Msgr. Mazurkiewicz leaves legacy in La Grange
By Amy Moraczewski
Editor’s note: Msgr. Harry Mazurkiewicz died on July 5 at the age of 87. By the grace of God, Amy Moraczewski was able to interview him just a few weeks before his death. May he rest in peace.
To say Msgr. Harry Mazurkiewicz left his mark on the community of La Grange would probably be an understatement. After serving Sacred Heart Parish for 50 years, Msgr. Mazurkiewicz retired outside of Ellinger in 2006. However, Sacred Heart parishioners had other plans in mind for his retirement. Three years ago, they invited him back to La Grange to celebrate the 60th anniversary of his ordination and presented him with a home located directly across the street from the church he had faithfully served from 1956 to 2006.
Msgr. Mazurkiewicz was the eldest of five children born into a Polish Catholic family in Chappell Hill. The family relocated to Brenham as he prepared to enter first grade, where he met his lifelong best friend, Msgr. Louis Wozniak. Living nearby one another in the country, they had ample bonding time on their walk home from school each day. As their high school years approached, their pastor, Msgr. Charles Weisnerowski, more or less selected each of these boys for the priesthood and told them individually, “You go be a priest.”
He subsequently made arrangements for the two of them to attend St. Edward’s High School in Austin because the local high school did not offer Latin, a requirement for the seminary at the time. Although neither family could afford to send their sons to boarding school in Austin, Msgr. Weisnerowski made it possible because of the potential he saw in the two boys.
After being ordained at his home parish of St. Mary in Brenham, Msgr. Mazurkiewicz briefly served at St. Monica Parish in Cameron before Bishop Louis J. Reicher reassigned him to St. Mary Parish as associate pastor. Although the bishop was hesitant to send the young priest back home, the pastor of St. Mary had requested the first Polish speaking seminarian ordained be named his assistant. It was five years before another Polish speaking priest came along to replace Msgr. Mazurkiewicz at St. Mary.
In 1956, Msgr. Mazurkiewicz “temporarily” relocated to La Grange to assist at Sacred Heart Parish while the pastor, Msgr. S.A. Zientek, recovered from cataract surgery. Upon his return, Msgr. Zientek told the bishop that the new, young priest could stay, as “They had a good thing going on.”
And stay he did. After serving as associate pastor for a decade, Msgr. Mazurkiewicz moved into the role of pastor upon the death of Msgr. Zientek. Over the years, he engrained himself in every element of Sacred Heart Parish, as well as the greater La Grange community.
Through the generous support of parishioners, Sacred Heart experienced significant growth during the tenure of Msgr. Mazurkiewicz, including the construction of the current church and school. Although Msgr. Mazurkiewicz was at the helm of these projects, he was quick to point out that none would have been possible without the support of everyone involved.
“You have to learn how to have the support of people behind you. As a priest, we can do very little by ourselves. If you don’t depend on others, you’ll be lost,” Msgr. Mazurkiewicz said in an interview just two weeks before he died.
Beyond his own parish, Msgr. Mazurkiewicz served as chaplain of the fire department, chairman of the library board, and member of the hospital foundation board.
“I was involved as much as I could because in a small town you have to be part of the community,” he said.
His gift for uniting people throughout the community was never more transparent than when the ecumenical Thanksgiving Day service emerged through the cooperation of all the churches in town. Despite the willingness to participate in the service, the churches at that time “were not too interested in each other,” Msgr. Mazurkiewicz said.
This sparked the question of where the services would be held. Fortunately, the local theater volunteered as a venue for the inaugural event, while subsequent celebrations were held at the school auditorium. After a few years, the churches reached enough common ground to graciously attend one another’s churches, and since then, the ecumenical Thanksgiving Day service alternates between the Catholic and Lutheran churches.
This bond between the churches proved valuable during the construction of St. Mark’s Medical Center as well. Agreeing on the necessity of the chapel, the churches all came together to fund the project when it was determined that funds earmarked for the hospital could not be used for the chapel. Reflecting on how it all came to fruition, Msgr. Mazurkiewicz said, “If you have the respect of the people, you can do a lot. You can’t do anything by yourself.”
Listening to people and earning their respect were the keys to success for many of the projects spearheaded by Msgr. Mazurkiewicz, especially those with a fundraising component. Through generous bequests of parishioners, Sacred Heart obtained land and funds to grow into the vibrant parish it is today. Whether during visits at the parish office or during his home visits on his weekly communion route, Msgr. Mazurkiewicz emphasized that, “the main thing is you have to treat people kindly and you have to listen to them.”
No doubt the impact Msgr. Mazurkiewicz had on the La Grange community continues to reverberate even after he has gone to be with the Lord.
Msgr. Mazurkiewicz was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Brenham. Memorial contributions may be made to the Clerical Endowment Fund (CEF), Diocese of Austin Council of Catholic Women (for the education of Seminarians), the Sacred Heart School Endowment Fund or charity of one’s choice.