SALT LAKE CITY — Father Marcin Szymanski, O.P., and Deacon John Keyser walked reverently into the St. Catherine of Siena Newman Center chapel on July 26. Fr. Marcin sang as he approached the altar, his voice echoing clear and strong around the room. It was only his third time celebrating Mass at the Newman Center, but already he was growing used to the new setting, he said after the Mass.
At the start of July, Fr. Marcin joined Father Lukasz Misko, O.P., and Father Jacek Buda, O.P at the Newman Center as the new parochial vicar of the parish, filling a vacancy left by Father Peter Hannah, O.P., who left to study in Rome.
Fr. Marcin was appointed to Salt Lake City by his province.
“I really like the place,” Fr. Marcin said. Though, if he has one complaint about Utah, it’s that “there’s not enough air here,” he said.
After leaving his home in Warsaw, Poland, he ministered in Dublin, Ireland, and most recently since 2013, in Seattle, Wash. Seattle is only 518 feet above sea level, compared to Salt Lake City which sits at 4,226 feet.
“The altitude difference hit me hard,” he said. When driving around in Utah’s mountains, he couldn’t stop thinking about how “it’s a place where you can drive your car that’s higher than the tallest peak in Poland,” Fr. Marcin said.
Other than the altitude difference, moving to Utah has not been a tremendous shock, Fr. Marcin said, adding that though it is very different from Poland, each new place he has visited has prepared him for the next.
At about the age of 15, he began to have thoughts about joining the priesthood, Fr. Marcin said. But the feelings he had were “vague and childlike,” and it wasn’t until he was 16 and in high school that he began actively working toward making his goal a reality, he said.
He joined a Dominican youth program in Poland and at the age of 19 he was accepted into the Order of Preachers. He never ministered as a priest in Poland, instead leaving for Ireland, where he was ordained and given his first pastoral assignment, ministering to the large Polish community in Dublin, he said.
The journey from Poland to the United States made him “much more knowledgeable and aware of my faith,” Fr. Marcin said. He also found that he loves to work hard to minister to and care for his parishioners, he said. “A good Dominican says ‘Give me work … and I am happy.’ And that’s me.”
Another Dominican priest who is looking forward to Fr. Marcin’s hard work is Fr. Jacek, who has worked in the Diocese of Salt Lake City for more than a year and is now pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Newman Center.
Fr. Marcin was a deacon in Poland when Fr. Jacek first met him at a preaching camp, and even then his passion for his ministry was apparent, Fr. Jacek said.
Fr. Marcin is “known as a boy scout,” Fr. Jacek said. “It’s his nickname and it’s a beloved part of his life.”
The nickname means not just that he’s good at following rules, it also carries all the positive qualities that a boy scout should have – Fr. Marcin is courageous, kind and conscientious, and “is very sensitive to other people,” and so brings the greatest qualities of boy scouts to the priesthood, Fr. Jacek said.
As parochial vicar, Fr. Marcin will work as the director of religious education for the parish, as well as care for the people of his parish, Fr. Jacek said. He will be excellent for the Newman Center in many ways, one of which will be his youth, Fr. Jacek said. Fr. Marcin is part of one of the youngest generations of Dominican priests and they pay attention to different things than older priests might, he said.
His young age also means “he’s not much older than the students, which is wonderful and why he’s very fantastic for this,” Fr. Jacek said, adding that students from the University of Utah often come to the Newman Center.
Other Newman Center parishioners also will appreciate Fr. Marcin’s humanity, Fr. Jacek said. Fr. Marcin has faults like everyone else, but “he’s a human being … searching for God,” a quality that is of the utmost importance for a priest, he said.
For his part, Fr. Marcin hopes that parishioners “will get used to my accent eventually,” he said. He is also looking forward to “helping out with the Catholic schools, … really being a part of this diocese and to really (help) people grow in faith,” he said.