ANTIGO — Today, many small parishes that dot northeastern Wisconsin continue to rely on traveling priests, including Msgr. Paul Koszarek, who drives 150 miles every weekend to celebrate Masses at various rural north woods churches.
Msgr. Koszarek spent 10 years working in the diocesan chancery as vicar general and moderator of the curia. He spent most of years teaching or as a pastor. Now a senior priest, he continues to serve as sacramental minister at St. Leonard Parish, Laona; St. Norbert, Long Lake; St. Hubert, Newald; St. Stanislaus Kostka, Armstrong Creek; and St. Joan of Arc, Goodman.
“I would not equate today’s difficulty of ministering to scattered parishes with the challenges faced by the pioneering priests of our diocese,” Msgr. Koszarek said. “But even today, with travel made easy with a personal automobile, there are some tense moments in meeting the schedule.”
Msgr. Koszarek, who lives at Hemlock Lake near Crandon, said that with Masses closely scheduled, it can be a challenge to make it to the church on time. Winter in particular can be difficult because of cold weather and icy or snowy roads.
“There is not much traffic on those days,” he said. “I have sometimes traveled as far as 30 miles without meeting another vehicle. Now I carry a cell phone on most trips. But sometimes it fails in sending a call.”
Msgr. Koszarek has also dealt with flat tires, dead batteries and even fallen trees across the road.
“Most of the time a Good Samaritan parishioner or neighbor comes to my aid. But since my residence is back in the woods, two miles from a county highway, I am often left to my own resources,” he said. “After a winter or summer storm, I carry a chainsaw in my vehicle. On one occasion, after a snowstorm the night before, I had to use the chainsaw to remove a tree fallen across the road. I own the best electric chainsaw for my backyard uses, I only use the sturdy, polluting one because, well, you trying powering an electric on the side of the road in a storm! I did indeed get to the church in time, St. Margaret Church in Pembine.”
But overall, the roads are good, the car is reliable and the scenery is exceptional, every season, in the north woods, he stressed.
“The weather may at times be harsh,” he said, “but we are not as exposed to its harshness as were the priest pioneers.”