickets for the upcoming New Year's Eve party.

This, apparently, is what excommunication looks like at the embattled and defiant church: business as usual.

Were it not for the red "Saint Stanislaus Lives" buttons parishioners wore and a corresponding banner on the front of the church, visitors might not have otherwise realized that two days earlier, St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke excommunicated the church's six lay members of the board of directors and a priest they recently hired.

Parishioners wore similar buttons that said "Save Saint Stanislaus" after Burke removed the church's priests two summers ago.

"You wouldn't think we're down by looking at us today, would you?" asked Bernice Krauze, a longtime church member, as she sold tickets for the New Year's dance. "Our feeling is we didn't do anything wrong."

Burke wrote in the archdiocesan newspaper on Friday that he was censuring the board members because of their defiance in hiring their own priest, the Rev. Marek Bozek. Catholic law says only a bishop can appoint priests to parishes. Burke also said the parish would no longer be part of the archdiocese.

The confrontation between the archdiocese and the parish stems from a late 19th-century arrangement that gave the board control of church property. After Burke arrived in January last year, he demanded that the church conform to the same legal structure as other parishes, where the bishop oversees finances. When the board refused, Burke removed the parish's priests in August last year. A few weeks ago, the board hired Bozek despite threats of excommunication.

Before the service Sunday, the parish changed the words on a sign outside the church to say: 

"Welcome Rev. Marek B. Bozek."

Vicky Aitken, a parishioner who has helped lead St. Stanislaus services for about a year while the church has been without a priest, said she was saddened by the excommunication, especially because it happened so close to the holidays. But she's hoping for reconciliation.

"St. Stanislaus has been my home, and it will stay in my heart," she said.

Aitken also questioned, as did other parishioners, why hiring a priest to lead Mass would result in excommunication when others have not been similarly punished.

"It's difficult to understand how people, who have done horrific things to children, are still part of the church," she said. "They haven't been excommunicated."

Burke has warned that the souls of any St. Louis Catholics who take Holy Communion from Bozek at St. Stanislaus could be in mortal danger.

That has weighed on the mind of Mary Sulzer, who said that idea scared her. Nevertheless she was planning to stand by the church where she was baptized.

"I just can't believe this is happening to us," she said.

But others are not as bothered about the prospect of committing a "mortal sin."

"Mortal sin is something that is in your mind," said Joey Favuzza, a parishioner who was born and raised near St. Stanislaus. "I don't feel like I'm committing a mortal sin. I feel good. My conscience is clear."

Amid the controversy, the congregation continues its preparations for Christmas Eve, when Bozek is expected to lead them in his first Mass as their priest. Christmas wreaths already adorn the inside of the church. In the coming days, Christmas trees will be decked out in lights, and dozens of poinsettias will be placed on the altar.

It is one of the highlights of the year at St. Stanislaus, parishioners said. Last year, a mystery priest celebrated an illicit Mass for them. This year, they will have their own excommunicated priest. But few seem deterred from attending.

To the contrary, Sulzer said, "Christmas Eve Mass is going to be crowded this year."

By Kavita Kumar 

Telephone: 314-340-8017

Copyright 2005 St. Louis Post-Dispatch L.L.C. All rights reserved.