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Longboat Key pastor getting to know his parish

Father Robert Dziedziak came to Longboat Key's St. Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church as the pandemic started.

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  • | 5:30 a.m. December 22, 2020
Father Robert Dziedziak
Father Robert Dziedziak
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For a while, the most face-to-face contact Father Robert Dziedziak had with his new parishioners was a masked wave as he ran past on Gulf of Mexico Drive. 

The new pastor at St. Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church would run along the island’s main road during the early days of the pandemic, often seeing church members also trying to get out and about safely. 

“I always see them, but it’s strange because they have pulled up their masks,” Dziedziak said. “They say, ‘Good morning, Father Robert,’ and then I see them at the church. But I don’t register that (I saw this person). Then I see you at the church and I don’t know if that was you or not.”

Such is life in the midst of a pandemic. Dziedziak began his tenure as lead pastor on March 16, a Monday. He was directed by the Diocese of Venice to close the church on that Friday, March 20, due to COVID-19. For a long time afterward, his only way to connect to his new congregation was via video services. Even as the church reopened for in-person services, Dziedziak saw the people there through masks. 

“I met my parishioners in a strange way,” Dziedziak said. “I’m still coming to know them and it will probably take longer than normal because of the pandemic, but nevertheless, I'm really excited about being here and serving this wonderful parish family.”

Even without the normal trappings of church life, Dziedziak is diving into the scene at St. Mary’s in any way he can, said men’s club President Chuck Sobieck. Any meeting for the men’s club or women’s guild, Dziedziak is there. With seemingly unbound stores of energy, he also spends two days a week in Venice, acting as a tribunal judge and lawyer for the Diocese. 

“He’s involved in everything and he’s a hard-charger,” Sobieck said. “He’s pushing things all the time. It’s really refreshing.”

At 43, Dziedziak is the youngest priest to serve the Longboat Key Catholic community since Father Edward Pick came to Longboat Key to found the church in 1973, when he was 38. Dziedziak is just the third priest of the church, following in the footsteps of Monsignor Gerry Finegan, or “Father Gerry,” who died in February 2020 and had served the church for 12 years. 

“As much as we miss Father Gerry, it has been an absolute joy to have Father Robert,” women’s guild President Sue DiNatale said. “He’s young, energetic, joyful and he has a very bright personality.”

Father Robert Dziedziak blesses the new nativity scene on Dec. 8. The scene was dedicated to his late predecessor, Monsignor Gerry Finegan.
Father Robert Dziedziak blesses the new nativity scene on Dec. 8. The scene was dedicated to his late predecessor, Monsignor Gerry Finegan.

His personality comes through during his sermons and homilies. He uses no notes, just speaks from the heart and in a way that makes you sit up and remember what he’s said, while also giving you something to take home to think about, Sobieck said. He’s inclusive, welcoming in those who are at the parish for the first time and doling out happy birthday and anniversary wishes. On top of it all, he’s funny. 

“Every time he does homilies and sermons he always interjects these jokes and they’re pretty funny,” DiNatale said. “That was a first for me for a priest, but he gets people's attention and gets people to listen.”

It’s a frustrating time for Dziedziak, as he is eager to get the social life of church back on track, but he seems to be doing alright — positive reviews abound, Sobieck said. There’s plenty of time yet to entrench himself into the social scene and build it back, too. Dziedziak is in for the long haul on Longboat Key and said he hopes to retire here. He’s here to serve and grow, he said, and has noticed an eagerness from both him and his parishioners. 

“Even with this COVID thing people are really positive,” Dziedziak said. “I had similar experiences at different parishes but this is very unique. This is like a very peaceful, spiritual place and full of joyful people. I tell them jokes on Sunday and nobody’s wrote me up to the diocese yet.” 




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