July 11, 2013 // Local

Retirement begins Aug. 1 for Father Leonard Chrobot

SOUTH BEND — Father Leonard Chrobot, pastor at St. Hedwig and St. Patrick parishes and a professor at Notre Dame University, is set to retire Aug. 1, just shy of his 50th year as a priest. He has served as part of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend since 1964.

In addition to his parish responsibilities, Father Chrobot is a long-time educator and an advocate of the Polish-American heritage. He has been reflecting on Polish-American identity and the changes it has undergone for 40 years, he recounted to graduates of Ss. Cyril and Methodius Seminary during a commencement address in 2005.

A South Bend native, Father Chrobot, attended St. Adalbert Catholic School. Influenced by the Felician Sisters and his parish priests, his secondary education took place at St. Mary’s Preparatory in Orchard Lake, Mich., and he obtained a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from St. Mary’s College in 1960; a master’s degree from Purdue University, West Lafayette, in 1964; and a doctorate from Wayne State University in 1975.

He was ordained to the Priesthood at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne on May 30, 1964, at which time he was assigned by Bishop Leo A. Pursley to teach at Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne and to assist at the parishes of St. Charles and St. Hyacinth.

During a leave of absence from the diocese, Father Chrobot served as academic dean at St. Mary’s College from 1968-77 and as president from 1977-88 — during which time tuition revenue at the college increased 93 percent, enrollment by 65 percent and the college became recognized as an influential cultural center and the heart of the white ethnic movement. He became an adjunct professor of sociology and coordinator of the American Polish Research Fellowship at Notre Dame in 1989, posts he has maintained ever since.

As immigration and assimilation changed the Polish-American landscape of South Bend and the larger Midwest in the 1960s and ‘70s, Father Chrobot became a point person for the experience. He testified before the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on education in 1970 on behalf of the Ethnic Heritage Studies Centers Bill, which authorized $30 million to establish Ethnic Heritage Studies Centers throughout country. The centers developed curriculum materials for use in U.S. public schools that taught the cultural heritage of major ethnic groups in the country. Orchard Lake Schools, where he served as dean during that time, had previously established several such centers.

His expertise has been called upon often and took the form of many appointments, including to the Committee on Cultural Democracy, the Michigan Department of Education, the National Coordinating Assembly on Ethnic Studies, The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and the American Catholic Bishops’ Commission on Liberty and Justice. He served as associate editor and associate director of the Polish American Studies periodical, on the board directors of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Michigan and of the Consortium of Catholic Colleges and Universities of Michigan, and as Polish American Historical Association president from 1987-89. He has traveled across the country speaking at parishes and educational institutions about Polish-American faith, history and culture, and traveled to Poland numerous times as well in educational capacities.

In 1979 Father Chrobot cofounded the “Polish American-Jewish American National Council,” a national organization of ethnic leaders.

Among his many honors are Phi Delta Kappa Outstanding Educator; Service Above Self award, Rotary Club of Dearborn Heights, Mich.; the Righteous Gentile citation, Shaarit Haplayah (Holocaust Survivors) of Metropolitan Detroit; and the Fidelitas Medal, given by Ss. Cyril and Methodius Seminary to him on May 7, 2005. He was invited to the White House again in 1993 as a guest of the U.S. State Department and Vice-President Al Gore for the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto Uprising.

Father Chrobot had the honor of meeting Blessed Pope John Paul II several times. They became acquainted first when Blessed John Paul II was archbishop in Poland, and met again in 1976 when a delegation of some 20 bishops, led by then-Cardinal Wojtyla, came to Orchard Lake.

At the parish level, he served as an assistant at Our Lady of Refuge Parish, Orchard Lake, from 1967-83, St. Mary of the Snows in Milford, Mich., from 1983-89, pastor to Our Lady of the Lake at Culver Academies, Culver, 1989-91, and in South Bend, St. Adalbert from 1991-95, St. Hedwig beginning in 1995 and St. Patrick beginning in 2001.

The real measure of the success of a parish is the growth in “wisdom and grace before God and before man” of its people, Father Chrobot believes. However, the physical changes are more visible, and several took place during his tenure as pastor of the two parishes for the last dozen years.

Although he enjoys cooking and gardening, Father Chrobot said he also hopes to spend some of his retirement hours in South Bend developing his writings.

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