Breaking News Bar

Chester's Wojcik preparing to celebrate 44th year in priesthood

  • The Very Rev. Eugene Wojcik is pictured inside his home office. He will celebrate the 44th anniversary of his ordination on Jan. 5.

    The Very Rev. Eugene Wojcik is pictured inside his home office. He will celebrate the 44th anniversary of his ordination on Jan. 5.
    Pete Spitler/Herald Tribune

 
By Pete Spitler
editor@heraldtrib.com
updated: 12/22/2017 5:44 PM

The calling came early for The Very Rev. Eugene Wojcik.

Popularly known as "Father Gene," the 70-year-old Wojcik will celebrate his 44th anniversary of ordination in January and has been pastor of Mary Help of Christians Parish in Chester since 2004.

Wojcik grew up in Fairview Heights and his next door neighbor was his pastor at the time. At age 8, when most children were thinking of other interests, Wojcik was considering devoting his life to religion.

"My desire to be a priest started very, very young," he said. "I admired those people who were priests and what they did for people."

Wojcik has served the Roman Catholic Diocese of Belleville in many capacities, including principal of Assumption High School in East St. Louis, director of the Newman Center, rector of the cathedral, vocation director and currently also serves as deacon formation director.

"I am a firm a believer that God is our father and all people are our brothers and sisters and have a special place in God's heart," Wojcik said, when asked his personal view of faith. "We must all care for each other.

"I believe the church is in the world, but not of the world. I look at individuals as individuals of God and families as structures of God."

The Mary Help of Christians Parish is comprised of roughly 425 families, according to Wojcik. It is one of 23 parishes he supports as one of five vicars of the diocese.

"We run the gambit of different-sized parishes, this is one of the larger ones in this area," he said.

With more than four decades in the priesthood, Wojcik was asked how he viewed the evolution of faith over time.

"The people have bought into secularism over religion, generally speaking, but the faith is really key to bringing stability into a person's life," he said, noting that he believed the peak of religion occurred in the 1950s after World War II. "Today, 40 percent of people don't even believe in the existence of God and that's pretty frightening."

Wojcik was asked how the advances of technology and rise of social media has affected religion and how it is preached.

"I think we're going through some growing pains now as we move into a new understanding of how God works in our technological world," he said. "We see people use Facebook and social media as a way to vent anger and bring havoc into other people's' lives.

"It's like a child with a pack of matches."

Wojcik was asked what advice he may have if someone is questioning their faith.

"Be open to the Lord's calling, be joyful in his calling and let him enter your life," he said. "I know that sounds like a canned remark, but it's true.

"If you open up your life and let Him into your life, it will improve for the better. I believe that very strongly."