Parishioners mourn death of longtime priest at St. Hedwig in Manchester
MANCHESTER — As longterm parishioners of St. Hedwig Church mourn the death of the priest who led their parish for nearly four decades, they also worry about the future of their North End church, an enclave of Polish Catholicism.
Manchester Bishop Peter Libasci is expected to officiate at the 2 p.m. funeral today of the Rev. Msgr. Alfred Daniszewski, who had led St. Hedwig since 1976. He died Saturday, three days after turning 95.
His health had been declining, after breaking both his hips over the last four years, several parishioners said on Monday. But he was still the official pastor of the church, and made an appearance at a Sunday mass about two weeks ago, said parishioner Walter Skwierz.
Daniszewski, nicknamed Father Dan, cultivated Catholicism and a cultural center for Polish people in Manchester.
The parish has its own school — St. Casmir — a men’s association, a cemetery, and a chapter of Catholic War Veterans. Until he broke his hip, the South Boston- born Daniszewski said a Sunday mass in Polish. He promoted Polish movies and other events in the area.
He was also old school. He eschewed an entrance procession and started mass by ringing a bell and walking to the altar from the front of the church.
“He could be a sweetheart, but if you went against him, you had a problem,” said William Butka, a former bingo treasurer.
“He was the only priest I knew, outside of the associate pastor,” said John Waszeciak, who served as an altar boy under Daniszewski. The priest went on to baptize Waszeciak’s five children.
Waszeciak said he’s worried about the parish’s future. At one point, it counted nearly 600 families, but now there are only about half that. And many are old.
He hopes to see a young pastor appointed to the church; he doesn’t have to be Polish, because St. Hedwig attracts many nationalities, he said.
The church could end up being overseen by an associate pastor, but that would prompt many to join the breakaway Polish National Church, which is about three blocks away, Skwierz said.
Pat McGee, a spokesman for the Diocese of Mancester, said it’s too soon to discuss a replacement. The Rev. Eric Delisle, who lives at the nearby St. Joseph Cathedral, is the associate pastor, and the Rev. Richard Thompson was appointed administrator on Friday, a temporary position.
“The bishop will make sure we’re caring for the people,” McGee said.
Also unknown is church finances. Those interviewed said Danisziewski held finances close to his chest, but they believed the school, whose tuition is lower than other church schools, has an endowment.
“We didn’t get to know where all the money came from and where it was going,” Butka said. He expects the Diocese will have details of any endowment.
McGee said finance officials were not available on Monday. But he said he’d be surprised if an endowment existed. Excess parish money goes into a central fund that is administered by the Diocese, he said.