By George P. Matysek Jr
DUNDALK – When Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski was preparing to enter the seminary, his father pulled him aside for a chat.
“I told him, ‘If you ever change your mind, don’t be ashamed to leave,’” remembered Alfred Rozanski, the future bishop’s father. “I told him he wouldn’t hurt us.”
The Rozanskis’ eldest son’s path was clear, however, and his commitment to giving his life to God and the church only grew stronger throughout his years at Theological College at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
“He always wanted to be a parish priest,” Jean Rozanski, Bishop Rozanski’s 77-year-old mother said. “That was his dream.”
Bishop Rozanski’s dream was realized 30 years ago when Archbishop William D. Borders ordained him to the priesthood. He went on to serve as associate pastor and then pastor of several local parishes before his church called him to a new role as auxiliary bishop in 2004.
Sitting in their living room June 19, just hours after Pope Francis appointed their son to leave his hometown and take on even greater responsibilities as bishop of the Diocese of Springfield, Mass., Alfred and Jean Rozanski couldn’t contain their pride, beaming as they recounted their son’s love for the people of the Baltimore archdiocese and the love people have for him. The moment was bittersweet, however, as they realized his promotion would mean they will not get to see him as frequently after he begins his new assignment Aug. 12.
“It makes us feel good that he’s an example to others and that he enjoys what he’s doing and takes interest in people,” said Jean Rozanski, who has been married to her husband for 57 years. “He loves what he’s doing, and that makes us happy.”
Bishop Rozanski said he is excited for his new assignment, but acknowledged he will be leaving behind his parents.
“We’re a very close family, and I know that for them, too, it was bittersweet to hear the news,” he said.
Bishop Rozanski knew from a very young age that he was meant for the priesthood, his parents said. The family initially worshipped at Holy Rosary in Fells Point before moving to Dundalk in 1966. Seven-year-old Mitch transferred from Holy Rosary School to Sacred Heart of Mary School in Graceland Park. Active at Sacred Heart Parish, the future bishop was an altar server and frequent volunteer. He saw parish priests such as Monsignor Richard Parks as role models.
“He always liked to be around the church,” said Jean Rozanski, a small gleaming gold crucifix dangling around her neck. “Anytime they needed help – counting money, helping at the carnival or whatever – he was there.”
The Catholic devotional life was strong at home, where the Rozanskis taught Mitch and his younger brothers, Kenneth and Albert, to pray the rosary and say grace before meals. Morning and evening prayers were required, and the family went to the Stations of the Cross during Lent.
Proud of their Polish heritage, the Rozanskis embraced Polish traditions such as breaking the Christmas oplatek, a thin wafer decorated with scenes from the Nativity. The Rozanskis feasted on golambki (stuffed cabbage), pierogies and other Polish culinary delights during the holidays and other special occasions.
“For years, we made our own Polish sausage,” said Jean Rozanski, who grew up in a Pennsylvania coal-mining town before moving to Baltimore at age 14.
“There was a little grocery store on German Hill Road,” she said, “and they would grind the meat for us and we’d bring it home and push the meat down into the casing and add garlic and spices.”
Alfred Rozanski, an 80-year old retired Bethlehem Steel police officer who also worked as a security guard at Allied Signal, noted that the family made more than 50 pounds of sausage at a time, giving it to relatives as a gift.
Before Bishop Rozanski began his freshman year at Our Lady of Mount Carmel High School in Essex, he wrote a note to the archdiocese – without his parents knowledge – inquiring about the priesthood. Someone from the vocations office advised him to come back after he had finished his schooling. In his senior year, his mother asked him what his college plans were.
“He said, ‘Mom, don’t worry about it,'” Jean Rozanski remembered. “‘I know what I’m going to do. It will be taken care of.'”
After becoming a priest, Bishop Rozanski quickly developed a reputation as a pastoral leader – one who was genuinely concerned about the welfare of everyone in his community.
“Everywhere he’s been,” said Alfred Rozanski, a Baltimore native, “the people really like him. I think he’ll do just fine in Springfield, too.”
Asked what her son’s biggest challenge has been in the course of his life, Bishop Rozanski’s mother noted that, “With Mitch, he tries to please everyone.”
Jean Rozanski is sure the values her son learned growing up in a tight-knit, working-class community will stay with him wherever he goes.
“I always tell him, ‘Mitch, remember where your roots came from so you don’t get a high head,'” she said. “‘Just stay the way you are.'”
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