Chudzinski, Father Frederick V., S.S.

1997, November 8

Date of Birth: 1910, February 23

September 9, 1998

When Father Frederick V. Chudzinski, S.S., died on the morning of November 8, 1997, one of his confreres recalled an incident that had happened not long before. As he recounted it,

Some months ago, I had a turn offering the community Mass at St. Martin’s Home. Most of the times I’ve come, Father Chudzinski was in a wheelchair back in the corner barely aware of what was going on. But on this one morning he seemed bright and clear. He received the host I brought him and even drank of the Precious Blood. Afterwards I saw him in the hall, and he knew me. Then he made the remark: “I feel like I’ve been away for a long time, and I’m just coming back.” That was the last time I spoke to him; all the other times he was asleep or “out of it.”

Thus, could be summed up the closing chapter of the life of Father Chud, as so many of St. Martin’s Home residents knew him. But there are chapters stretching back over eight decades, and it would be well to begin at the beginning.

Frederick Valentine Chudzinski was born on February 23, 1910, in the old Cathedral parish of St. Francis de Sales in Toledo, Ohio, the son of Helene Dwight and Leo Chudzinski. Two of his sisters and one of his brothers survive him. Fred early came under the influence of his pastor, Msgr. John T. O’Connell, who, though he spent only one year as a student at Old St. Charles College, Ellicott City, was known for the number of students he sent to the new St. Charles at Catonsville. Fred was one of them, and he enrolled at the College in September 1924. He registered under his confirmation name of Frederick Vincent, but that never stopped his later students from celebrating St. Valentine’s Day in his honor. During his six years at St. Charles Fred saw the inauguration of the Sulpician Cemetery, just off the east end of the campus. He and his fellow students went to Roland Park for the dedication of the New St. Mary’s Seminary in November 1929. The following April he and his Rhetoric classmates were part of the excitement of moving into the classrooms and library of the St. Charles Administration Building, which through the munificence of Archbishop Curley of Baltimore was brought from being a one‑story stump to its full height of four stories.

In 1930 Fred Chudzinski took a good solid class record and a reputation as a handball player from the College to Old St. Mary’s Seminary on Paca Street. He and his classmates spent three years at the downtown campus because First Theology remained at the old location, along with the two years of Philosophy, until the library wing at Roland Park was completed in 1933. In his second year at Old St. Mary’s, Fred served as student master of ceremonies. During his First Theology year he received tonsure from Auxiliary Bishop John M. McNamara in November and first Minors the following May.

During the three years that Fred spent at St. Mary’s in Roland Park, he was a member of Father Selner’s choir. He also came in contact with Archbishop‑elect Vladimir Alexandrof, the Russian Orthodox convert to Catholicism who came to St. Mary’s to give a lecture in December 1934 and who stayed on till his death in 1945. There was also community participation in the solemn pontifical field Mass at the old Baltimore Stadium in May 1934; it was to mark the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Maryland colony. The seminarians assisted as ushers, servers, choir members, etc. Fred also had a visit from his Ordinary, Bishop Karl J. Alter of Toledo, who came to give a lecture to the community in February of 1936. By then the Bishop had given Fred a release to pursue a candidacy in the Sulpicians. Of course, too, there was the reception of second Minors in 1934, subdiaconate in 1935, and diaconate in the fall of 1935, this most important order at the hands of Archbishop Curley.

Soon it was time to go home to Toledo for ordination to the priesthood which was conferred by Bishop Alter on June 6, 1936. The Voice magazine lists the ordination at Holy Rosary Cathedral, which was then being built but which was not dedicated for another four years. So presumably the new Father Chudzinski was ordained at the old Cathedral of St. Francis de Sales, where his first solemn Mass took place next day.

In those days of plentiful Sulpician candidates, it was not unusual for the newly ordained to be assigned immediately to Solitude. So, it was with Father Chudzinski in September of 1936.

From the end of Solitude in 1937 the new Sulpician (except for one brief break) was a member of the St. Charles faculty until 1958. In 1939 he was assigned to the Catholic University of America to get his M.A. After only a year there he was called back to replace Father Marcetteau, who had ended his direction of Solitude and given up his Latin course. Thus, Father Chudzinski taught Latin and finished up his degree work at the same time. From 1942 on he served as principal of the high school and also taught both Latin and Greek. He also found time to prefect the Poet dormitory, to develop the cemetery and do other work on the grounds, and to keep an eye on the swimming pool down in the woods. He likewise looked after his penitents, at least one of whom became a bishop.

In vacation time Father Fred would continue working by serving as an assistant in one or other of the parishes in the New York or Brooklyn dioceses. During the school years he became a fixture at St. William of York parish in Baltimore, where he served as a weekend assistant for many years.

Also, during the year in his capacity as principal he would make up the endless reports needed by state or diocesan agencies. For several of the accreditation inspections that took place during his time he did almost all the work involved in making up the detailed reports. On the side he continued to maintain his reputation as a very accomplished handball player.

In the fall of 1958 St. Edward’s Minor Seminary in Seattle became the new scene of Father Chudzinski’s labors. In his eighteen years in the Northwest he served for a few years as spiritual director for the house. Then for a longer time he directed activities in the chapel as master of ceremonies. And in the latter years of his time there he worked as treasurer, when there was never enough money available and when he had to deal with the kitchen help after the Little Daughters of St. Joseph withdrew in 1970. Throughout the years he always had the responsibilities of master of the grounds and teacher of Latin.

Then in 1976 his world came apart. In spite of heroic efforts, St. Edward’s had dwindled in numbers to only forty students spread through the four years of high school. So, it was determined by Archbishop Hunthausen and his advisors that the high school seminary should be closed. Since the Sulpicians were no longer sponsoring any high school programs, Father Chudzinski and the other faculty members had to find places for themselves. In his case, not only had Greek ceased to be taught but even Latin was considered unnecessary. Even his beloved Latin liturgy had almost disappeared.

His refuge was to go back to parish work at St. Mark’s parish in the north end of Seattle. There he lived and worked for a dozen years with a compatible pastor and with parishioners who grew to love and admire him. They helped him celebrate his golden jubilee in 1986. Over much of his time at St. Mark’s he served as the local coordinator for the dwindling number of Sulpicians in the Northwest.

By 1988 his struggles with arthritis made it necessary for him to put an end to thirty years in the Seattle area and to come back to live at St. Charles Villa. In time, his deteriorating health made it necessary to move Father Fred to the infirmary at St. Martin’s Home, where he spent his final few years.

We who knew him over the years could hardly imagine him unable to summon the strength to keep going. But we must remember that Fred was a perfectionist and, once he had gotten something the way he wanted it, he expected it to remain the same. You could see this in his room – everything precisely in place. You could see it in his classes – everything prepared for and exactly on schedule. You could see it in his handwriting, which hardly changed from his student days. You could see it in his students, from whom he expected a great deal of preparation and accomplishment; that is why the more gifted students admired him and visited him long years after their graduation, and why the less talented looked forward to his classes almost with fear and trembling. You could see it also in the way he seemed to have found the best way to do things:

  • the best way to teach his classes because it was the way he had been taught;
  • the best way to maintain discipline because it was the way he had seen his elders do it;
  • the best way to keep from the challenges and dangers of change by following tradition as he had learned it.

For the final months of Father Chudzinski’s life there was much confusion and pain. Occasionally, as was noted at the beginning, Fred would have moments of clarity and awareness, when, like the disciples at Emmaus, he could know that “it is the Lord.” That was certainly true on the day that we celebrated his sixtieth anniversary of ordination when he took part in the liturgy and the dinner that followed. So it went for the final year until the early morning of Saturday, November 8, 1997, when it was no longer a matter of faith for him but of vision of the Master who called him.

The Provincial, Fr. Ronald Witherup, presided at the evening Mass at St. Martin’s Home on November 12. He was joined by a number of his fellow Sulpicians, other local priests, and by Father Fred’s grandnephew, Bob Haase, who is stationed in the Washington area and who represented the family. Fr. John Bowen, a Sulpician at St. Charles Villa, was asked to preach that evening because he had been stationed with Fred at St. Charles and St. Edward’s longer than anyone else.

Early Thursday morning the body was sent to Toledo for the final Mass and burial there on Friday. Later on Thursday, Fr. William O’Keeffe, the Villa’s Superior, left by plane for Toledo to preach at the Mass. But snow grounded his plane in Pittsburgh and prevented him from arriving on time. A call came in from Judy Manders, Father Fred’s niece, to have the Wednesday evening homily faxed to Toledo. It arrived in time to be read by the pastor of St. John’s in Toledo, who had never known Father Chudzinski but who, according to report, perfectly pronounced the Latin In Paradisum that concluded the homily. So it served for two totally different congregations in widely different places. We won’t venture to guess what Father Fred’s reaction would have been to that turn of events; he is beyond caring.

Now he lies with his parents in their plot in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Fremont, Ohio, where he was laid to rest by family, relatives, and former students.

May he be enjoying the vision of the Lord he served for so long, and may his family be filled with the consolation of graces of the same merciful Master.

John W. Bowen, S.S.