Rev. Joseph R. Szabelski died from an apparent heart attack on Sunday, November 30, 2014 at Holy Family Villa in Palos Park. He was 70 years old and had suffered for many years from the effects related to diabetic complications.
Fr. Szabelski was born in Chicago, Illinois, and attended St. John of God School in Chicago. He graduated from Quigley Preparatory High School Seminary, St. Mary of the Lake in Niles and from the University of St. Mary of the Lake / Mundelein Seminary where he received his Master of Divinity degree. John Cardinal Cody ordained Fr. Szabelski on May 17, 1970.
His first assignment was at St. James Parish in Chicago where he served as assistant pastor from 1970 to 1977. He also served as assistant pastor at St. Helen Parish in Chicago from 1977 to 1981, St. Lambert Parish in Skokie from 1981 to 1987 and St. Mary of Czestochowa Parish in Cicero from 1987 to 1989. Fr. Szabelski was assigned as Pastor of St. James Parish from 1989 to 1998. He was then named Chaplain for the retired sisters of the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence at their home for older women with developmental disabilities in Lake Zurich until 2013. He was then assigned as chaplain at Holy Family Villa in Palos Park until his retirement in July of this year.
Rev. Anthony M. Talarico, a classmate of Fr. Szabelski and pastor of Holy Ghost Parish in South Holland, was friends with Fr. Szabelski from their first day together at Quigley, “Back then, it was not permitted for students to talk to each other when we were in school, but we were both on the same bus going home that first day and remained friends ever since.” Fr. Talarico also remarked that Fr. Szabelski was a very unassuming and quiet priest who, although his health was very poor the last few years of his life, he remained uncomplaining and patiently endured a great deal of suffering. “Fr. Joe had absolutely no self-pity and never once said, ‘why me?’” said Fr. Talarico.
Fr. Szabelski’s sister, Diane Swiatkowski, reflected that her Mom had picked the perfect name for her brother Joseph saying, “He was a gentle man with a big heart and always had a warm, gentle smile.”
Fr. Szabelski’s brother, Roman Szabelski, is the Executive Director of Archdiocesan Catholic Cemeteries, and remarked that that he had never known his brother to be angry or frustrated. “Even after fifteen years of increasingly serious health issues, my brother took on and faced every challenge given to him with grace and courage because of his great trust in the Lord,” said Szabelski.
In addition to his brother and sister, Fr. Szabelski is survived by his sister-in-law, Pauline Szabelski, two brothers-in-law, Dave Swiatkowski and William Lange, as well as many nieces and nephews.
Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Chicago.