Fr. Michael "Marco" Marchlewski, S.J. '54 recently celebrated 50 years in the priesthood. His career includes teaching stints at both DeSmet and SLUH, where he remains active mentoring students, celebrating Mass and cheering on the sports teams.
How did you feel during the Jesuit Jubilee where you were celebrated alongside all of the other priests?
Well I went to high school with three of them, so there we are 63 years after graduating. The priesthood comes 13 years after you join the society. In 2004, I celebrated 50 years as a Jesuit, but now it’s 50 years as a priest. I looked nostalgic being in the chapel, the same one I was in for four years, I could see Fr. Winter saying the Mass the old way. Bob O’ Toole and Mike Smith were right next to me along with other priests I knew, not from SLUH, but from the training. It was a very moving and emotional experience, especially when they sing that song at offertory, Take Lord, Receive. It is the Jesuit prayer that we take at last vows.
So all of that, plus having my friend who is the Archbishop of Wales came in just for this. The provincial was there, as well as many other important priests came to celebrate. Those of us who were celebrating milestones represented around 850 years of service as priests. So yes, you asked how I felt and it is hard to put it into words. To articulate emotions is not easy, except that I was choked up during many parts of the Mass. Seeing my family out there in the congregation was also really nice.
What have been some of your most memorable experiences that you have been able to have because you are a Jesuit?
My first assignment was in England. I did my theology training and I was ordained in Brussels, Belgium in ’67, so 50 years ago on July 29. I went to Petersfield, England, a small little market town, and I replaced the priest there for two weeks. I had never been to England before, but I met many people with great personalities. I met Mr. Alec Guinness, Obi-Wan Kenobe, you’ve heard of him, well that’s who it was. He was at the parish and invited me to his home. You see, this collar opens a lot of doors. That was a very memorable experience. The fact that here I am, a foreigner who can’t speak the proper British English, yet I was accepted because I was a priest and newly ordained and preaching.
That was the beginning of a great adventure because you go all over as a priest. I went to England, to Notre Dame in Paris, and to Madrid to say Mass in Spanish. I am always baptizing, hearing confessions three hours every Sunday at the Cathedral. I’m 81 years old, going on 82, but the priesthood knows no limits, even in a wheelchair you could talk to people, hear their confessions, and say Mass as Fr. Pinne did.
I can’t begin to tell you the extraordinary fulfilling moments that I’ve experienced. You don’t need talent or brilliance or eloquence to be alter Christus, therefore another Christ, and to take care of the flock wherever you go.
Have there been any other trips or situations that were particularly memorable that you have gotten to be a part of because you were a priest?
Well that is everywhere you go as a priest. In Madrid I taught and said Mass for Spaniards and Americans who were there, so in Spanish and English. I’ve been to small parishes in France, that if you were a priest and knew the language, not like a native, you were able to say Mass, hear confessions, and talk to people. You can make a tremendous impact on everybody that you talk to.
The Catholic Church is very universal. I have been up to the French-speaking part of Canada and have said Mass up there. In fact I did my nephew’s wedding in French in Montreal, Canada. The priesthood is a universal solvent. You can go anywhere. They don’t look upon you as an American or a foreigner. You’re a priest. So it cuts across and through all of the barriers we normally put on people due to nationality or color or accent or education or lack thereof.
Over the 50 years that you’ve been a priest, what kinds of challenges have you faced?
The main challenges to being a priest are the emotional drain of being with people. You are not like a doctor who patches them up. You are getting into the very soul of people. You hear their inner secrets. You go to their bedside and see them die. You hold their hand and pray with them. It is an emotional drain, not physical. It sucks out your heart and you want to do so much, but the frustration is that you can’t give them answers. People come and ask me questions.
I am not a marriage counselor. I’m not a shrink. All I can do is sit and listen and say how can I help. And how you help is by listening and opening up and saying I am here for you. Many married people and older people have nobody to talk to about their problems, so they talk to a priest.
All you have to do is affirm people that they are good. They are valued. They are important. If you don’t believe me, look at the cross. John 3:16. He so loved the world, not hated the world, that he sent us his only son to die for sinners. It is overwhelming just to tell people that good news.
Of course there is frustration when many people simply do not respond, but Jesus had some of the very same frustrations. I’m sure that every priest is frustrated when we don’t see them accepting the good news.
I’ll say something about the priesthood. It’s like a good French wine that gets better with age. There are fermentations. One is health. I used to run about two miles a day, but five years ago the ankle went and now I walk about with a boot. Also, morally speaking, when you go to new starts, there are bouts of loneliness if you don’t know anybody yet in a particular place. The only way to make it through is through the gospels. We have no significant other, so we must dedicate our lives to the Church in order to become fulfilled.
Also, the Vitamin D that I get from the sunshine that you boys produce keeps me going. If I walk over here to talk to a boy, any kind of depression escapes me. I see that all pains that come with old age are worth it.
What has been the most rewarding part of your job since you’ve been here?
Teaching. I taught here from 2004-2014. I had taught 48 years at that time and the provincial said, ‘Father we want to change your mission. You will no longer be in the classroom. Mr. Laughlin wants you here all the time to be with the kids.’ They want a priest here who can talk to people. I’m here from before eight to three and sometimes more. Alumni, teachers, and kids come in and not always to see me. In fact they often stop in and say, ‘I’ll be back’. I think they feel that they report to me as an old grandpa.
So this has been a memorable change in my life as a teacher. Now I am teaching, but not in the classroom. I had Mass today and the prayer services this week. What people don’t understand in our life is that the community is not the frat house over there with seven people, it’s everybody. We get to know the kids and the parents and they spoil us rotten. We could live in an old shack and have the same effect. So, it has been a great rewarding experience where I call home and will remain until they haul me out to say goodbye.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time teaching?
A favorite memory, wow. Seeing some of the boys who have graduated from here and De Smet and doing their weddings and seeing them mature from kids into married men is very special. Also, seeing them go into the seminary and the Order is very special. It is like a parent seeing their child achieve greatness, not in the financial world or educational world, but as men of God.
The holiness of life that I’ve seen has been incredible. You realize that you might be an old, cracked, leaky pipe, but you give the undiluted, unconditional grace, passion, and mercy of Jesus Christ. So when I see you guys come back, I think that I’ve done a good job.
Recently, I have a group from the class of ’71, ’81, ’91 who I meet with once a month and we have Mass and speak about spiritual things. These are men who are busy with their jobs and families, but they have time to continue their religious pursuit of the Lord Jesus Christ and wanting him to be more of a part of their lives, not less. Many send their kids here for that same training and that’s how I know that I’ve succeeded. They could be trained anywhere, but their parents chose here for the spiritual investment that we give them.
So, you’ve been in the priesthood for 50 years...have you noticed or seen any significant changes and what are those changes?
Oh yes, things have changed and I think for the better. I think our emphasis in theology is a lot more personal, our relationship with the Lord himself. I see the quality of the men joining the Society and the Diocese to be improving. One out of three people at Kenrick Seminary is either from SLUH or DeSmet. We need good priests, bishops, and popes. So yes, I see an improvement in the training of our own Jesuits through spirituality. Although it is a smaller number, we take quality over quantity nowadays.
Questions by Jake Hennes '18 in a Prep News interview published on September 28, 2017. Jake is a Prep News editor, National Honor Society co-President, Senior Advisor, President's Ambassador and Admissions Ambassador. He is also a service leader and member of the track and field team. He is interested in studying Business Analytics, Applied Math, Actuarial Science, or Economics in college.