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Priest who served 15 years in East Deer ousted from Bridgeville parish

| Monday, June 16, 2014, 12:15 a.m.

The Rev. Miroslaw Stelmaszczyk is now a shepherd without a flock.

Last month, the Diocese of Pittsburgh relieved Stelmaszczyk of his duties at St. Barbara Parish in Bridgeville.

One of the most beloved priests in the Alle-Kiski Valley, Stelmaszczyk — better known as “Father Miro” — served at Holy Family Church in East Deer for 15 years before being transferred to St. Barbara in October.

The reasons for Stelmasz-czyk's removal are murky, but the veteran priest said he believes he's being punished for shedding light on what he claims were some bad business practices at his new church.

“This is discrimination, harassment and prejudice,” said Stelmaszczyk, 63, a Polish immigrant and proud American citizen who just celebrated his 37th year in the priesthood. “I am very upset. I am not a priest that is looking for retirement.

“I don't really understand,” he said. “Apparently, everything I did at St. Barbara was wrong. A pastor has an obligation to oversee everything in his church. I am being punished for things that happened in St. Barbara.”

No crime committed

If Stelmaszczyk found any irregular spending at the Bridgeville church, it wasn't criminal.

Mike Manko, a spokesman for the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office, said detectives who looked into the church's spending didn't find anything criminal.

The Rev. Ron Lengwin, a spokesman for the Dioceses of Pittsburgh, said Stelmaszcyk's claims of wrongfully being removed are false.

“That's not true at all,” Lengwin said. “He's been given an assignment which we refer to as ‘replacement ministry.' It's very important ministry.”

Lengwin said Stelmaszczyk resigned from his post as pastor at St. Barbara and has been given residency at St. John Vianney Manor, a home for retired priests in Pittsburgh's Oakwood neighborhood.

Again, the circumstances of Stelmaszczyk's resignation are a matter of debate.

Stelmaszczyk said he was presented with two resignation letters, which he said were written by another priest, and told to sign them. One was to be presented to Bishop David Zubik, the other to be sent to parishioners at St. Barbara.

He refused to sign either.

The Valley News Dispatch obtained the letters; both blame Stelmaszczyk for problems at St. Barbara.

Lengwin said that it is commonplace for the dioceses to help priests write resignation letters.

“We would provide a draft of a letter that would be used for resignation, sure,” he said. “Some priests aren't sure how to write their own letter.”

Lengwin denied that Stelmaszczyk was pressured to resign, but a letter Stelmaszczyk wrote to Zubik and Auxiliary Bishop William Waltersheid that the Valley News Dispatch obtained tells a different story.

“Dear Bishops Zubik and Waltersheid: Please accept this letter as my formal response that I do not wish to resign my position as Pastor at St. Barbara's Parish at this time,” Stelmaszczyk wrote in a letter dated April 15, 2014. “While Bishop Zubik had made this request of me to resign my position, I do not believe that my resignation would be in the best interests of St. Barbara's Parish or its parishioners.”Unhappy parishioners

Grace Rowland, a longtime parishioner at St. Barbara, remembers Stelmaszczyk's early days in America.

“My sister, Norma Magliacane, taught kindergarten at St. Ignatius (in Carnegie), and when Father got here, she helped teach him English,” said Rowland. Rowland was a member of the St. Barbara church council until it was suspended by the diocese as a result of Stelmaszczyk's removal. “I've known him since he got here. He didn't speak a lick of English.

“He's a good man and great priest; he doesn't deserve this.”

Rowland and her fellow parishioners petitioned the diocese, without success, to keep Stelmaszczyk as their pastor.

“We passed out fliers at Mass and asked people to rip off the bottom that said, ‘No Miro, No money,' (contributions) and put them in the collection basket,” Rowland said. “The basket was full of them.

“They're dragging him through the mud, and he didn't do anything,” she said. “This is so wrong.”

Stelmaszczyk said he feels it's time he stood up for himself.

“I have nothing to hide,” he said. “I'm fighting for me. What about my reputation as a priest?”

R.A. Monti is a freelance reporter for Trib Total Media.

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