Saturday, December 30, 2023

(287) Fr. Joseph Kowalcyzk (1927-2019): From GE Electrical Engineer to the Maryknoll Missionaries in Perú


 Fr. Joseph Kowalczyk M.M.

        He died a priest, a holy priest, who gave his life to God.......all 92 years of it until his death in 2019.     Fr. Joe was on the road to success as our secular world knows it.  He was part of the “Great Generation” who won World War II, having finished his voluntary enlistment toward the end of the war as a Seaman First Class in the U.S. Navy, specializing in the then new radar technology before discharge in 1946.  Taking advantage of the GI Bill and graduating as an electrical engineer from Union College, He applied his skills working for General Electric as an engineer for six years.  He also did his part over the years as a member of the Knights of Columbus.  

        During that time he felt a calling to something much be a missionary priest for the Lord and His Church, beginning his studies for the priesthood in 1954. 

        On June 10, 1961 Fr. Joe completed his studies at the Maryknoll major seminary in Ossining, NY and was ordained to the priesthood .  The traditional bell clanged, calling each newly ordained missionary priest to his assignment all over the world, be it Taiwan, Korea, Cambodia, Kenya, Africa, or South America. 

       Fr. Joe was called to Peru and that's where I first met him in my assignment as a lay missioner (the Papal Volunteers for Latin America or PAVLA) as a chemistry professor at the Universidad Católica de Santa María en Arequipa, the second largest city of Perú, dominated by a majestic 19,000 ft. volcano, Misti, and two huge mountains, the snow covered Chachani (23,000 ft.) and Pichu Pichu.  PAVLA was somewhat similar to the Peace Corps, but sent by the Catholic Church of the United States in response to the call of St. Pope John XXIII for priests and lay volunteers to help the Church in Latin America as requested by the local bishops.

       After being sent to the Spanish language school in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Fr. Joe was helping out at the Nuestra Señora del Pilar parish church, but was allowed to teach Physics and Church Social teaching at our university founded by Fr. William Morris, a Marianist priest from St. Louis.  Fr. Bill could not pass up recruiting a former GE electrical engineer to teach at the Universidad Católica de Santa María.  It seems that the Lord so often uses people of diverse talents and skills to do His work. 

       We both worked to form science teachers.  Bob Relyea, a Peace Corps Volunteer and devout Evangelical Christian, completed the gringo team in teaching Math.  He later returned to Arequipa as a missionary himself.  It was a joy to have Fr. Joe as my confessor in my own language at la Parroquia del Pilar where he was also assigned. 

   Fr. Joe was a kind, gentle, humble, and compassionate priest.  Any donations he received from stateside benefactors would go to the poor, particularly impoverished families.

Three generations of a Peruvian family Fr. Joe worked with in Perú.

         He served at different missions in southern Peru.......Puno, Juli, Arequipa, and Tacna.  He even learned the Indian language Aymara in which he heard confessions.  Later he was reassigned to head a house of formation for seminarians who studied at the Católica.  There I had the opportunity to meet his seminarians when he invited me to have dinner with them.  Occasionally, he would take a break to be with nature, traveling upstream along the Rio Chili to fish.

      In 1968-69 I took leave to obtain a Master's Degree in Business Administration at the University of Pittsburgh.  After being so active in Peru, it was so confining to be a student again.  I craved having contact with the people I worked with in Peru.  Fr. Joe was a godsend.  During a time when it was so costly to call abroad, he communicated with his friends and family in the United States via a phone patch on his ham radio station.  The University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) had a student ham radio station; so it was very convenient.  Every Wednesday we would have a conversation.......ham radio station to ham radio station. 

One of the families of his parish in Tacna, Perú close to the border with Chile.  When retired in the U.S., he kept in contact with them via Skype and by occasional visits.

Fr. James Stefaniak (left),  flanked by Fr. Philip Erbland, M.M and Fr. Joseph Kowalcyzk on the right.  Both helped to set up parishes in Tacna, Peru.  Fr. Stefianiak died in December 2012 after 62 years serving the Lord as a Maryknoll missioner.

   I was back in Peru teaching Chemistry, Methodology of Science Teaching, and Business.  Meanwhile Fr. Joe was transferred back to the Altiplano (a 12,000 ft. plain along Lake Titicaca) and to Tacna on the south Pacific coast.  In 1979 my father died with my mother being alone with my sick brother, Fred.  I had to return to the United States.  I taught at Franciscan University of Steubenville until 1983 when I began work on a doctorate in Business at Kent State University.

 Fr. Joseph Kowalczyk M.M. is flanked by a group of faithful he worked with in San Jose, CA.

      In 1986 Fr. Joe was doing Maryknoll promotion work and invited me to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of his ordination.  He was recruiting Polish Americans for the order.  I said:  “I have a friend who is a real live Pole and she's considering becoming a missionary nurse and nun”.  So I brought her along.  Jaga met Fr. Joe's mother and they spoke Polish together.  I arranged with my friends among the sisters to take her on a tour of the convent.  Later Jaga said: “I don't think I want to become a nun.  My reaction was: “YES!”  I did my part to encourage any vocation she might have had.    We became closer friends than ever.  We got married in 1988 and 35 years, four kids, five grand children you know the rest of the story.

      In 2011 Fr. Joe was a retired priest residing at Maryknoll, NY and it was time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his ordination and also the 100th anniversary of the founding of Maryknoll (see  Maryknollers – A Century Spreading the Gospel And the Role of Each One of Us) at      

         This time two of our four children (Stephanie & Joseph) came with Jaga and me.  It was a joy celebrating with Fr. Joe and his extended family.  We had the privilege of sitting in on the liturgy of the hours done by Fr. Joe and  a group of younger priests, some of whom wore the traditional cassock.  All of this gave me hope for the future of the Church along  with the prayer groups that are still persevering; namely, the Nucleus of Divine Mercy, the Legion of Mary, and the Marian Movement of Priests.                                                                                                                                          As a bonus we met my dear friend, Sr. Maria Colabella (R.I.P. See Sr. Maria Colabella: From Papal Volunteer to Maryknoll Missionary..........An Instrument of God That Communicated His Love on Three Continents

    She invited us for dinner at the Maryknoll convent and it was a wonderful reunion with my former student, Sr. Elizabeth Roach of Pittsburgh (,  and, and others I worked with in Peru.  Furthermore, we took side trips to the New York Art Gallery and the West Point Military Academy.  Sr. Elizabeth wrote a number of children’s books about the missions available on                 

        In his later years Fr. Joe suffered from arthritis in his hip, back, and knee which was replaced.  His attitude was “Fiat” (let it be done) as he offered it all to the Lord as redemptive suffering for the conversion of sinners as Mary had requested at Fatima.  He had a strong devotion to Mary and Divine Mercy upon whom world peace depends.   

        We were already talking about Fr. Joe's 60th anniversary, but he was two years short. In his late November Christmas Newsletter of 2019 Padre José foresaw his death with faith, trust, and resignation.  A couple weeks later he did depart from us and is laid to rest at the Maryknoll Cemetery among the many heroes of the Society, among them martyrs and the hundreds of other Men of Maryknoll who gave their lives to Christ as missionaries around the world.  We miss you, Padrecito; thank you so much for all those years you served God, the Church, and us so faithfully.  Before long we'll all be together again for one glorious reunion in eternity.  Let's all make sure that we get there



Fr. Joseph Kowalczyk Obituary (1927-2019)

   Maryknoll Missioner (92) to Peru, Father Joseph W. Kowalczyk died on December 15, 2019, at Phelps Memorial Hospital, Tarrytown, NY. He was 92 years old and a Maryknoll priest for 58 years.

 Joseph William Kowalczyk was born in Schenectady, NY on March 22, 1927, to Joseph and Stefania Kaczmarczyk Kowalczyk. Father Kowalczyk is survived by his brother George Kowalczyk, of Hanover, PA; two sisters, Blanche Prudent of Fort Smith, AR and Regina Weishet of Naples, FL; and several nieces and nephews He was predeceased by his sister, Emily Grzybowski of Schenectady, NY. He was a parishioner at St. Adalbert's Church. Joseph attended Draper Grammar School and graduated from Draper High School in 1943.


   During the World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was honorably discharged in August 1946. Resuming his studies, he graduated from Union College in June 1948 with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering. He worked for the General Electric Company for six years. In June 1954, he joined Maryknoll, and he was ordained to the priesthood on June 10, 1961, and assigned to the Peru Region.


   After 20 years in Peru, Father Kowalczyk returned to the U.S. in 1981.  In January 1985.  he returned to Peru.  From June 1996 to the end of 1997, he served as Vicar General under Bishop Hugo Garaycoa in the Diocese of Tacna and Moquegua. 


   In March 2002, Father Kowalczyk was given retirement status with residency in the Maryknoll Residence in Los Altos, CA, where he lived and served part time on Mission Promotion appeals and as Spiritual Director. In June 2014, Father moved to the Society Center at Maryknoll, NY.


   In 2019, Father Kowalczyk was appointed to the Pastoral Visitors Team. A Rosary and wake service will be held at 4 p.m. on December 22, 2019, in the Holy Spirit Chapel at the Maryknoll Society Center. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held on December 23, 2019 at 11 a.m., and will be concelebrated in Queen of Apostles Chapel. Burial will be followed in Maryknoll Society Cemetery with Father Raymond Finch conducting the graveside service.

Published by The Daily Gazette Co. on Dec. 21, 2019.