St. Francis Says Farewell to Seminarian Paul Zwolak on July 15

 St. Francis Says Farewell to Seminarian Paul Zwolak on July 15

By Katie McFadden

After nine months of serving the St. Francis de Sales Parish, Seminarian Paul Zwolak has completed his pastoral year and will be continuing in his next steps to priesthood. Seminarian Zwolak’s last day is Monday, July 15, with a Farewell Mass this Sunday, June 30.

Late last summer, Zwolak was assigned to St. Francis de Sales in Belle Harbor and began there on September 2, 2023. For those hoping to become a priest, a pastoral year is much like an internship, where a seminarian brushes up on their skills and gains firsthand experience, learning the day-to-day duties of a Catholic priest in a church.

For Zwolak, this has been part of an ongoing journey that began in 2018, when he entered the seminary to begin an eight-year program, with the hope of being ordained as a priest in 2026. However, for Zwolak, the passion to dedicate his life to Christ and the Catholic Church began at an early age.

Growing up in Middle Village, as the child of Polish immigrants, the Catholic faith had been a big part of his life early on. Zwolak attended a Catholic elementary and middle school and was a regular at Mass on Sundays in his home parish of Our Lady of Hope. In fifth grade, he became an altar server and took a special interest in the liturgical feasts of the church. Zwolak went on to attend Archbishop Molloy High School and would regularly attend Catholic retreats and events. In his second year of high school, he visited Ireland and went on a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Knock and prayed the rosary, hoping that the Blessed Mother would give him guidance towards his vocation. In senior year, he attended a vocational retreat with the Marist Brothers, and he continued to pray to God for guidance.

By 2018, while attending St. John’s University, Zwolak knew God was calling him to become a priest. While continuing to pursue a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at St. John’s, he entered seminary school in his second year of college. “Ultimately God was calling me to the priesthood,” he said. Zwolak says it was inspiration from other priests and the support of his family that ultimately led him in this direction. “The priest figures in my life have been a really big part of it and just seeing what priests do on a daily basis, and my family have been super practicing Catholics all of their lives, and everything coming together made me want to become a priest,” he said.  What does he enjoy most about pursuing the priesthood? “Bringing the faith to those at the various parishes and trying to bring Christ to people’s lives,” he said.

In 2021, Zwolak completed minor seminary formation at Cathedral Seminary House of Formation in Douglaston and began major seminary at St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers. Two years ago, he spent a summer at Holy Family in Fresh Meadows after being assigned there.

Zwolak was familiar with Rockaway, having come out to the beach here during high school and running the Graybeards Family Run, so he was happy when he was assigned to St. Francis de Sales for his pastoral year. For Zwolak, it’s been a good educational opportunity in a welcoming parish. “It’s been great, really informative in my forming to become a priest,” he said. Having Father Jim Cunningham, Father Bill Sweeney and Monsignor John Bracken to guide him has also been beneficial. “They’ve been great mentors and just really good priests and examples to follow.”

Since coming to Rockaway, Zwolak has been living at the rectory, meeting parishioners, participating in the ins and outs of the church and even teaching third graders a few times a month at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Academy. On November 5, he was installed as an Acolyte by Bishop James Massa. And in between all of that, he’s made time to head to the beach and ride his bike down to Beach 9th Street and back, taking advantage of all Rockaway has to offer.

And in that time, he’s learned what makes Rockaway and St. Francis de Sales so special. “I’ve learned the sense of community that Rockaway has, that the church has, plays a big part in holding the community together, and it really is the center part of the life here in Rockaway,” he said.

But the time has come to return to the seminary at St. Joseph’s. On Sunday, June 30 at 10 a.m., a Farewell Mass will be held for Seminarian Zwolak at St. Francis de Sales Church. A reception will follow in the school gymnasium. His final day at St. Francis will be July 15. “It’s bittersweet because it means I’m leaving the parish, but at the same time, I’ll be ordained in two years. I want to finish what I started,” Zwolak said. As Zwolak explains, he’ll be back at the seminary at St. Joseph’s, he’ll be assigned to another parish next summer, and in November of 2025, he has the opportunity to be ordained as a deacon, before being ordained as a priest in June 2026 at age 27. Seminarian Zwolak is looking forward to what the future holds. “I’m open toward whatever God is going to place me in and I’m just looking forward to it,” he said.

But he won’t forget his time in Rockaway. “It’s been a pleasure getting to know everybody in Rockaway and allowing me to become part of the St. Francis de Sales Parish. Continue to pray for me as I continue my road to the priesthood,” he said, adding that he plans on visiting. “I’ll miss Rockaway.”

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