Father Bartomiej Jasilek, SVD,
Currently the Pastor of Our Mother of Mercy Parish, Fort Worth. He was ordained May 9, 2009, in Poland as a Divine Word Missionary. He has also served at two predominantly African-American churches in Louisiana.
Growing up: Fr. Bart, as he is now called, grew up in a small town in a wooded area in northwest Poland with an older brother and three older sisters.
The call: At 22, Fr. Bart was finishing his paramedic studies and helping at his church as an altar server, lector, and youth leader. He wanted to marry and have a big family. After several parishioners told him he should be a priest, he began to consider it. Alone in church looking at the cross, his legs began to wobble, and he felt God might be calling him.
As he was discerning, his associate pastor took him to a bookstore in a larger city in Poland. On the way, they stopped at the Society of the Divine Word seminary and toured the missionary museum. While there, “my heart was beating in a different rhythm. I had a kind of joy and peace in my heart.”
On facing obstacles: When his class of seminarians neared its last year, Fr. Bart was assigned an extra year of seminary, which left him “almost broken inside.” After he completed it, he “recognized it was a year of special blessing for me from God,” allowing him to be near his mother during her terminal illness. “Obstacles could be God’s way of helping us with many things. God’s plan is to prepare us for something. We have to be strengthened.”
Some notable firsts: After being ordained a transitional deacon, the first funeral he assisted with was his mother’s. Leading the procession from the church to the cemetery, Fr. Bart felt “a beautiful peace in my heart.”
The first wedding he blessed at Our Mother of Mercy was “a Mexican couple getting married at a historically African-American church by a crazy priest from Poland. God shows us unity, what we are supposed to be. We are united in God’s name. Jesus is the same for each and every one.”
Coming to America: Upon ordination, Fr. Bart hoped to be assigned to Mexico. Instead, he was sent to the U.S. He and the other new missionaries took a test to measure their fluency in English. The other priests were impressed when he finished in 10 minutes. Truth was — he didn’t speak a word of English. He spent a year at Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa learning English. Now, his parishioners tell him he gets his message across better than some native English speakers, because he preaches not just with words but with his whole body.
Best thing about being a priest: “I am the priest who loves the confessional,” and on one Divine Mercy Sunday he spent six hours straight hearing confessions. “It’s a beautiful sacrament of healing and grace” that purifies the heart and strengthens the soul. He compared it to washing your hands before a meal. “Even if the food is good, if I have poison on my hands, it can hurt me. The Holy Eucharist is good heavenly food that can nourish us.”
Meaningful moment: Fr. Bart was selected to serve as an altar server when his society’s founder and two missionaries were canonized. Pope John Paul II celebrated the Mass in 2003, when Parkinson’s had weakened his body. At the consecration, the pope’s arm trembled with the effort of elevating the host, and he was only able to raise it slightly. Fr. Bart watched as the pope then bowed his head below the host. “Even in his human weakness, he found a way to show the whole world Jesus is number one.” He thinks of it at every consecration — “it made a huge mark in my mind, in my heart, in my soul.”
On historically African-American parishes: When he listens to the stories of African-American Catholics who lived through segregation, Fr. Bart admires that they remained Catholic although they were sometimes excluded from the sacraments or the priesthood by other Catholics. He wants Our Mother of Mercy to make all feel welcome while retaining its African-American legacy.
Free time: Fr. Bart enjoys fishing, hiking, biking, and growing spiritually. Although he doesn’t follow recipes, he likes to cook and makes a good chicken-sausage gumbo. “Also, I like to spend some time in silence. . . . When and how can I recognize that God is talking to me if I am not giving the opportunities to listen to that voice?”
The takeaway: “God exists. God is love. God is asking us to share God’s love with others. If people know Jesus and God’s love, they will come [to church] because nothing can replace it.”