Waznak, Father Robert Paul, S.S.
Robert Paul Waznak (Bob) was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania on February 5, 1938, the youngest of three boys born to Frank and Sophia Waznak. His father, a miner died of black lung disease. The injustices Mr. Waznak and the family suffered became a stimulus for Bob to preach about and work for social justice issues and the rights of the poor and immigrants.
He attended local public schools for his primary and secondary education, graduating from Scranton Central High School in 1956. He began his college education at the University of Scranton. After two years he transferred to Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, earning a B.A. in philosophy in 1960. He continued at Mt. St. Mary’s for his theology. One of the blessings of his time at Mount St. Mary’s was becoming life-long friends with Fr. Harry J. Flynn, who became Archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis.
Bishop J. Carroll McCormick ordained Bob for the diocese of Scranton on May 23, 1964. He served at Holy Rosary Parish (1964-1965), Scranton, and St. Mary’s Parish (1965-1968), Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. During those years (1965-1968), Bob taught religion at Marymount High School.
Similar to his father, Bob was often the target for criticism and sarcasm because he was Polish. In his later years Bob would often recall the discrimination and hurt he experienced as a result of this insensitivity from both pastors and parishioners. This discrimination made him keenly aware of other people, and until his death he was often the champion of the poor, under-represented, and those who were marginalized because of race, religion, gender, or age.
During his theology years Bob spoke with both his spiritual director and his seminary rector about his interest in seminary teaching. While in St. Mary’s Parish, Wilkes-Barre, Bob actively pursued this possibility. St. Mary’s Parish was the home parish to Fr. Paul P. Purta, S.S., at the time rector of St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park. Bob also knew two other Sulpicians from the Scranton diocese, Fr. William J. Flynn, S.S. and Fr. Frank Kazista, S.S. In March of 1967, he wrote to Fr. Purta, and shortly after, with Fr. Purta’s encouragement, to the Sulpician Provincial, Fr. Lloyd McDonald, S.S. Significantly, Fr. Purta noted to Bob at the time, “From my folks, I hear of your fine work, especially in the pulpit.” Bob would often credit his entrance into the Sulpicians because of Father Purta’s mother with whom he had a wonderful relationship. He was admitted to the Society of St. Sulpice in 1970.
The Society assigned him to St. Mary’s Seminary, Roland Park, to teach homiletics. After one year at St. Mary’s, Bob went to studies and received a Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Communications from Temple University in Philadelphia in 1974. Bob joined the formation faculty at Theological College and became an instructor in homiletics at The Catholic University of America from 1972 - 1980. He enjoyed his relationship with the rector, Father Edward Frazer, S.S., and other Sulpicians, especially Fathers Albert C. Giaquinto, John H. Thirlkel, and Melvin C. Blanchette.
In 1977, Bob accepted the additional responsibility of Director of Formation and Recruitment for the Province. He continued teaching at The Catholic University and commuted to Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey as a Visiting Professor of Homiletics.
In particular, Bob relished the opportunity that this Director of Formation and Recruitment position offered him to travel and to visit members around the world where they were engaged in studies. Along with his predecessor, Fr. John P. McManus, S.S., Bob always encouraged members to enter the best universities possible, and to pursue excellence in their graduate studies.
In 1980, the Washington Theological Union invited Bob to join its faculty in the area of Homiletics and Liturgy, and he accepted the offer with permission of the Provincial Council. Bob held that position until his retirement in 2000. With WTU as his base, Bob began to distinguish himself nationally for his homiletic expertise. Some of the milestones were the following. In 1987 he became the founding president of the Catholic Association of Teachers of Homiletics. From 1990 – 1994, he became the worship editor of Homiletic magazine. In 1997, he was named the Secretary/Treasurer of Societias Homiletica, and he remained co-editor of the New Theology Review from 1997 almost up to his death.
An accomplished author of several books, Bob’s book, An Introduction to the Homily, won second place in 1999 for Best Professional Books, awarded by the National Catholic Press Association. Bob’s writings were well-received and reflected his talent as scholar, teacher, and preacher. He wrote articles and book reviews in a wide variety of theological and pastoral journals. He loved to teach, publish, discuss, and was a well-known raconteur of stories. In fact, Bob’s teaching method was through storytelling and narrative. Bob contributed to the quality of parochial preaching through seminars and clergy workshops throughout the United States and Canada. This activity of giving workshops also enabled him to continue to pursue his love of travel, and his love of getting to know people from around the country, and even the world. He had a marvelous memory, and frequently the people he met in the ordinary course of a day became the focus of one of his homilies or examples in his teaching.
In 1998, Bob discovered that he had leukemia, and in 2002 he asked for early retirement. Bob was serious about his priesthood, prayer and keeping abreast of developments in theology. He had an intelligent and lively interest in politics and church affairs. He also loved good things, music, art, literature, and travel. Bob was a remarkable human being with a wonderful sense of humor. He loved living out his story, and he taught many seminarians and priests to trust that God is working through their stories. He never tired of teaching that the best source of stories is not in books but written in the daily narratives of one’s life.
Robert Paul Waznak, S.S. died on December 5, 2002 at Hospice of Washington. On December 9, 2002 the Funeral Mass was celebrated at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Washington, DC. Reverend Edward Frazer, S.S. presided, with Bob’s longtime friend and colleague Fr. James Wallace, CSsR as the homilist. Dr. Lucy Lind Hogan gave the eulogy. Fr. Waznak was buried in the family burial plot in the Sacred Heart Cemetery, Scranton, Pennsylvania on December 11, 2002.