At Mary Queen Catholic Church in Friendswood, Texas Father Paul learns to lean on the strengths of his lay people and staff for the workings of the church. Last spring Newsweek magazine reported that some American priests were swapping their traditional Roman collars for sweat suits. So attired the clergy head out to play basketball with the neighborhood kids and show them that men of the cloth have hoop dreams too. In this way the priests hope to change the public’s image of them. And ultimately they want to make the job seem less stuffy and more intriguing as a potential career.
Given the religious life’s vows of poverty, chastity and obedience top public relations firms might gulp at the task—an extremely tough sell to a postmodern society saturated with a “me first” mentality. But as the ranks grey bishops around the world must be nibbling their fingernails. For instance at Mary Queen Catholic Church in Friendswood, Texas the staffing crisis caused the bishop to ban planting another church in favor of expanding the present one. So on top of all his other responsibilities Mary Queen’s pastor, Father Paul Mandziuk, now regularly meets with architects and a local committee as well as discovers new ways to get church members involved in ministry.
“It’s different than how it was years ago” confirms Charles Ganter, Mary Queen’s maintenance man and a lifelong Catholic. “Priests were there 24 hours a day seven days a week to help with any concern you had.” But today Mandziuk says people understand his need for a day off. “Still everyone wants you to be at their group even though it’s not physically possible. I haven’t figured out how to be ‘bilocational’” the priest confesses.
Recently he returned from an outing and conducted two of three funerals that resulted from tragic circumstances—a suicide, a drowning and a heart-attack. To stay strong during stressful times, Mandziuk centers each day with morning prayer. “I am very intentional about letting God know my attention and intention is to be in touch,” he shares.
Mandziuk admits that the lack of having other priests to help lighten the load places an unusually high price tag on his time. And he says that frankly that pressure challenges both his prayer life and his patience. But to his credit this leader works with what he’s got and keeps leaning on his congregation for help.
ONE MAN’S METAMORPHOSIS
For instance though not available to greet people before each Mass Mandziuk has recruited members to greet others and shake hands. And by promoting fellowship groups like Renew 2000he hopes to deepen lay convictions regarding Christian servanthood. This will help take some of his ministry responsibilities and give them to his congregation. To open doors for these opportunities he hosts a quarterly luncheon where representatives from various ministries explain their roles.
And he continues upgrading his communication skills. Last December Mandziuk asked a member to build a Web site (www.iservco.com/~maryqueen) for the church. He maintains it weekly by updating Mass transcripts service opportunities and other aspects of Mary Queen’s community and ministries giving members a firsthand look at what types of service opportunities are available. Perhaps the time crunch more than anything else has caused the 45-year-old to shed the clergy’s stoic image. It also helps that though bookish and devoted to to-do lists he loves to swim and often uses a boogie board to catch 8-foot waves off Galveston Bay. And he bicycles and studies wildlife in spite of the humid Houston heat. With Mandziuk’s active lifestyle the sun has already bronzed his skin with a savage tan—which is visible as he strolls around the church grounds wearing a lifeguard tank top aqua-blue shorts and flip-flops.
Apart from performing Mass he usually wears Dockers pants and a knit shirt. But today he donned the beachwear to better participate in Mary Queen’s annual May community festival a fun fund-raiser. Oddly enough some parishioners—particularly the youth—measure how many steps he takes outside his priestly comfort zone by his festival appearances. For instance when he arrived three years ago from a 10-year term at an 800-bed hospital chaplaincy in Missouri the youth noticed that squirt gun antics seemed to annoy him.