Taking nothing with him except a suitcase and his Catholic faith, Father Robert Wolosik hopped on a plane and traveled 6,757 kilometers from the city of Lomza, Poland, to New York for the very first time.
Father Wolosik, 31, emigrated to Cutchogue just three weeks ago, after the Diocese of Lomza was contacted by the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which asked him to fill an open position at the historic Our Lady of Ostrabrama R.C. Church on Depot Lane.
“I was very excited; I was waiting for that,” Father Wolosik said, as translated from Polish to English by Father Piotr Narkiewicz of St. Isidore R.C. Church in Riverhead. “I wanted it and they assigned me.”
Now, the new priest is getting to know the Polish communities across the North Fork as he integrates into American culture and begins his new assignment.
Father Wolosik was raised in a village near the city of Bialystok. From a very young age, he wanted to be a priest. As a child, multiple pastors in his home parish outside the city served as role models for him, he said.
“When I saw them, I said, ‘I want to be like them,’ ” he said. “I always wanted to serve the Lord and bring God to the people.”
After graduating from high school, he attended a seminary for six years. He then worked in three parishes in Poland, one in a village and two in small towns. He worked with youth and Catholic renewal groups.
Father Wolosik was supposed to start at Our Lady of Ostrabrama immediately after his predecessor, Father Mariusz Gorazd, left this summer to work in Hempstead — but was delayed multiple times, according to Father Narkiewicz. He was unable to obtain permission to enter America after his first appointment with the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw because he was missing paperwork.
But that didn’t deter him. After completing the paperwork, he made another embassy appointment for August. But while traveling from Lomza to Warsaw, his train was delayed by an accident on the railway and he didn’t make it in time.
“I was calling him, like, ‘When are you going to be here?’ ” Father Narkiewicz said. “And he was, like, ‘I was on my way to the Embassy today, but I didn’t make it, so I have to make another appointment.’ He was stuck on a train in the middle of a field between Lomza and Warsaw.”
The third time, Father Wolosik was fully prepared — maybe too prepared — and he arrived in Warsaw a day early for his appointment at the embassy. The next day, he was en route to America.
Father Wolosik’s English is limited — which he said has created some difficulty in daily interactions. It’s been the most difficult part of his transition into American society, he said.
“I do my best,” he said. “Once I learn English, I will do very well … there are many Polish people here and Americans are very nice, open and welcoming.”
Father Narkiewicz said Polish-Americans in Riverhead and Cutchogue, and the priests at St. Isidore, have helped translate for Father Wolosik.
And, for his part, he said he’s eager to learn English. It’s hard, he said, but he doesn’t give up.
In addition to taking three two-hour courses each week at St. Isidore, led by parishioner and teacher Sandra Bertolli, he learned English scripture in Poland before moving here.
Working as a priest for five years in the Diocese of Lomza, Father Wolosik was able to commit the Mass in Polish to memory. He uses this to his advantage: Because the Catholic scripture is identical in both languages, he’s used it as a tool to learn English as well.
“You understand when you read with the vocabulary, you can translate things,” Rev. Narkiewicz said. “He writes a sermon in English, then gives it someone to check the errors. When the time comes, he reads his homily and everybody understands it.”
Father Narkiewicz said he is grateful for how supportive Cutchogue’s Polish community has been of Father Wolosik. The pair went grocery shopping during his first week in the country. Since then, they haven’t needed to return to the store because members of the local Polish community have dropped off food, drinks and pies at the rectory.
The best part of his experience thus far, Father Wolosik said, has been the welcoming community.
“This is something extraordinary,” he said.