Upon hearing the news about Fr. Bruce Lewandowski, C.Ss.R.
Bethany Welch, Ph.D., CMSM Fellow for Justice and Peace
My first text of the day on June 10 was a friend sharing a screencap of the USCCB announcement that Father Bruce Lewandowski, C.Ss.R. was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore. Fr. Bruce – now Bishop-designate Bruce – is someone that I have long regarded as a friend and colleague, not to mention spiritual leader and mentor. I met him in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia around 2006 when he had the unenviable role of merging two distinctive parishes and serving as the pastor of the new parish as it came under the auspices of the Redemptorist Order.
I learned about the power of symbolic action when he facilitated a prayerful procession that involved parishioners from the closing parish carrying their icons and images to meet our community halfway and then collectively marching together to the receiving parish. I watched as he listened, listened, and listened some more to the pain of those who saw their parish close and to those who were unsure about the new people joining our community. I said yes when he asked me to join the newly merged parish council, not because I had time to attend more meetings, but because I was intrigued by Fr. Bruce’s energy and humility.
In the years that followed, Fr. Bruce proved ready for all good work that brought the Gospel into the streets and that created opportunities for authentic relationship with neighbors. He said yes to a voter registration drive. He said yes to organizing buses to take parishioners to D.C. to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform. He said yes to being part of a peace festival convened to address violence and limited opportunities for local youth. That festival stands out to me particularly because he also served as our master of ceremonies for the event, deftly shifting from English to Spanish, and from energizing remarks to healing notes with his guitar.
Later, when he moved from that parish to a role within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, he continued to bring a prophetic voice and his own brand of buoyant holy boldness to conference room tables where difficult decisions were being made. The notable visit of Pope Francis to Philadelphia included the Holy Father sharing remarks at Independence Hall. Father Bruce adeptly served again—on a much, much larger stage—as the master of ceremonies for the day.
Three summers ago, I was helping to coordinate a youth summer leadership program where one of the themes was community organizing. With a quick email to Fr. Bruce, we put together a day trip to Sacred Heart of Jesus/Sagrado Corazón de Jesús where he was serving as pastor. We packed into a sweaty yellow school bus, headed down I-95, and spent part of the day learning from Fr. Bruce and his team about the parish’s immigrant-led organizing around community IDs and other concrete action that addressed injustice within social and public systems.
My prayers for Fr. Bruce Lewandowski, C.Ss.R., are undoubtedly united with those of the people of New York, St. Lucia, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and everywhere he has faithfully served with love, generosity, and humility. May he continue to lead with courage and be guided by the Holy Spirit.