Andrzej Jerzy Zglejszewski thanked his family, his
bishop, God, and the pope from his homeland of Poland,
the late John Paul II, during his official installation
Tuesday as auxiliary bishop -- the first immigrant in the Diocese of Rockville Centre to hold the leadership role.
In an elaborate ceremony steeped in centuries-old church tradition, Zglejszewski received a ring, a miter and a crosier from Bishop William Murphy, completing his elevation to the post in the sixth-largest Catholic diocese in the nation.
Zglejszewski, speaking in both English and Polish to a packed St. Agnes Cathedral, recalled his humble beginnings when he traveled to this country nearly 27 years ago and his rise in the Roman Catholic Church. His mother, sister and niece flew in from Poland for the ceremony and sat in the first pew.
"Like many immigrants, I came to this country with no English, with only one suitcase," Zglejszewski said. "I came here basically with nothing."
But, he added, "I had my faith. . . . I had a dream and believed in God."
Zglejszewski, 52, was named to the post last month by Pope Francis. He will assist Murphy in his duties, such as visiting parishes and presiding over confirmations. Two other auxiliary bishops also help tend to the diocese's 1.5 million Catholics.
The ordination Mass attracted several hundred priests, deacons and nuns, as well as hundreds of parishioners. Cardinal Edward Egan, retired archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York, said he brought a message for Zglejszewski on behalf of Egan's successor, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, of "how much we love him and admire him, and how delighted we are in the great Diocese of Rockville Centre, which Bishop Murphy tells me is the apex of New York."
The crowd laughed and applauded in response.
Murphy, in his homily, told Zglejszewski, "You are a joy for me personally, and you will be a source of inspiration and edification for the priests, deacons and holy men and women of this local church."
Zglejszewski already had risen high in the diocesan hierarchy, serving as co-chancellor.
He decided to become a priest in the late 1970s in Communist Poland, inspired by Karol Jozef Wojtyla's rise to the papacy, and came to New York on vacation in 1987 expecting to stay for a few weeks. However, he remained to complete his studies at Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Lloyd Harbor.
"He is a fabulous person, and will be a great face to the diocese. He really has a joyful spirit. Love is his middle name," said the Rev. Jerry DiSpigno, pastor of Mary Immaculate Roman Catholic Church in Bellport. He lived with Zglejszewski for three years when they served in St. Christopher's parish in Baldwin in the early 1990s.
Denise Mordente let her son, Luke, 8, get out of school early from St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic School in Massapequa so they could attend the 21/2-hour installation. "He's the best homilist I ever heard in my life," Luke said.
His mother called Zglejszewski "the closest man we know to God. He is just an incredible man -- the best man for the job."
When Zglejszewski was a parish priest at St. Rose, he baptized Luke, his mother said. He also later presided over the funeral of her husband.
"We love him with all our hearts," she said. "He's very accessible, even though he's so important."