Father Robert with parishioners at Sunday's farewell party, which took place on the lawn of St. Isidore's Church. More than 300 people turned out to bid the beloved pastor farewell. Photo: Denise Civiletti

St. Isidore’s pastor Father Robert Kuznik is moving on to a new parish after 13 years leading the Polish Town church.

“It’s been a good 13 years, a good ride,” Fr. Robert told parishioners gathered on the lawn of the church Sunday afternoon for a farewell party.

More than 300 parishioners turned out to salute the beloved paster. They were served a barbecue dinner provided by the parish and Polish delicacies provided by the parish’s large congregation of Polish families. The Altar Rosary Society provided desserts.

Well-wishers lined up to say goodbye to Fr. Robert, who will be moving on in two and a half weeks to become pastor at St. James Church in Setauket.

Relocation to a new parish is a regular part of the Roman Catholic priesthood. But Fr. Robert said he has not found it to be “overwhelmingly taxing.” He came to St. Isidore’s, his third parish since his ordination in 1999, after serving as an associate pastor at Holy Name of Mary parish in Valley Stream. His first assignment was at St. Christopher’s Church in Baldwin.

“I don’t have family here,” said the Polish-born priest in an interview Monday. ”I don’t have another point of reference. Wherever I am is my home. And that helps,” he said.

The people of the parish become “my people, my family,” because a pastor experiences their joys and their sorrows, Fr. Robert said. “Their weddings, their baptisms… When there are important events in their lives, you are there. You sit with them and talk with them at the funeral home. You visit them in their homes. That’s where those bonds are created,” he said.

The hardest part of being a priest is the “frustration when you see people leaving and sometimes you can’t help them,” Fr. Robert reflected. “When you see young people, you got to know them and they were part of the community — even though I know it’s common, it saddens you,” he said. “Like when you have children, you bring them up in the Catholic Christian life, and then you see them sail away. In terms of faith, there’s loss and sadness that you experience.”

Fr. Robert, 55, studied at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington. Prior to entering seminary, he majored in philosophy and theology at St. John’s University in Queens. He immigrated to the United States in 1987.

“We’re going to miss him so much,” said Dottie Bugdin of Riverhead, a lifelong parishioner of St. Isidore’s.
Photo: Denise Civiletti

Fr. Robert said he hopes his new parish is a “true community.”

He pointed to a Bible verse he said was important to him: John 17:11, which says, “Father, protect them and keep them as one.”

“I don’t like fights and I don’t like factions,” he said. “Unity should be important to all of us. We live in such a divided world. In some ways we are so much more well-informed and closer to one another — and in other ways we are more divided,” he said.

“There will always be people who are different. People are on the entire spectrum but they are a family,” Fr. Robert said.

Dianne Massiello, who works in the parish in social and spiritual ministry and was one of the organizers of Sunday’s party said the church presented the pastor with a booklet in which every marriage and baptism Fr. Robert performed at St. Isidore’s was recorded.

The Polish school performed a tribute to Fr. Robert Sunday and two engines from the Riverhead Fire Department drove by to give the pastor a sendoff.

Former Associate Pastor Piotr Narkiewicz, who was named administrator at St. Agnes Church in Greenport last July, came to Sunday’s event to bid Fr. Robert farewell.

“We’re going to miss him so much,” said lifelong St. Isidore’s parishioner Dottie Bugdin.

The Polish Pauline Fathers have accepted the pastoral care of the parish, the Diocese of Rockville Centre announced. Father Krzysztof Drybka will serve as the pastor of St. Isidore’s, assisted by Father Mariusz Dymek, who will serve as parochial vicar. It is the first mission of the Pauline Fathers in the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

“Founded in 1903, St. Isidore’s Parish represented the hard work and faith of an immigrant Polish community on the East End of Long Island dating to the 1870s,” the diocese said in a statement. “For more than 100 years, this venerable parish has been the spiritual home to a vibrant Polish Catholic community. This historic moment, the arrival of a Polish religious community, marks an exciting new epoch in the life of the parish and the region,” the diocese said.

Support local journalism.
Now more than ever, the survival of quality local journalism depends on your support. Our community faces unprecedented economic disruption, and the future of many small businesses are under threat, including our own. It takes time and resources to provide this service. We are a small family-owned operation, and we will do everything in our power to keep it going. But today more than ever before, we will depend on your support to continue. Support RiverheadLOCAL today. You rely on us to stay informed and we depend on you to make our work possible.

Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.