By DEIRDRE C. MAYS
Father James M. Brucz was born in Buffalo, N.Y. Growing up in a Polish family he was raised with deeply Catholic tradition. He knew he wanted to be a priest as a senior in Siena College in New York.
“I had a feeling of the way the Lord wanted me to serve him and thought I would be happy as a priest,” he explained. His parents and brother were very supportive.
He was headed for the Buffalo Diocese when one of his classmates suggested he look into the Paulist order because he could be assigned anywhere in the country. A visit to the novitiate in New Jersey clinched the deal, and Brucz was off to St. Paul’s Seminary in Washington, D.C.
In 1974, the newly ordained Father Brucz received his first assignment to St. Patrick’s Church, an inner-city faith community in Memphis, Tenn., just three blocks from where Martin Luther King was assassinated.
“It was a very active ministry with regard to physical need and corporal works of mercy,” Father Brucz said. “The parish was integrated, people came from all over the city.”
He spent eight years at the vibrant church.
“When I was ordained I was very eager to serve the poor,” he recalled. As a seminarian, he spent a summer at The Catholic Worker in New York.
It was the early 1970s and he worked alongside Dorothy Day, a self-described Catholic anarchist, but to some, a modern day saint. Father Brucz helped in a soup kitchen feeding 300 people everyday and producing The Catholic Worker newspaper. The young priest was impressed.
“She was very tough, very intelligent, very prayerful,” Father Brucz said. “You could not pick her out as someone who was a leader.”
With her controversial and very radical liberal views, Father Brucz saw that Day was a very strong Catholic. “She loved Catholicism, especially in regard to the Mass,” he said. “She loved vespers and evening prayer. She called herself a faithful daughter of the church.”
After his assignment at St. Patrick’s in Memphis, Father Brucz spent the next four years in New York City at a parish that was partly English and Spanish speaking where he learned to say Mass in Spanish. He moved on to Austin, Texas, for another four years until he was assigned to Clemson as associate pastor. Five years later he was on the road again, this time to Toronto, Canada. Finally, he came back to Clemson as campus minister and is enjoying his third year at the college. He is associate pastor for all three Paulist parishes in St. Andrews, Seneca and Walhalla. The campus ministry is one of joy.
“I like seeing the church being such a source of spiritual strength for many students,” he said. “We have families, professors and students at our liturgies. The Masses are filled.”
Often, when young people leave their families and go to college, they ignore their spirituality and religious upbringing. Father Brucz said he has not found that to be the case.
“I find most students very serious minded and seeking God’s strength to live a good Christian life,” he said. “Surprisingly, a large amount come to church on their own.”
He attributes this to good formation from their family and from their Catholic youth experience.
As someone who works with young people who are deciding what to do with their lives, Father Brucz reflected on the lack of vocations.
“Our social atmosphere is so different now,” he said. “The secular culture is not as prone to a sense of respect of religious as it did 20 or 30 years ago. A bigger factor is … the secular atmosphere is so pervasive. it does not allow for the idea of self sacrifice.”
The Paulist finds that his role in his students’ lives is one of listening, accepting, being non judgmental and being available.
“A lot of the time, when students have a need or concern you can’t postpone that sharing or they’ll feel discouraged or that church doesn’t have time,” he explained. “When a student is ready to talk about something it has probably taken them a long time to get to that point.”
Father Brucz hopes to be at Clemson several more years. Five Paulist priests in his community are celebrating their 25th anniversary and they will join several 50-year priests and a seminarian who will be ordained in May for a community celebration at their mother church, St. Paul the Apostle in Manhattan.
“I’m amazed it has gone by so fast,” Father Brucz said. “I love my work. I get my strength from celebrating the Mass, the Eucharist. Also from the meditations of people that I have known, people and their faith.”
Along with saints such as St. Martin de Tours and St. Thérèse the Little Flower, Father Brucz was profoundly inspired by the strong faith of his mother, who died this year. With the inspirations of people of faith, Father John Brucz continues his mission with a quarter of a century of living out the Paulist life of evangelization, ecumenism and reconciliation.