By Ann Power Greene
Born and raised in a Catholic family in Stalowa Wola, Poland, Fr. Stan Czarnecki, SJ, was the youngest of three siblings. He loved going to school and practicing sports and music and especially loved playing the guitar and accordion. As a young man, he was an altar server and was involved in a Catholic youth movement in Poland called “Light-Life.” His participation in this ministry helped him grow in his faith and deepen his relationship with Christ. Father Czarnecki entered the Jesuit novitiate right after high school in 1986 in the Southern Poland Province.
While studying in Warsaw, he obtained a master’s degree in theology. Just down the street was a prison where Fr. Czarnecki, then a scholastic, volunteered by engaging inmates in Bible study and reflecting on the stories. Most days after studying, he would put on his cassock, grab his guitar, and head over to the prison. The time he spent there was challenging, as Fr. Czarnecki recalls, but “the tough situations and conversations that I had were rewarding experiences during my formation.”
After his ordination in 1997 in Krakow, Fr. Czarnecki graduated from the University of Rome in 1999 with an STL degree in pastoral theology and became involved in the Italian Christian Life Community. He then spent two years back in Poland as a formation director before being missioned to Chicago.
In 2001, he started as treasurer for the Polish Jesuit Community in Chicago. His pastoral ministry was dedicated to various organizations, including the Domestic Church movement and Polish scouting organizations, and he founded a Bible study group for the CLC. After his time in Chicago, he traveled to Boston to begin his tertianship, which included an assignment on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
Returning to Chicago, Fr. Czarnecki served as superior of the Polish Jesuit Community there, as rector of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and as director of the Jesuit Millennium Center, celebrating Mass on weekends at parishes. One of his favorite activities was leading the Domestic Church movement for Polish families living in Chicago where a group of families would meet in one of their homes and pray together. Father Czarnecki saw an opportunity to serve in different ways— spiritual, pastoral, social, and cultural.
“In my Jesuit ministry, the guitar— playing and singing—is my faithful companion that I use everywhere I go to evangelize, to build the community, to bring the joy!” he says. Father Czarnecki is now in his sixth year doing pastoral work at Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Illinois. Mike Gregg, director of campus ministry at Loyola Academy, notes, “Stan came to a deep personal relationship with God in high school, and his desire is to offer all people he encounters God’s kindness and an awareness of God’s presence with them in all things.” Unsurprisingly, Fr. Czarnecki gravitated toward leading the Polish Club, where he shares his heritage with the students through cultural activities.
Pastoral work is what Fr. Czarnecki loves best, and it does not go unnoticed; Midwest Jesuits Provincial Fr. Brian Paulson, SJ, quips that “he’s a pastoral workhorse!”
“I am so lucky to have Fr. Stan in my life,” says Terri Guercio, associate director of prospect research at Loyola Academy. “He brings out the joy in everything he does!”
What’s next for Fr. Czarnecki and his guitar? “My dream is to be involved with people as a social minister and to work with them to spread the joy of the Gospel,” he says. “Just like Pope Francis, I love to spread joy always with Jesus at the center.”
Ann Power Greene serves as director of grants and special projects for the Midwest Jesuits in Chicago. Greene is a native of Cleveland and has over 13 years of service to the Jesuits.