Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine: et lux perpetua luceat eis

Word comes to us that Msgr. Heliodore Mejak, for over 63 years the pastor at Holy Family Parish in KCK, passed away on Christmas Day.


Msgr. Mejak was reported to be the longest-serving pastor in the world, and only the SECOND pastor to serve in the parish since its formation in the 1920s.


Deus, qui inter apostolicos Sacerdotes, famulum tuum Heliodore, sacerdotali fecisti dignitate vigere: praesta quaesumus; ut eorum quote perpetuo aggregetur consortio.


O God, Who wast pleased to raise Heliodore, Thy servant, to the dignity of the priesthood: vouchsafe to number him with They bishops and priests for evermore.


Msgr. Mejak was always friendly to traddies, and was a calm port in the ecclesiastical storm of the 1970s for many in Kansas City.


No details on funeral arrangements.

3 comments:

Alison said...

Thanks Curmudgeon. It's a sad day.

Alison said...

Thanks Curmudgeon. It's a sad day. Your prayers are appreciated.

Owen Wister said...

The KCK diocesan paper ran a lovely profile of Msgr Mejak in 2003.

http://www.theleaven.com/archives/feb03.html


The Leaven
7 Februrary 2003
Faith of our Fathers: He's ancient of days. He can't
see very well. And he has been known to be slow to
change. But at age 93 Msgr. Heliodore Mejak has no
intention of calling it quits.
By Bethanne Scholl
Special to the Leaven

The joke goes something like this: Old priests don't
retire, they just . . .

Having trouble filling in the blank?

Maybe it's because there is no punch line.

Out of a lifelong love of their priestly vocation and
a concern for their parishes, many old priests just
don't want to retire.

It is safe to say that Msgr. Heliodore Mejak, who will
turn 94 on St. Patrick's Day, is one of the oldest
active priests in the country, perhaps even in the
world.

He is by far the oldest active priest in the
archdiocese, celebrating Masses seven days a week for
the 200 or so families of his Kansas City, Kan.,
parish of Holy Family.

At 93 and counting, Msgr. Mejak could be said to be
stubborn, firmly set in his ways. He is a little shy
and has been described as "not exactly gruff."

He does not mince words, but speaks his mind - a
sharp, intelligent and driven man. He shepherds his
flock with the love of a strict parent.

Holy Family is one of the few remaining "national"
parishes in the archdiocese - that is, a parish
founded, usually in the early 20th century, to meet
the spiritual needs of a particular immigrant group.
Holy Family was founded in 1907 to serve the influx of
Slovenian immigrants to the Strawberry Hill area.

"They wanted another Slovenian priest to take over,"
said Msgr. Mejak, of his assignment to the parish. "So
the bishop sent me here 68 years ago."

"I can understand Slovenian, but I can't talk a word
of it," he said. "My mother was Bohemian; my father,
Slovenian. But the official language in Yugoslavia at
the time was German, so we spoke German in the house."

"I still hear Slovenian and Croatian confessions,"
said Msgr. Mejak, "but no more German. They're all
gone now."

Msgr. Mejak's father died when he was nine, leaving
him as the head of the house. He took on his new role
willingly, using his quick mind and capable hands to
help his seamstress mother take care of his two
younger sisters.

"I've always been very handy," said Msgr. Mejak. "I
remember wiring our house when I was 16 years old. I
could figure out everything. I was the first one to
build my own radio when they came out. I had the best
one in town."

Msgr. Mejak's pride and joy are the five brass model
trains he has built over the past 40 years. Each part
was painstakingly handcrafted with steady hands and a
keen eye.

"I loved working with my hands," he said.

But about 10 years ago, Msgr. Mejak was diagnosed with
a degenerative eye disease, leaving him legally blind.
He no longer works with his hands or drives a car. And
he has never been able to master the latest
technological advances of a computer - he simply can't
see the screen.

"Father has always been self-sufficient," said a
parishioner. "He has never asked for help. I can't
remember if he ever did. He never wanted a secretary
or a live-in housekeeper.

"If he ever got a tear in his clothes, he'd just get
out his Singer sewing machine and fix it," she said.
"See, he learned that from his mother. When she was
sewing and cooking, Father was right there, learning
it too."

"Slovenians are a very determined people," she added.

That character trait served Msgr. Mejak well when the
deterioration of his eyesight made it harder and
harder for him to celebrate Mass.

"He enlarges the readings," said one parishioner, "by
wearing large (magnifying) goggles over his glasses.
He just has to read slowly [relying primarily on his
peripheral vision].

"Sometimes he loses his place and he has to refocus.
Then we go on. He is very dedicated and very
determined and doesn't want to give up."

"We take it day by day together," she said.

"I memorize the prayer and the Gospel the day before,"
said Msgr. Mejak. "The Gospel is no problem after all
these years, but sometimes the prayers are difficult."

"I can't see the headlines in the newspaper. They're
too big, and I can only see a part of those letters,"
he said. "I magnify everything only about a quarter of
an inch.

"I work that Xerox machine to death."

Msgr. Mejak still types the weekly bulletin, despite
his failing sight.

"He has always been an excellent typist," said a
parishioner. "He does make errors. He'll say, 'Was it
very bad?' And we'll tell him, 'No, Father, it wasn't
that bad.' He wants to do it."

While lay lectors have been a part of most parishes
since the Second Vatican Council changes were
implemented in the '70s, it has only been in the last
four or five years that Holy Family has seen them.

"We don't have the sign of peace, no eucharistic
ministers. I call it a 'chapel' type of service," said
a parishioner. "Father started letting the children
from the school read a few years ago, and after a
while we were quite sure Father was OK about lectors.
It was time for him to say 'yes.'

"When he absolutely cannot do it anymore, he'll say
'yes.'"

Holy Family still has a Communion rail that is used
daily as well as tabernacle veils - vestiges of a
church many Catholics today have never even seen.

"Father takes care of ordering the candles and the
missalettes," said a parishioner. "He sets up the
vestments and takes care of the tabernacle veils. We
have things at Holy Family that you'll never see in
any other church anymore. But we've never heard a
complaint, ever."

Msgr. Mejak makes no apologies for the way his parish
is run.

"I am old and traditional," he said. "I believe in
old-fashioned things. I must do something that
attracts people here. People come here from six other
counties that don't really belong here. People go
where they feel comfortable. A lot of people feel at
home here. We're down to earth, not snooty."

When asked about retirement, Msgr. Mejak is matter of
fact.

"If I got sick and I had to retire, I think I'd die in
six months - out of boredom," he said. "At the end of
seminary, I was told I'd never be a preacher. That's
true. I'm a lousy preacher, but I'm a good lover, so
to speak. I love the people here in the parish, and I
think they love me. That makes up for a lot of it."

"Because of the shortage of priests, they're not going
to send another priest here," said Msgr. Mejak. "Maybe
they'd combine this parish with another or just close
it down. I've baptized and married three generations
here."

"We all talk about [his retirement] and think about
it," said a parishioner. "But Father doesn't make any
definite comments. He isn't interested in retiring. He
wouldn't have anything to do."

"I don't know what I could do if I retired," said
Msgr. Mejak. "I've never taken a vacation in 25 years.
All my buddies died, you see.

"I still have friends. A group of us priests get
together at Bishop Forst's and play cards and have
dinner - talking the bull. They demand that I make
chili for them."

"I still have friends," he added, "but not buddies."

"I was ordained to serve the people," said Msgr.
Mejak, "and I can do it. That's a beautiful thing."

"I'm very happy here," he concluded. "We're out of
debt. We have money in the bank. I love this parish."