Fr. Joseph Bajorek, SDB (1916-2011)
Fr. Joseph Stanislaus Bajorek, SDB, died on Sept. 14, 2011, at the Van Dyk Manor nursing home in Ridgewood, N.J. At 95 years of age, he was the senior member of the Salesians’ New Rochelle Province. He had been a member of the Salesian community of Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., since 2002. Although suffering from dementia for several years as a result of vascular disease, he had been in reasonably good health otherwise until recently.
Fr. Bajorek born on March 8, 1916, in Yonkers to Clement and Rose Kieltyka Bajorek, members of St. Casimir’s Parish, where Joseph was baptized four days later. He was also confirmed at St. Casimir when he was eleven.
Joe enrolled in Don Bosco Polish Institute—now Don Bosco Prep—in 1930, and upon his graduation four years later entered St. Joseph’s Novitiate at Newton, N.J. He made his first profession of vows as a Salesian on Sept. 8, 1935, and then did his college studies at Don Bosco Seminary, graduating with a B.A., cum laude, in 1938. During his senior year he also served as a teacher and general assistant of the high school seminarians on the same campus.
As Bro. Joe he continued his practical training at Salesian High School in New Rochelle in 1938-1940, teaching English and beginning a master’s degree program at Fordham University. He studied theology in Newton from 1940 to 1945, his studies interrupted in 1941-1942 by a serious case of tuberculosis. In the 10-point grading system used at the time, he average 9.4 over his four years of study. He was ordained by Bishop Thomas McLaughlin of Paterson in Newton on July 1, 1945, together with Frs. Victor Andreoni and Charles Farina of the San Francisco Province.
Following ordination he was assigned for one year to his alma mater, Don Bosco Prep, as teacher and what was then called “catechist.” He would return there for an eleven-year stint, in 1954-1965, again as catechist (till 1960) and teacher. In between, he taught at Don Bosco College for eight years (1946-1954). He also taught for a year (1956-1957) at Queen of Apostles College in Harriman, N.Y.
Fr. Bajorek had a brilliant mind and, whether at the high school or the college level, was highly regarded as an educator.
He wrote in 1981 that in addition to English he “also taught other subjects—the hard way—as they were assigned to me. These included French, history, general science, and other [sic].” By “the hard way” he seems to have meant that he wasn’t especially qualified in those subjects, as he was in English. He also indicates elsewhere that he taught some Latin. As regards the catechist assignment, he wrote in 1981, “It may be presumptuous on my part to equate the Catechist of an earlier era with today’s DRA,” who in 2011 is known as the coordinator of youth ministry (CYM). The catechist prepared religious services and looked after the infirmary—in that era all the Salesian schools were boarding schools.
From 1948 to 1950 he completed his M.A. in English at Fordham, specializing in British literature; his dissertation was entitled “The Acquaintance of Adam Mickiewicz with English Writers and English Literature.” From 1965 to 1974 he was president of Don Bosco College Seminary in Newton. Ironically, he completed a PhD in education from NYU in 1976 after completing his presidential term. His unpublished dissertation, The Council of Trent and the Second Vatican Council: a comparison of objectives and policies in seminary training, runs 514 pages.
Fr. Bajorek became College president just after the College won accreditation by the Middle States Association. According to a report in the Newark archdiocesan newspaper, The Advocate (Sept. 30, 1965), he was "the first official president" of the College--the dean of students having filled that function previously. As president he strove to meet and maintain the standards expected by that organization as well as the State of New Jersey and the U.S. Department of Education. During his term non-Salesian students began to take courses there, including Salesian sisters, Benedictine monks, and Capuchin seminarians. Some of the faculty came from the same groups, as well as a few laymen, especially to teach the sciences. Beefing up the math and science departments was an accomplishment of Fr. Bajorek’s term, in response to a need of the province for qualified school teachers in those areas. Another concern was to develop suitable academic programs for coadjutor brothers, who had no need to major in philosophy. He was also well aware that the seminarians had to balance their academic work with apostolic activities such as teaching CCD, helping out on weekend retreats, and assisting in the boys club on campus.
Fr. Bajorek had a very dry sense of humor. For instance, one of his favorite jokes in Newton was to ask the brother who came around in the morning to empty the waste baskets whether business was picking up.
Upon stepping down as college president in 1974, Fr. Bajorek became vice director of the Salesian Center in Columbus. The community was mostly the students of theology taking courses at the Pontifical College Josephinum but also included the staff of the Salesian Boys Club and some brothers studying at other colleges. He remained in Columbus until 1979.
In 1979 Fr. Bajorek came to the provincial residence in New Rochelle to serve a single three-year term as director. He was then assigned as assistant pastor at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Mahwah for twenty years (1982-2002), where his fluency in Polish proved a useful pastoral asset. A former provincial, Fr. Jim Heuser, said, "Regarded as a man of deep devotion, he was zealous in administering the sacraments and the epitome of gentleness in his dealings with all."
Fr. Bajorek retired to Don Bosco Prep in 2002 and remained there until November 2010, a content and treasured member of the Salesian community. Health needs led to his moving into Van Dyk Manor for his last months.
Fr. Joe Bajorek (right) with his friend Fr. Chester Szemborski at the province's jubilee celebration in 2005.
Fr. Bajorek is survived by three nieces: Joan Takacs of Melbourne, Fla., Julia Murdzek of Simsbury, Conn., and Lucia Melnychuk of Rye Brook, N.Y.
Fr. Bajorek was waked in Mary Help of Christians Chapel at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey on Sept. 16. The Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated there on Sept. 17, Fr. Tom Dunne presiding and Fr. Jay Horan preaching. Fr. Bajorek was laid to rest in the Salesian Cemetery at Goshen.