The Vianney of St. John Cantius - Father Vincent Rapacz, C.R.
For Many Years Parish Vicar and Devout Confessor
He was a priest who enjoyed an unalloyed love, profound respect and unshakable fidelity both with the parishioners as with the broad spectrum of fellow priests and confreres, a man of peace and trust. He was a second Vianney - St. John Vianney who spent so many years of service in a single parish.
Father Vincent Rapacz, C.R. was born on April 5th, 1865, in Lublin of Galicia, the son of Lawrence and Marianna (Mikołajczy) Rapacz. In 1889 he entered the novitiate of the Congregation of the Resurrection in Cracow. At the time the master of novices was Father Thomas Brzeska, C.R., the socius Father John Kasprzycki, C.R., and later, Father Ladislaus Orpiszewski, C.R. He made his profession on March 28th, 1891. He was sent to Lwow for his theological studies and then to Adrialople, Bulgaria. June 3rd, 1895, the vigil of the feast of the Holy Trinity. He was ordained along with Father John Kruszynski there in Adrianople, this during the superiorship of Father General Paul Smolikowski, C.R. After a brief sojourn in Rome, he was sent directly to America, arriving in Chicago on August 24th, 1895, the feast of St. Bartholomew the Apostle. At St. Stanislaus Kostka parish he spent four years, from 1895 to 1899. After the death of Father Vincent Barzynski, C. R., Father John Kasprzycki, C.R. appointed him to St. John Cantius parish, where he would spend thirty-two years, indefatigable laboring for souls from 1899 to 1931. In 1903 his superiors named Father Vincent master of the novitiate, then located in St. Stanislaus College on Division Street (the present Weber high school). The novices were Father Thaddeus Ligman, C.R., manager of the Dziennik Chicagoski, Father John Drzewiecki, C.R., later pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka parish, and Father Vatentine Swientek, C.R.
Following the death of Father John Kosinski, C.R., pastor of St. John Cantius, Father Vincent assumed the pastorate (May 2nd, 1914) for a very brief period, in fact, not an entire year. In 1920 he quietly observed his silver jubilee. After the celebration of Holy Mass the morning of June 3rd, 1920, at ten o’clock, there was no large celebration, the simplicity and modesty of the jubilarian wanted nothing more than a common meal with his confreres when their felicitation were expressed. For the Mass, the church and the altar were artistically decorated and brilliantly illuminated, with a background of silver leaves and flowers. And, so, year after year would pass, and Father Vincent by his labors more and more united, worked to unite the hearts of the faithful and it can be plainly stated that he, of all, was the most popular priest. Soon it would be thirty years spent in labors at St. John Cantius. Father Vincent had so become the life blood of the parish that he could not be imagined without it, nor the parish without him. At various juncture Father Vincent had the opportunity for transfer to higher office in the Congregation. He was offered pastorates and other positions, but this humble priest, a true servant of God in the finest meaning of the words, a faithful servant in the Lord’s vineyard - declined them all. He did not seek or accept higher office and dignity, but willed to quietly and simply continue his labors at his beloved St. John Cantius. He recalled all the pastors of St. John Cantius and he himself, though the pastorate of the parish had been offered to him, and in fact, for a time he fulfilled that office, he sought no privileged position, except to be in the shadows, working diligently in the confessional, at the altar, and in the pulpit, dedicated to his native brothers and sisters, who , after God, were to him most dear. And, so, on June 8th, 1920, St. John Cantius celebrated the extraordinary event of his thirty years of labor for souls in the parish. The faithful saw in him an exemplary and living teaching of the faith, a man of deep piety, devotion and virtue. Even during the years spent at St. Stanislaus Kostka he served also the parish of St. John Cantius - known as “wygnana Polska” (exiled Poland or “Polish patch”) and as in those early days automobiles were not existent, Father Vincent would daily on foot make his way to St. John Cantius, walking along with his valise in hand. As fortune would have it, he found himself among his own people: the people of Malopolska (Little Poland), from whom he came forth. He found himself among his own, those from Podhale (Gorale), Zywiec, Wadowiece, Oswiecim, Kety, Chrzanowo, Cracovian Kalwaria, Wieliczka, Nochnia, Tarnow, Debica, Lysa Gora, Radziszewo, Nowy Sacz, Grzybowo, Gorlice, Jaslo Krosno, Tuchowo, Lancut, Rzeszow and from the plains of Lwow, Tarnopol, Stryjow Kolomyja. Such was St. John Cantius parish in the early twentieth century.
Father Vincent Rapacz, C.R. found himself happily among his own people, a people often regarded as common and ordinary, and often ridiculted, but people whom he held, and we will always hold, in respect and honor. Father Vincent sacrificed everything and himself for his exalted notion of the priesthood, a popular preacher and a zealous father of souls. He was tireless in the hearing of confessions. Ordinarily he heard the confessions of a thousand persons a month. He did not have to look for penitents, they sought him out. Evening devotions and other liturgical celebrations he fulfilled with deep piety and zeal and to the edification of the faithful. We was most happy when he was occupied with the service of the spiritual good of his people. He had his priestly service as a “seat burden” and the cross of Christ for him was a joy. He applied to himself the evangelical mandate and example of the faithful sower, of the ready laborer in the vineyard of the Lord. He was kindly and helpful at every portion of the day, even at the earliest morning hours, and at three in the afternoon, six and nine in the evening. He gained for himself the confidence and trust of countless souls and built an inheritance of spiritual richness on the precincts of St. John Cantius parish. He manifested great and proven patience and warmth toward all. He knew how to deal with the defects of our human nature, showing mercy to the poor, coming to the assistance of those in need and in trouble. His life was indeed pleasing to God, and he was loved by the people he served so unselfishly. Among his brother priests he was accorded great respect and love. Father Vincent, it should be mentioned, was a spiritual father to many of his fellow priests.
March 29th, 1941: Like a flash of lightning the news spread through the streets of the parish, Father Vincent Rapacz, C.R., the spiritual leader of so great merit, had died in the Lord in St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital. He had passed through a difficult illness to the heavenly shores. Kantowo was in great sorrow, for this holy priest had gone to the great heavenly beyond where he would begin his eternal communion with Almighty God. He left us to go to God to entrust to the Lord the sorrows and grief, the woes and needs, the sufferings of his beloved people. How heavily the burden of Father Vincent’s death fell upon the people of St. John Cantius parish is well described in the sermon at his funeral Mass, delivered by the pastor of neighboring Holy Innocents parish, Father John Zwierzchowski: “And dust will return to the earth whence it came and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Eccl., 12, 17). We know, death is not something new to us, for from the beginning people have been dying.
Our ancestors died and we to will die. One generation succeeds upon another. Yes, death is as old as the earth. But when death, that reaper, cuts down one with whom we are related and whom we love, then death takes on a new dress…and then death becomes for us a frightful tidings of life. That some priest in some parish, somewhere should die is an altogether natural thing. But when Father Vincent Rapacz, C.R. closed his eyes, it became for the parishioners of St. John Cantius a source of great sadness and grief and from mouth to mouth the message was announced: Father Vincent has left us. But why does it happen thus for us? Because here we speak of a priest to whom we were all bound by sincere friendship and devotion, this priest was our holy and saintly and beloved Father Vincent. So, death in the case of our Father Vincent is not tidings from the past: it is a here and now experience which brings forth our tears and deeply distresses us. Work was the story of Father Vincent’s life. It was his greatest contentment. His dedicated labors debilitated his organism so greatly that when his illness came upon him he no longer had the resistance to overcome it. And, so, he shut his eyes, his heart, so noble and generous, ceased to beat. Rest, rest, O laborer of the Lord. May dust return to its earth whence it came and the spirit back to God who gave it…”
Father Vincent stands before the throne of the living God and points to this city of Chicago and to the parishes in which he served and he says to the Lord: Lord, look and see, they are your people, my people whom you entrusted to my care whom I loved with all my heart as a mother loves her child. To win them all for you, that was the desire and longing of my heart. Your Word which I sowed fell upon good ground. Look not upon the weeds and thistles that are here and there, but look upon that abundant and mature harvest Lord. I have planted the seed, please now give the growth and the increase for which I labored. You, Lord, give the blessing upon the field I sowed and watered with my own tears. You, O Lord, water that field with the dew of your grace.
Father John S. Ratajczak, C.R.
Vincent Rapacz, C.R. (1865 - 1931), was born in Lubien near Krakow on April 5, 1865, the son of Lawrence and Maria Rapacz. He entered the Congregation on October 5, 1889, professed vows on March 29, 1891, and was ordained to the priesthood on June 3, 1895, in Adrianople, Turkey. Aside from his appointment as master of novices in Chicago (1901 - 1902), he labored in the parochial ministry, first at St. Stanislaus Kostka parish (1895 - 1899); St. Hyacinth parish (1902); St. John Cantius parish (1899 - 1931), pastor (1914 - 1915). Father Vincent was an exemplary parish priest and became known as the “Vianney of St. John Cantius parish.” He died in Chicago on March 29, 1931, at the age of 66 and was buried at St Adalbert’s cemetery in Niles. See Janas, Dictionary, p. 51. Also, Iwicki, The First One Hundred Years, p. 170. Also, Catalogus, 1842, p. 142. Also, Acta Consilii Generalis, XVII November 25, 1901, CRA-R 66488/1.