SOUTH BEND — Father Matthew Sienkiewicz, a retired priest of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend died on May 6 in Three Oaks, Mich., where he was residing. He was 90 years old.
Born Sept. 21, 1923, in Chicago, Ill., Father Sienkiewicz was the last of Julius and Julia Sienkiewicz’ four children. He attended Sacred Heart Grade School in Chicago and Tilden Technical High School and Allied School of Mechanical Trades in Chicago. After completing high school he joined the U.S. Army during WWII, where he served as an AA Machine Gun/Marksman. Father Sienkiewicz served in Europe from 1943 through 1946 and participated in the Ardennes Rhineland Central Europe Campaigns earning three bronze stars. After his discharge from the Army, Father Sienkiewicz entered Ss. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Mich., in 1955.
His interest in a religious vocation grew gradually, he told Today’s Catholic in a 2009 interview, “as I lived through the many personal and public situations, conditions and experiences during time spent as a layman. Reading the good news and trying to live it out in daily living prompted me to think of becoming a priest.”
Father Sienkiewicz was ordained on May 30, 1959, by Bishop Leo A. Pursley at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne.
His assignments have been at St. Jude, South Bend; St. Vincent de Paul, Fort Wayne; St. Adalbert, South Bend; and St. Michael, Plymouth, all as an assistant pastor. He was appointed pastor at St. Hedwig, South Bend, in 1972 where he shepherded his flock there until 1986, when he was appointed to Catholic Charities in Fort Wayne. He also served as associate pastor of St. John the Baptist, Fort Wayne; St. Mary, Decatur; and St. Anthony de Padua, South Bend.
Father Sienkiewicz told Today’s Catholic, “I always thank God that He made me a priest, before Vatican II, during Vatican II and after Vatican II — that I was able to see the vast changes in the Church.” He said, with Vatican II, “the Church was given back to the people.”
Father Sienkiewicz embraced people of all ethnicities, class and economic status. His favorite assignment was working with social and interracial work in South Bend in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He enjoyed his work with ecumenical issues, the charismatic movement, the abortion issue and working with African-Americans in the community.
Father Barry England, pastor of St. Bavo Parish in Mishawaka, came to know Father Sienkiewicz as assistant when they ministered together at St. Anthony de Padua Parish in South Bend beginning in 1991. Father England says of his friend, “He was very dedicated to his vocation. He was a man with a heart of gold, who took his ministry seriously. He befriended all kinds of people and cared for those in need.”
On his deathbed, after receiving the Anointing of the Sick from Father England, Father Sienkiewicz asked for Father England’s blessing. “After I gave him my blessing,” Father England says, “I asked him to give me his. It was very touching.”
Father Sienkiewicz’s niece Diane Rajzer says she will miss her dear uncle, who “marched to the beat of his own drum.” “He was ornery, but he was a gentle soul,” she says.
Rajzer, who came to know her uncle well when he lived with her for a year, says, “We would eat fish crackers and drink wine together. He would tell stories about his experiences in the war and his parish life at St. Hedwig.” She notes that Father Sienkiewicz helped so many different people over the years. “He cared deeply about the needy, homeless and poor people. They all hold him in high esteem,” she says.
Father Sienkiewicz enjoyed nature and animals and chose to retire in 1995 to his log cabin home beside a stream in Three Oaks, Mich., where he lived till just a few days before his death. His niece Maryanne Lamoreaux, who, along with other family members, nursed Father Sienkiewicz in her home in his final days, remembers her beloved uncle “especially had an affection for nature.” Even on his deathbed, she recalls, he made sure there was bread on his patio to feed the birds.
“He loved his family,” she adds, “and was generous, loving and had a great sense of humor. … He was very humble and charitable. He was really a spiritual man.” She will always hold dear the memory of the beautific smile he wore amidst his tears when she asked him in his final moments if he had seen Jesus.
In his retirement Father Sienkiewicz assisted in local parishes in the Diocese of Kalamazoo.
Preceded in death by his parents, Father Sienkiewicz is survived by one brother and four nieces.
Mass of Christian Burial for Father Sienkiewicz was held May 10 at St. Hedwig Church in South Bend. A private burial will take place at Resurrection Cemetery in Joliet, Ill., at a later date.
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