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St. Valentine’s Polish National Catholic welcomes new priest

  • <br/>Adam Czarnecki, the new priest at St. Valentines in Northampton. <br/>
  • <br/>Adam Czarnecki, the new priest at St. Valentines in Northampton. <br/>

Father Czarnecki, 45, isn’t brand new, though, for he has been administering church services at St. Valentine’s since June. He came to the church after his previous parish, Good Shepherd Polish National Catholic Church in Amsterdam, N.Y., had to close.

According to Parish Committee Chairperson Christine Newman, the parish interviewed a number of priests, including two in 2010, before choosing Czarnecki.

“He’s a wonderful person. He made me feel good, and he made everyone else feel good too,” said Newman.

“He met with the parish committee, and everybody liked him. We had him go upstairs and I made him go behind the altar and sing a little bit with the church organist, and it was really wonderful. When he was behind the altar, it was like he had been there forever,” she said.

St. Valentine’s Church, at 127 King St., was organized on Valentine’s Day in 1931. Construction of the church was completed in January 1932. The church has a membership of about 50 parishioners.

The Polish National Catholic Church, founded by Bishop Francis Hodur in 1897, is not affiliated with the Vatican in Rome. It is governed by its own constitution and Prime Bishop, rather than the Pope. The church allows its priests to marry, its members to divorce and leaves decisions regarding contraception to individual conscience.

Czarnecki said that he had a few other offers for relocation, in New York, Brooklyn and Philadelphia, after his parish closed. He was asked by his bishop if he’d be willing, due to a lack of available priests, to move to a different diocese. He agreed and was selected by the parishioners of St. Valentine’s.

“From the beginning, I felt very comfortable here,” said Czarnecki, “not only in the church and liturgy, but I felt that these people really need some spiritual guidance. And also, because in our church priests can be married, my wife felt the same, that here is our place. I hope that this will be our parish for our whole life.”

Czarnecki, who lives in the church rectory with his wife, Damuta, immigrated to the United States in 2006 from Bialystok, Poland, where he had attended a seminary and received a master’s degree in theology with a focus on the history of the church. His wife and two sons, Rafal, 30, and Marek, 21, followed four months later.

When Czarnecki took the job at St. Valentine’s, Marek remained in Amsterdam, N.Y., where he attends community college. Rafal, who was over the age of 21 at the time of the family’s immigration, was unable to obtain proper documentation and had to return to Poland. After a four-month orientation at the Polish National Catholic Church’s headquarters in Scranton, Penn., Czarnecki was assigned to Good Shepherd parish, where he worked for six years. That parish eventually had to close due to a lack of parishioners.

According to Gazette archives, St. Valentine’s has been without a priest since 1997, when the church’s previous pastor, the Rev. Julian Pagacz, left after admitting to charges of indecent assault and battery against two young women.

In the years before Czarnecki arrived, the church relied on pastors from two different parishes — the Revs. Randolph Calvo, of Holy Name of Jesus Church in South Deerfield, and Joseph Soltysiak, of St. Joseph’s Church in Westfield — to alternate offering services on Saturday evenings. Douglas Tierney, the parish’s financial secretary, says having a full-time spiritual leader enables St. Valentine’s to be a fully welcoming parish. He said the church has seen a growth in membership, and that Czarnecki has been working with the Polish Cultural Committee to plan various events.

Czarnecki has also been giving Polish lessons Tuesday nights to community members interested in learning the language.

“Having a full-time person on site and available has been great for people seeking help spiritually, and there’s a lot more social things going on now,” said Tierney.

“He’s someone that we’ve connected with, and who is easy to connect with.”

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