Three priests celebrate 25th anniversaries


Three priests of the Diocese of Charleston are celebrating the 25th anniversary of their ordinations this year: Father John P. Coffey of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Camden; Father Chester M. Moczydlowski recently appointed pastor at The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston; and Father Michael J. Polewczak of Orangeburg, where he serves Holy Trinity, Sacred Heart Mission in Blackville and St. Theresa Mission in Springfield.

Father John P. Coffey

Father Coffey is a native South Carolinian, who grew up in Aiken at St. Mary Help of Christians under the guidance of Msgr. George L. Smith, pastor. As a young boy Father Coffey felt a sort of calling. “I think every little boy thinks about it,” he said. As he focused his attention on sports in high school and college, Father Coffey eventually came back to the priesthood. He said that before you enter a vocation “you’re living an ideal, nothing can prepare you until you’re in it.”

Father Coffey has served in numerous parishes across the diocese during his tenure, including St. Joseph’s in Columbia; Blessed Sacrament, Christ the Divine Teacher and Nativity in Charleston; St. Anthony in Florence; and St. Paul the Apostle in Spartanburg.

The parishioners at Our Lady of Perpetual Help celebrated Mass with their pastor on the occasion of his anniversary and held a reception in his honor.

The pastor attended St. Philip Neri in Boston, St. Mary’s in Kentucky and Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Md. He said that during his priesthood he has seen strides taken toward involving everyone in the ministry of the church, but he doesn’t think this practice has been achieved, yet.

“Don’t take yourself so seriously,” said the priest in a word of advice to the younger generation of clergy. “You’re going to make mistakes, try not to, but you will.”

Father Chester M. Moczydlowski

Father Chet, prior to his move to Charleston, celebrated with parishioners from Prince of Peace in Taylors. A Mass was held in his honor at which 12 area priests came to concelebrate. At a reception afterwards, 450 parishioners came to celebrate with their pastor and present him with a new vestment.

Parish secretary Pat Brady said, “Father Chet didn’t think his anniversary was going to be important for such a large number. He was very delighted with the turnout.”

After his ordination Father Chet joined the Paterson, N.J., Diocese, due to the shortage of priests. While he was there, he watched the number of priests in the diocese grow. He then sought out another diocese that was in need of clergy. He was invited to go to Myrtle Beach, and, through Father George Moynihan, was “loaned” to the diocese. He remained in Myrtle Beach for four years before asking to relocate permanently.

“New Jersey always had forward-looking pastors, which prepared me to be on my own,” said Father Chet. “South Carolina was exciting. I felt an opportunity to put my vision into practice.”

Growing up with a traditional religious background, Father Chet said he was lucky to have attended seminaries that prepared him for the contemporary church. He relishes the move to a collaborative ministry, where laity is more hands on and the priest acts as an impetus, calling forth the people and putting them into ministry.

Father Chet advises a newly ordained priest, “to be open to the gifts that are present among people and to see yourselves as a member of a team.”

Father Michael J. Polewczak

Father Polewczak grew up in New Jersey where he said, “Every Catholic boy my age had a fascination with the priesthood, which was reinforced by the priests in the parish and their parents.”

A Mass and reception was held in Orangeburg in honor of the priest who came to South Carolina three years ago. He said that being ordained around the time of the Second Vatican Council was a challenge. “We had to bring these new principles into the service,” he said.

In South Carolina, the pastor has focused on implementing his own vision plan taken from the Synod of Charleston. To his fellow priests and seminarians Father Polewczak said, “Develop very close friends in the priesthood. Fraternal bonds are very important to carry you through rough times.”