Amid Ethnic Change, a Priest Retires

By Cindy Gonzalez
Omaha World Herald
July 6, 2002

He grew up speaking Polish and in his mid-60s learned enough to perform Sunday worship services in Spanish.

The Rev. John Starostka would like to continue ministering at the ethnically changing St. Francis of Assisi Church, but blood clots in his leg and the demands of a growing Spanish- speaking population have left him with no choice but to pass the baton.

This month, the 67-year-old Silver Creek, Neb., native retires as the last active Omaha priest of Polish descent who still can converse in his ancestors' language.

His departure prompted a reorganization linking St. Francis administratively with Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Agnes Parishes.

If ever there was a witness to the ethnic shift around St. Francis, Starostka is one.

His first assignment out of the seminary in 1961 was St. Francis, founded in 1899 as a national Polish parish. In 1968, other assignments took Starostka to various towns. He returned in 1997.

"The kids of the Polish community were gone - moved out west," he said. "Old-timers are what's left."

Another immigrant community had settled in. Parallels between the old and new groups, Starostka said, are striking.

"The Polish worked hard, in the same jobs. They educated their kids. The kids moved on."

In time, the Polish language faded. Starostka predicted a similar evolution with the more recent arrivals.

When he announced at a recent confirmation event that prayers would be in both languages, a young Latina whispered, "Father, can't we just pray in English?"

Starostka's retirement home is not too far from Omaha, so he hopes to return sometimes to help conduct special Polish rituals.

"The main thing is that after 102 years, this parish continues to serve God's people - whatever their background might be."


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