Busy retirement awaits Ustrzycki

By  Tony Gosgnach, Catholic Register Special
  • August 1, 2007

{mosimage}HAMILTON, Ont. - Matthew Francis Ustrzycki says there was basically one reason he decided to become a priest and go on to serve in that vocation for 48 years, including 22 as auxiliary bishop of Hamilton diocese: “I guess I fell in love with Jesus.”

This past March 25, on his 75th birthday, Ustrzycki submitted his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI in accord with canon law and the Pope accepted it on June 1. Ustrzycki will now reside at Our Lady Immaculate Church in Guelph, Ont.

A native of St. Catharines, Ont., Ustrzycki was ordained to the priesthood in Hamilton in 1959 under Bishop Joseph Ryan. He served in a number of roles in the following years, including as bishop’s secretary, vice-chancellor, chancellor, officilias of the Hamilton Marriage Tribunal and dean of Hamilton-Wentworth. In 1979, he was named a prelate of honour and in 1982 became vicar-general of Hamilton diocese.

{sidebar id=2}Ordained auxiliary bishop by Bishop Anthony Tonnos in 1985, Ustrzycki has also served on a number of commissions of the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In a statement, Tonnos expressed “great gratitude” to Ustrzycki for his “dedicated service and wonderful Christian example.”

In looking back over his almost half-century of priesthood, Ustrzycki said there are many things he has taken pleasure in about his vocation.

“Certainly, I enjoyed going into the schools and working with the sick,” said Ustrzycki. “I spent 17 years working as a chancellor under Bishop Ryan and Bishop (Paul) Reding. It was hard at times, because I was doing parish work at the same time. God was good. God always is good. He sustained me in reasonably good health to do these things.”

As for specific highlights, Ustrzycki pointed to many.

“Many beautiful weddings that I had. My involvement over a number of years with engaged encounters … Also, the number of men I’ve seen enter the priesthood. That certainly was a joy to me … Naturally, as bishop, the number of times I met (Pope) John Paul II certainly were great highlights. Meeting Pope Benedict last September. One could go on and on,” he said.

Ustrzycki said he has no regrets, although he sometimes ponders the question of whether he did enough.

“But I guess every human being, when he reflects on his life, probably can say that,” he added.

He characterized as “excellent” his relationship with Tonnos and paid tribute to the bishop as a man who was easy to work with and very helpful.

“He certainly is a man who respects where you are, what your talents are and gives you leeway to use them.”

Asked how the role of the priesthood has changed over the years, Ustrzycki pointed out that the demands on clergy have increased dramatically. Part of the problem, he observed, is created by the instantaneousness of communication brought about by modern technology.

“When I was ordained, there certainly was no e-mail,” he laughed. “Today, as a bishop, you get bombarded with the stuff and people are impatient in the sense that they want an immediate answer. A lot of times, you just can’t do it. It’s not 24/7.”

Ustrzycki said he believes the Catholic Church is doing its best to keep up with changing times but, once again, is challenged by the rapidity of scientific and technological advances. The church “can’t give immediate, instant answers to many of these high-tech things that are happening because all of these things are having ethical and moral implications. Just because it’s discovered doesn’t mean it’s automatically good,” he said.

Looking at his personal future, Ustrzycki said he intends to keep active in a number of areas and will take up whatever Tonnos asks him to do.

“He’s already asked me if I would care to help out with confirmations. I will certainly continue to be involved in the sacramental life of the church, whether giving a day retreat or recollection,” said Ustrzycki. “There’s a large St. Joseph’s Health Centre here (in Guelph) and I frequently say Mass there. I’ll try to continue with that and visit the sick.

“I’m sure work will find me,” he said, before adding with a laugh, “But at least I’ll be able to say ‘no.’ ”

(Gosgnach is a freelance writer in Hamilton, Ont.)

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