“I really feel like it is not simply leaving a job, but it is leaving family and friends,” said Father Tom Iwanowski about stepping down from his post as head pastor at Our Lady of Czestochowa (OLC) Church in downtown Jersey City on June 30.
“I really feel like it is not simply leaving a job, but it is leaving family and friends.” – Father Tom Iwanowski
It was difficult for him to pull away from the church that had become his home. The decision was not any easier when he told his parishioners over two months ago during a Sunday service that he was leaving his post.
“The two things I heard were ‘Can you stay for another couple of years?’ and ‘Where are you going?’” Iwanowski said.
Among the parishioners who wanted Iwanowski to stay was Mark J. Bonamo, a parishioner at OLC since 2001.
“Obviously I am very sad he is leaving, but I am very happy with the legacy he left behind,” Bonamo said. “He is an inspiration to our parish community and pillar of the Paulus Hook neighborhood, who led his parish through a successful transition when the neighborhood was changing.”
Bonamo continued, “He is a wonderful man, and I know we will see him again.”
In the meantime, Father Thomas Ciba, a former pastor at Holy Family Church in Nutley, is the new OLC pastor.
Growing into the job
Iwanowski was born in Newark and raised in North Arlington. He graduated from Seton Hall Divinity School then attended Immaculate Conception Seminary, now located at Seton Hall University in South Orange. He received an M.A. in Biblical Studies.
Iwanowski had served in various parishes in Northern New Jersey as an assistant pastor before he was appointed pastor of OLC.
When he first came to the church, there were 250 families that attended Mass. And much of the church’s population was over the age of 65.
“It took time, every Sunday for four, five years before we built it up to 380 to 400 families,” Iwanowski said.
One of the things Iwanowski learned was that in order to reach new parishioners, he had to see his role like a “chaplain on a university campus.”
“Half the parish changes every three to four years,” Iwanowski said. “I found you are always starting at ground zero, starting at go because you are getting to know the parishioners.”
That meant spending a lot of time letting people know about OLC, such as creating a presentation of what OLC is about for new parishioners and conducting personal interviews with them. And that was just the beginning.
“We look to see what are their talents and abilities, and they have to get engaged in the parish’s activities,” Iwanowski said. “We also put out a parish bulletin since we don’t take for granted that people know about our church.”
He also credited actively maintaining the church’s buildings at OLC during his 14 years as a factor that helped transform him as a priest.
“I learned to be a pastor and learned to lead a parish community, as I was challenged to be more outgoing,” Iwanowski said. “People at OLC are very prayerful and I loved preaching here.”
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com.