WHITING – Bishop Robert J. McClory became well-acquainted with the Whiting community the weekend of July 24-25, spending time in liturgy, fellowship and whimsical fun, calling their hospitality “a blessing.”
“The nice thing about a sustained weekend in one community is you do get a chance to get a better feel for the parish family,” Bishop McClory said. “Being able to see the faithfulness of the parishioners is a joy. I think it is characterized by a significant family presence – multi-generational – and a real love for their community.”
Bishop McClory presided at the Saturday vigil Mass at St. Adalbert and two Sunday morning Masses at St. John the Baptist. In June, the bishop had celebrated Mass and gathered for a parish buffet at Sacred Heart church, Whiting’s third Roman Catholic parish.
After the liturgy at St. Adalbert and after a brief rainstorm that cooled the heat of the day, Bishop McClory joined the thousands of people who converged on the 119th Street corridor for 26th annual Pierogi Fest. At the popular celebration of all things Polish, he functioned as one of six official pierogi vendor judges.
A native of Detroit, Bishop McClory is accustomed to cultural festivals, some celebrating Eastern European heritage. Places such as Hamtramck have been traditionally Polish enclaves, yet he agreed the Whiting-Robertsdale Chamber of Commerce’s Pierogi Fest remains unique among ethnic celebrations.
The diocesan shepherd was tasked with evaluating several qualities about pierogi presentation and taste as well as other food items such as Polish sausage. Standing in line, grabbing his order and finding a place away from the traffic flow of people, he tasted each product and began making notes on his judging forms.
“I like potato and cheese, and kind of the traditional flavors,” Bishop McClory explained. “But I did go to some (vendors) and said, ‘Give me what you think I should have.’ So, I did say, ‘Yes,’ to a habanero pierogi … I only ate half of it.”
The bishop said he was delighted by the zany traditions of Pierogi Fest. “I have seen some ladies in babushkas … it’s been an enjoyable time.”
Precious Blood Father Mark Peres, SJB and St. Adalbert pastor, accompanied the bishop through the downtown area. Local faithful and well-wishers approached Bishop McClory along the way
“Aren’t you the bishop?” “Great to see you, Bishop McClory,” and other greetings punctuated his quest to visit all 14 vendors subject to his review.
Bishop McClory kept his vendor rankings private but was profuse in happily greeting the diocesan faithful who approached him. One Pierogi Fest guest who greeted the prelate was Cheryl Zubay-Grskovich of Lowell.
When the bishop learned that her father had passed away on July 20, he led the group in a spontaneous prayer, with heads bowed, in the center of the Pierogi Fest traffic flow.
The close-knit nature of the Whiting community and of the Catholic people of the small city on Lake Michigan was evident by the many believers who volunteered at Pierogi Fest. Longtime St. Adalbert parishioner Norb Dudzik, special events coordinator for the City of Whiting, remarked at the large crowd gathered a year after the festival was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Though his concerns ranged from patrolling Pierogi Fest to ensuring the next big city event – the Aug. 18 Cruise Night Car show featuring “one of the best” Elvis impersonators – his thoughts went back to Mass earlier that day at St. Adalbert.
“You talk about friendly,” said Dudzik. “(Bishop McClory) was here, there and everywhere meeting with all the people. It was a nice warm feeling, showing that he embraces this parish.”
Dudzik was also happy to see the large crowd that filled every other pew in the circa 1957 church. Out-of-town guests included the Kromkowski family of Rochester, Ind., who walked a couple blocks from the festival to attend Mass in the air-conditioned church.
Among those gathered for the vigil Mass were relatives of Deacon Paul Rokosz, a native son of Whiting and St. Adalbert, who assisted Bishop McClory. Rokosz, who was ordained a permanent deacon in St. Augustine Cathedral in Tucson, serves that Arizona diocese.
Sherri Smoljan, Deacon Rokosz’s youngest sister and a Crown Point resident, was beaming with pride watching her brother assist the bishop. “I always knew it was in him,” she said of her brother’s religious vocation. “My mom and dad would be over the moon.”
For Sunday Mass at St. John the Baptist, Bishop McClory, presided with Father Peres as concelebrant and was assisted by Deacon Leo Barron.
The bishop spoke of people’s personal inadequacies and spiritual and physical hunger as he referenced the day’s Gospel reading, Jn 6:1-15.
He joked about having to pace himself as he tasted pierogi from 14 vendors. Yet, he said, the faithful are privileged to draw near to be fed at the Eucharistic table.
“The Lord takes what we give him and uses it beyond what we can imagine,” the bishop said. “As we get into the Gospel of John, we learn the Lord does this for us all the time through the tremendous gift of the Eucharist.”
For Daniel Hyslop, attending Mass on July 25 was a bittersweet occasion. The Whiting resident and BP employee said the liturgy at his home parish could be the last for a while since a job transfer has necessitated a move to Omaha, Neb.
His wife, Sarah, and children Cecilia, 9, Louis, 7, Jack, 3 and Lucy, 7 months, gathered in a pew near the rear of the large circa 1929 church.
“This is our home and the heart of the whole Whiting community,” Hyslop said. “This parish and these people called us here in the first place and it will call us back again and again in our life.”