I have found that emotionally one of the hardest things which I have to do as bishop is to bury my brother priests. Obviously the difficulty is not with the theology of death but as in any family when a member passes from life into death into new life, there is a sense of loss and a pain of saying farewell. Because of my faith in the resurrection and that by and through the death of the Lord it became possible for all of us appropriately prepared and at peace with our God to eventually enter eternal life, the “sting” is somewhat reduced but death, especially when it comes surprisingly quickly and somewhat unexpectedly moves me to the same questions for God as it might any family who has lost a member.
This past Easter, Father George Rozycki, pastor of St. Joseph parish in Zephyrhills, began to feel something was wrong with himself. Like most men he delayed seeing a doctor and in 2008 he had had a long siege of sickness and hospitalization resulting from cancer and a colon re-section. I am sure he was not at peace with the possibility of entering a hospital again and facing another surgery and recovery. Last month he finally went to see his primary physician who put him into the hospital in Zephyrhills for observation and tests and pancreatic cancer became the prime suspect. He entered Tampa General only a few weeks ago for biopsy and had surgery week before last. Sparing you the details, Father George was led home to the Lord on Monday afternoon as a result of many things including apparently sepsis. In nine weeks, this good man went from feeling well enough to death. Amazingly he leaves both parents who will attend his funeral Mass along with a brother and nieces and nephews.
Born in 1943, Father George was ordained for the Diocese of Rockville Center in May of 1970. For a portion of his priestly life he served in the Diocese of Honolulu before coming to our local Church in 1992. Ministering as an Associate Pastor in Holy Family parish in St. Petersburg and Nativity parish in Brandon, it was my joy to inform Father Rozycki that he had been incardinated into our diocese and later to give him his first and last assignment as pastor here to St. Joseph’s in Zephyrhills. That parish is amazing in that the population of the area goes from about 10,000 in the summer months to near 60,000 in the winter so the demands on the priests of the parish are especially challenging during those periods when the “snow birds” are here. Father George loved the parish and its people, whether they were the summer remnant or the winter influx. However, he was beginning to tire and he asked me if he could retire on his 70th birthday which is two years away and I said yes. But he had one more thing he wished to do before stepping aside at St. Joseph and that was to renovate the sanctuary of St. Joseph’s, a project underway and so far along that it will not be possible for us to hold his funeral Mass in the Church which is full of scaffolding, but in the parish hall.
Father George had a wonderful sense of balance about himself and a very cheery disposition. If things got to him, it must have been internally because almost everyone would say that he was ever happy. When I saw him two weeks ago before his surgery, he knew he was quite sick and that it was likely that he would not live to see the rest for which he longed in retirement. He told me that he did not fear death but just regretted that he would not have some years free of administration to relax, enjoy life, and “smell the coffee.” I would see him one final time the day after surgery, Tuesday of last week, and he was heavily sedated and in ICU but he still managed to look at me and smile when I told him that we were all praying for him. I think he knew that he had one foot in that place of eternal rest.
Many shall miss him, I among them. Father George, may you rest in peace and may eternal light shine on you.