CUDAHY (WITI) — Jan Kieliszewski, a Catholic priest, was found dead on Sunday morning, July 21st. Services were cancelled at the Nativity of the Lord church for the day. On Monday, it was learned Father Jan’s death has been ruled a suicide, at the same time Father Jan was being remembered during a special, memorial Mass.
The Milwaukee Archdiocese released a statement Monday evening that was to be read to parishioners at the special mass for Father Jan.
“Good evening, dear people of Nativity and Sacred Heart Parishes. We come together tonight with a mix of emotions and more questions than answers. We have now had confirmation from the Medical Examiner’s Office that Father Jan died yesterday, a victim of suicide.
The death of someone we love is always difficult, but in situations like this, the pain is compounded. Everything that Jesus reveals about God assures us that God’s hands are much gentler and safer than our own. In the end, nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from God’s love and forgiveness.
We are, in this life and the next, in hands far safer and gentler than our own. Where we stand helpless, God’s compassion can still reach through. God’s love can breathe peace and reconciliation into anger, and fear. God’s hands are gentler than ours, God’s compassion is wider than ours, and God’s understanding infinitely surpasses our own. Our wounded loved ones who fall victim to suicide are safe in God’s hands, safer by far than they are in the judgments that flow from our own limited understanding.
As yet, there are no funeral arrangements made for Fr. Jan. At the request of the family and to allow them time to travel from out-of-state, the funeral will not take place until next week.
We are blessed at both parishes to have gifted staff and strong lay leadership and they will again step forward to help guide you through the difficult days ahead. A priest will be appointed soon to serve as temporary administrator. Pastoral care will continue as usual. Out of concern and care for your long-term pastoral needs, parishioners will be consulted prior to the appointment of new parish leadership.
After Mass, grief counselors will be available in the community room for anyone who wishes to talk with a professional.
We are here in Church tonight, and in the days to come, because we are believers. Thank you for coming to pray together for Father Jan and his loved ones, as well as for one another. We need to mourn together, to comfort one another and to encourage each other to trust God’s plan for us. What better place to join hands and hearts than where we are most truly family, at the table of the Lord.”
Father Jan split his time between Sacred Heart and Nativity of the Lord Church in Cudahy, and parishioners from both are remembering a man whose death they say was unexpected.
“You wonder, you worry, what’s happening? What’s going on?” parishioner Kevin Fech said.
“The entire front of the church was taped off, so nobody knew what to expect,” parishioner Angie Fech said.
“We walked down to see what was going on — if Mass was going to be held, and that’s when I learned that Father Jan had passed away,” Kevin Fech said.
“You would never expect something like this to happen,” Angie Fech said.
The Fech family says the priest had recently been ill.
“He said that he had a bout of food poisoning, so nobody saw him for about a week or so,” Angie Fech said.
Father Jan recently thanked the congregation for its “understanding and prayers” during his sickness.
“We heard he was on the mend. We heard he was getting better. And then all of a sudden this happens. It’s like what’s going on?” Kevin Fech said.
Father Jan had been with the parish for over a year. It was a time of change, as he was splitting duties between two parishes.
“In this day when we don’t have a lot of priests, Fr. Jan was there for his faith community,” Kevin Fech said.
Now, a community, saddened by the loss of a leader in faith is hopeful prayers will see them through.
“We enjoy our faith community, we enjoy worshipping together and Fr. Jan will definitely be missed,” Angie Fech said.