MOUNT PLEASANT—The discernment process leading to the priesthood is as varied as the men who make their vows. For some, there is one edifying moment when all doubts disappear and the answer is clear. For others, it is a gradual walk, taken one step at a time, until a decision is made.
Msgr. Chester M. Moczydlowski said he often compares discernment to courtship, saying that people date when they are young, but eventually make a choice to marry that someone who speaks to their heart.
For him, that was God and church.
“I was always close to the church ever since I was a little kid,” he said, adding that he attended Catholic school in the primary grades and served as an altar boy. “It was an inner draw, an inner feeling, that as far back as I can remember I was fascinated by the Catholic Church.”
He said when he went to public high school, he missed that daily contact with the church and the sacraments and is grateful he had it in his early years to start him on the path.
Msgr. Moczydlowski is pastor at St. Benedict Church in Mount Pleasant, where he has undertaken the task of helping to build a new church for a rapidly growing parish.
The New Jersey native first came to the Diocese of Charleston from the Diocese of Paterson, N.J., in 1991. He had requested a temporary assignment to a diocese that was suffering a shortage of priests.
His first appointment was as administrator of St. James Church in Conway. At that time, he told parishioners not to fight all the consonants in his name and just call him Father Chet. Since then, he has received the title of monsignor, but still refers to himself as Father Chet.
The priest said that Bishop David B. Thompson told him he would never regret coming South, and that turned out to be true. After four years, Msgr. Moczydlowski asked to be permanently incardinated into the diocese.
Through the years, he has served at Prince of Peace Church in Taylors, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston and St. Andrew Church in Myrtle Beach.
He said each one, including early assignments in New Jersey, were a home to him, with friends and special memories.
“My life has been enriched by each one,” Msgr. Moczydlowski said.
As a youth, he was in contact with the Benedictine monks and was interested in their spirituality, but said he was not called to the restrictions of a monastic lifestyle.
He said his interest has always been in parish life because it offers the most diversity. His love of variety may stem from his time at minor seminary at Seton Hall University in New Jersey and then St. Mary Seminary in Baltimore.
The monsignor fondly recalled how remarkable it was to attend seminary at that time, when there were 100 other men in his class, all euphoric from Vatican II.
“People were filled with hope, joy, creativity,” he said.
Msgr. Moczydlowski said he was among the first group of post-Vatican II priests, all of whom were charged with finding new ways of doing everything.
“It was a very exciting time to be a priest,” he said, and not just because of the Second Vatican Council. He recalled that it was also the era of John F. Kennedy and the battle for civil rights.
The priest said he witnessed the race riots of 1967 as buildings were burned right across from the seminary. Despite the racial tension, the priests and students worked in the inner city to help the poor and evangelized in the red-light district.
“We were well-respected because we ministered to the people,” he said.
Times have changed since then, and new challenges have presented themselves.
For Msgr. Moczydlowski, that means providing a church for a parish that has been without for 10 years, and teaching religious education to youth who have grown up praying in a cafeteria.
He said when he asked the students to draw pictures representing church, instead of stained-glass windows or saints, they drew posters of the “Got Milk?” campaign.
It is his passion now to build a church home for those parishioners, where they can establish roots in their traditions, share the faith and evangelize to each other, he said.
“I enjoy every aspect of my ministry,” Msgr. Moczydlowski said. “Our greatest joy comes from liturgy and the sacraments, because that’s what we were ordained to do. The bottom line for any priest is celebrating the faith life of the people.”