Embattled New Britain Priest Dies
Pastor of Polish Community Church Was Criticized for Denouncing Rape Victim

By Bill Leukhardt
Hartford Courant [New Britain CT]
March 15, 2003

NEW BRITAIN -- The Rev. Paul Wysocki, whose long history as pastor of Sacred Heart Church was marred recently by criticism over comments he made about a rape victim, died Friday a few months short of his planned retirement.

Wysocki, 74, was pastor of Sacred Heart since 1977. He was just the third man to lead the century-old church that served the Polish-American community. News of his death quickly raced through the heavily Polish Broad Street neighborhood surrounding the church and into the surrounding area.

"Father Wysocki was so proud of his parish," said Anthony Tercyak, a state representative and friend. "He worked so hard to continue the Sacred Heart tradition of making the church a force to help many.

"He was a very decent person, who certainly didn't deserve the recent controversy. He had tremendous respect for clergy. That motivated him. The whole episode visibly affected him. He was very, very worried."

The controversy began in December.

The Rev. Roman Kramek, a priest who came from Poland to help the parish during the busy holiday season, was charged Christmas Eve with sexually assaulting a teenager he was counseling for a previous rape. That case is pending in court.

Wysocki told reporters he believed the allegations against Kramek were driven by money, and called the girl involved "a tramp."

Wysocki's comments were condemned by Hartford Archbishop Daniel Cronin as against Roman Catholic Church teachings.

The parish's temporary administrator, the Rev. Raymond Smialowski, remembers Wysocki as a dedicated priest who put his people and his parish first.

So did others contacted Friday.

"Father Wysocki was a kind, generous leader. He would tear up talking about how much Sacred Heart meant to him," Mayor Lucian Pawlak said. "He gave a whole lifetime to this institution."

Wysocki had become the liaison between the immigrant community and the church, said the Rev. Peter Sobiecki of Holy Cross Church, another predominantly Polish parish in New Britain.

Since the 1980s, New Britain has received a large influx of immigrants from Poland, and Wysocki did his best to try to understand them and help them adjust to the customs of their new home, Sobiecki said.

"He tried very hard to understand what their needs were, and with all of us, sometimes it was successful, sometimes it wasn't. But he always had the good of the people at the center of his life," Sobiecki said.

In 1987, a decision by Wysocki to transfer a popular assistant, the Rev. John Murzyn, touched off protests by dissident parishioners that culminated in protests by 4,000 people in front of Sacred Heart Church. The issue eventually faded.

Wieslaw Pisarski, 51, of Newington, a parishioner for 27 years and president of the Polish Falcon Club in New Britain, said many parishioners had been meeting nightly at the church to pray for Wysocki's recovery after he became ill about two weeks ago.

Parishioners were saddened by the death of Wysocki, the grandson of immigrants who was remembered for strengthening the parish and its schools, continuing its tradition of aiding immigrants and improving eyesore streets.

While some criticized Wysocki as being too focused on fund-raising, other parishioners said it was a well-intentioned focus on the church's future.

"Some people looked at him as being too aggressive, and interpreted him as being a good, or a shrewd businessman," parishioner Lilia Kieltyka said. "But people don't really understand what it took to run the church successfully. And that's why he had to be a good businessman. In the past few years, he was really on top of his game.

"He was very in tune with what the parishioners around the neighborhood needed."

Wysocki particularly focused his energy on Sacred Heart School, seeing it as a way to ensure the church's future.

"He was a good pastor," said Mariusz Szczygiel. "He was the owner, and he took care of the church very well."

Wysocki steeped himself in Polish language and culture through reading, studying and interacting with the city's new arrivals. He was involved in many Polish immigrant organizations, including the Gen. Haller Post on Broad Street, the Falcons and the Polish American Council.

"We're all fairly stunned, because he was planning to retire in June, reaching the age of 75," Sobiecki said.

The Rev. John Gatzak, spokesman for the archdiocese, said Wysocki's wake will be held Monday from 6 to 9 p.m. at Sacred Heart. A funeral Mass will be celebrated in Polish Tuesday at 7 p.m. Archbishop Daniel Cronin will celebrate a burial Mass on Wednesday at 11 a.m.

Courant Staff Writers Joann Klimkiewicz, Thuy-doan Le and Kimberly Moy contributed to this story.

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