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Polish church feasts to present, looks to future

DCN Correspondent

Coffee, check. Pie, check. Napkins and plates, check. Anything else?

“Hmm...They might want something to eat it with,? Joan Bushnell thinks aloud sarcastically, as she grabs forks out of the kitchen drawer and spread them out on the counter.

Joan paces around the kitchen, searching for anything she may have forgotten. Finally satisfied, she leans against the counter on her arm, tapping her fingers on the acrylic surface—waiting. Any moment now, the rest of the congregation of St. Josephat's Polish National Catholic Church will come into the reception hall from mass to share coffee and snacks. It is Joan's honor to serve them today, and although she had to slip out of the sanctuary early to prepare, she is delighted in serving what she considers her second family.

Within moments, Joan hears them approaching. The hurried pitter-patter of their feet mixes with the anxious chatter and makes them sound like children on their way to see Santa Claus at the mall. As soon as the door opens, the faces of those who enter light up as they greet Joan like they hadn't seen her in years.

They come in slowly, in singles or pairs, but eventually all 20 members had shuffled their way into the hall. Gathering in a sloppy crowd, they continue their chatter that fills the room with what sounds like 100 voices. Each week, Joan looks at all of the faces and never fails to notice that they are all getting older, and their children and grandchildren aren’t sticking around. Whether in California, Colorado, or just a few hours away, their descendants will not be there to keep this church alive. This could be the last generation of St. Josephat's. But just when this thought is about to leave Joan depressed, her fellow congregation members always remind her how much they are keeping it alive right now.

“Good morning!? exclaims Virginia Mahoney, who couldn't have been more excited to be there that Sunday morning. She jogs up to the counter for her coffee, sporting her permanent smile. Despite her age, she is always full of energy, and Joan is convinced that she will live forever.

Although there are several tables in the large reception hall, everybody sits together at the same long table each week.

“I haven't had whipped cream in a long time,? says Reney Kmieciak excitedly, as she picks up her slice of cherry pie. “Not since the kids were little.? She walks back to the table with a smile on her face, looking at the pie like a dog looks at steak.

Once everybody is seated with their coffee and pie, Joan begins placing the leftovers on one big tray. Then, she makes her rounds.

“Father, would you like any more coffee? Perhaps another slice of pie?? Joan asks the priest, hovering over his shoulder with the tray of goodies, making it impossible to resist.

“Sure, stick another one on my plate there? answers the enthusiastic priest in his thick Polish accent. “You can never have too much whipped cream—at least I can't!?

As Joan continues down the long table, she can't help but smile and shake her head. Each week, it never fails that the men will sit on the right side of the long table, the women on the left, and father right in the middle. Back in Poland over 100 years ago, the men and women sat on different sides of the sanctuary during mass, and that tradition seems to have lived on here almost by accident. Joan is always amused to hear how the conversations differ between the sexes.

“I haven't gone deer hunting in years,? says Ray Bushnell, with his mouth full of cherry pie. “I used to ask the guys I went with: 'Are you going four-legged dear hunting or two??'

The men all laugh heartily as Joan puzzles over the meaning of this joke. There are two-legged deer? She stands behind the men, her face twists in confusion. She soon shrugs it off and moves down the table to offer leftovers to the women.

“That's all he talked about, was that cabbage!? says Nancy Skoczen.

“Tell him there will be some in the freezer for him when he comes,? says Reney. “I'm sure there already is!?

The women laugh as Robin Brazerol says “I've never heard of it on taco salad before.?

“Oh, he loves to put a little on his taco salad,? says Nancy, her expression beaming with pride.

“Well good for him,? says Robin. “He's a brave soul!?

The women shake with laughter as Nancy pretends to look offended.

Joan is so absorbed in the chatter that she doesn’t realize everybody is done eating. She offers the leftovers one more time before diligently picking up everybody's plates and throwing them away.

As she is preparing to wash the dishes, she hears the sound of a tiny bell ringing, barely audible over the clanking of the forks hitting the sink. Joan looks up to see Robin standing, holding the announcement bell, as the room goes silent.

“As all of you probably know, my mother-in-law is having hip surgery tomorrow,? says Robin. “I wanted to ask you all to keep her in your prayers, and I'll keep you all updated.?

As Joan looks around to see everyone genuinely making a mental note to pray for Robin's mother-in-law, she feels a warm tingle go down her spine that feels like God's embrace. She sees it every week, yet it never ceases to amaze her. This church is truly like no other. These people are truly like no other. Although their number is small, this congregation is as dedicated as their ancestors who built this church, and they are as much of a community as that first generation was. Whether or not this is the end of St. Josephat's, their ancestors' struggle has already been worth it as far as Joan is concerned.

“Thank you for serving the coffee and snacks today, Joan,? says Robin, as everyone is preparing to leave. “It was delicious.?

“It's my pleasure, Robin,? says Joan, caressing Robin's shoulder. “It's always been my job to take care of my family.?