A successful life requires an accurate, realistic sense of self, Rev. Anthony J. Kuzniewski, S.J., once said – and that is attained over time thanks to positive influences in one’s life.
“Personal history teaches all of us that the significant people (in our lives) are those that have presented us with good choices – by naming our gifts, and challenging us to have the courage of our convictions,” he told the crowd while accepting the College’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 2002.
For countless students, faculty and staff, Fr. Kuzniewski – better known as Fr. K – was that significant person. He was a beloved history professor, College historian, mentor, chaplain and storyteller who helped people see their day-to-day experiences as pieces of the larger narrative of their lives. That perspective, many say, gave them the confidence to take the next step in their personal journey.
“As I make my way in my daily life, every day I strive to be half as good as Fr. K challenged me to be,” says Allyssa Bates ’94. “Thank goodness I have his life as such a shining example of how to do it right.”
Fr. K passed away in December after a brief battle with cancer. Following his death, many individuals shared their memories of Fr. K with Holy Cross Magazine, some of which have been included here. All painted a picture of a man who lived for others, using his own special gifts to change the world for the better.
“He was a great storyteller, and I think many of his students have powerful memories of that,” says Rev. Paul F. Harman, S.J., the director of special projects at the College, who resided with Fr. K and other Jesuit priests in Ciampi Hall, the Jesuit residence on campus. “He had a great sense of his own story, too, of his Polish background, of his growing up in the Midwest. He was interested in his own roots.”
Fr. K was raised in Milwaukee in a Catholic Polish community, where his interest in history first emerged. He would go on to study and write widely on the subjects of Polish-American history and American Catholicism. He was ordained a priest of the Jesuit order at Holy Cross in St. Joseph Memorial Chapel in 1979.
After his ordination, Fr. K received an assignment from the order to work in campus ministry at another Jesuit institution, Loyola Chicago. But his roots were in teaching — he held master’s and doctoral degrees in history from Harvard and had taught at Holy Cross from 1974-1976 — and in 1980 he returned to the classroom as a history professor at Holy Cross, where he remained for 37 years.
Here, he found another story to immerse himself in: that of the College’s esteemed and lively history. He chronicled it all in “Thy Honored Name: A History of the College of the Holy Cross, 1843 – 1994.”
Not only did Fr. K delve into Holy Cross’ past, but he was a full and active participant in its present for more than three decades. Countless alumni wrote to HCM to share how this beloved history professor made the study of history come alive in classrooms on The Hill.
Bill McCrystal ’08 was a student in two of Fr. K’s most well-known and appreciated courses: “Lincoln and His Legacy,” and “The Age of Jackson.” Today, McCrystal teaches history to high school students at Oratory Prep Middle and High School in Summit, New Jersey.
“It was Fr. K who instilled an even deeper love of history into a slowly maturing history major’s academic fervor,” he says. “He was truly a man for others, demonstrated by his ability to coalesce the professionalism of the classroom with a child-like glee for learning.”
Sarah McGuire ’08, the history supervisor at Duxbury (Massachusetts) Middle School, has taught the subject since graduating from Holy Cross nine years ago. She credits Fr. K with setting her on this path.
“His ability to find humor and humanity in the characters that so often become flat in history texts inspired me to pursue not only a major in the subject area, but to pursue becoming an educator that might provide those human stories to students,” she says.
McGuire remembers Fr. K’s sense of humor as “charming and endearing,” and it was often his study guides that made her laugh during the stressful time of midterms. In October 2006, Fr. K sent a poem in an email to his Age of Jackson class as a reminder about the midterm review session. McGuire held on to the email and shared with HCM:
Date: Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2006, 11:34 p.m.
Subject: Are you “OK”?
The mid-term is coming;
but please don’t you fret:
You’re all well prepared.
On that I would bet.
There’s so much to cover,
with Jackson and Clay,
The Battle of New Orleans–
remember that day?
The disputed election,
good gosh that was brutal;
Was it a bargain?–
Clay’s denial was futile.
And sweet Peggy Eaton,
“as chaste as a virgin,”
I wonder if Jackson
consulted a surgeon?
We’ve seen Jackson censured,
and then get expunged;
And then with Van Buren,
the economy plunged.
I loved the debate between
Webster and Hayne,
Dan’s boost to the Union gave
Calhoun a pain.
To keep matters straight,
we will have a review–
To clear up confusion
that may bother you.
eight thirty’s the time,
be there in your prime!
All of this leads to the
end of my ditty–
To loosen your thinking,
I tried to be witty.
At least I can hope
you will find it OK–
A message in rhyme
from your friend, Fr. K.
Beyond the classroom, Fr. K took the lead as a chaplain for the Crusader athletic teams. Most notably, he served the football, men’s lacrosse and men’s and women’s basketball teams, but he spent time reaching out to athletes in all sports.
During his sophomore year, lacrosse player Conor Sofield ’16 was injured, off the field and considering leaving Holy Cross. But a chance encounter with Fr. K — and the thought-provoking conversation that ensued — changed his mind.
“I wish I was better at verbalizing the magic that exists in the Holy Cross community, and what my fellow Crusaders and I mean by ‘life on The Hill.’ Luckily for me, in the spring of my sophomore year up in the Hart Center, Fr. K did exactly that,” Sofield recalls. “He used words and spoke in such a way that flipped a switch in my head, ultimately keeping me in the best place in the world with my best friends in the world.”
Two years later, Sofield was on the field when the Crusaders earned a spot in the playoffs for the first time in program history.
Rev. Mike Rogers, S.J., ’02 is the current chaplain of the men’s basketball team, a role he embraced after Fr. K invited him to get involved.
“This [athletics chaplaincy] was just something that he did,” Fr. Rogers says. “Tony, just by seeing a need and then deciding to meet that need without complaint or fanfare, really demonstrated for all of us that this is an important thing, and we need to pay attention to it.”
The deep and abiding appreciation that Holy Cross alumni feel for Fr. K was mutual. Fr. K worked hard for the well-being of the College and its students.
“Nothing thrilled him more than to see students get very excited about reading and, of course, about history,” says Fr. Harman. “His particular love for the College was that he saw this as a place that brought together everything that was important: faith, knowledge and service.”
In the late 1990s, Fr. K was a candidate for the role of dean of the College, and many in the community thought he was the man for the job. But he felt called to stay in the classroom, with his students.
“He had prayed about this,” Rev. James M. Hayes, S.J., the College’s associate chaplain for mission, recalls. “When he saw who the other candidates were, he felt that we would be in good hands and withdrew his name, because he really did love the classroom and love his contact with students.”
Fr. K also loved his brother Jesuits, with whom he lived in Ciampi Hall. He was the rector of the community from 1998-2004, and then passed the torch to Fr. Hayes.
“He was very helpful in handing the job over to me, and he was very affirming and gracious,” Fr. Hayes remembers. “I could always count on him for support, and I was deeply grateful for that.”
Fr. Hayes says he came to look to Fr. K as an older brother figure, and Fr. Harman echoed those sentiments, noting how they held each other accountable in the community: “He did care very much for his brother Jesuits. He could call us to task and we could call him to task, too.”
Not only did Fr. K care for the people within Ciampi Hall, but he also took an interest in the building itself. “As a historian, he was always the one to make sure we had the [American] flag out on certain days, the national holidays,” remembers Fr. Harman, “and he took great care and pride in setting up bird feeders outside our dining room windows.”
In 2011, Fr. K wrote a post for his blog on the College website, musing about the removal of a 160-year-old apple tree on the hillside by the library, one of the few remaining from the land’s previous existence as an orchard. Today, those words are reminders of the comfort and blessing memories can hold in times of loss:
“One ancient apple tree remains, on the southeast lawn of Clark Hall. I visited it today; it is showing its age, serving as a reminder that we live in a world that is passing away. But, thank God, we have memories of beautiful things that are no more.”
After Fr. K’s passing, we invited members of the community to share their memories with HCM. Thank you to all the alumni, faculty, staff and friends of the College who shared special memories of Fr. K. When HCM compiled them all, there were more than 30 pages of memories, photos and “thank yous” for this remarkable man. We’ve included a sampling of those memories here, and you can find the rest at magazine.holycross.edu.
A Life-Changing Conversation with Fr. K
Connor Sofield ’16 played lacrosse. An injury during his sophomore year led to a prolonged time off the field and some struggles in the classroom. His frustration built, and he even considered transferring to schools in sunny California, far from the snow on The Hill in Worcester. Until a fortuitous conversation with Fr. K:
While these thoughts were going through my head, I still had to go up to the Hart Center for rehab. After rehab, I always went to the locker room, grabbed a towel and went to the sauna. One day I was sitting in the sauna alone. It was the middle of the day, varsity practices hadn’t started and most students still had classes, so I was pretty much alone … and then in walks Fr. K. He was wearing the Velcro flip-flops that squeaked when he walked and a towel around his neck the way QBs wear them between offensive series. He walked in on his toes, in that way he always did, and plopped down next to me. We had never really had a conversation before that day, and I didn’t know much about him other than that he was our team priest and taught history classes at the College. I introduced myself and a conversation ensued.
He recognized me from the lacrosse team, so we spoke mostly about that … the upcoming season, my major and the food around the city of Worcester and in Boston. At one point he asked me what my favorite part of the experience was last year and what I was hoping for in the new season. It was pretty easy to say that the coolest part of freshman year was beating Navy at Citi Field. My younger brother’s team played after the game, and how it was cool to see the little guys I used to coach, while I was decked out in my college gear. At that, he looked over and said something along the lines of, “That’s the best part about college sports.” He spoke about how in all his years of being involved with the athletics at Holy Cross, the one thing that he enjoyed the most was seeing how the young athletes looked up to the college guys. He spoke about how it was that interaction that makes it worth it. How he thinks it’s awesome we do things like Big Brothers Big Sisters, and how we give back to the community around the College. I remember he repeated that phrase a couple more times, “worth it.” He then went on to use words like “community” and “magical” while describing the way athletics at Holy Cross is such an integral part of life on and around The Hill.
As I left for class, I shook his hand and told him I enjoyed speaking. I couldn’t stop thinking about what he said about life on The Hill, about how he spoke of us athletes at Holy Cross and how we were a large part of the community, and the influence we had on younger athletes who looked up to us. I thought about how he had said it was “worth it.”
Two and a half years later we went to the playoffs for the first time in program history.
I wish I was better at verbalizing the magic that exists in the Holy Cross community, and what my fellow Crusaders and I mean by “life on The Hill.” Luckily for me, in the spring of my sophomore year in the sauna up in the Hart Center, Fr. K did exactly that. He used words and spoke in such a way that flipped a switch in my head, ultimately keeping me in the best place in the world with my best friends in the world.
Thank you, Fr. K, for all you did for us as athletes, and thanks for preventing me from making what would have been the biggest mistake of my life. — Conor Sofield ’16
Mary Beth Ryan Cashman ’05 and Maggie Weber ’05 (below) shared their Jan. 28 birthday with Fr. K. Both are daughters of alumni who had a close relationship with Fr. K (Thomas Ryan ’76 and John Fontana ’72), and the three made it a point to celebrate their birthdays together while they were all on Mount St. James. “Fr. K always remarked how special it was that two of his close friends had daughters on his birthday — and that we both ended up at Holy Cross — and good friends at that!” says Cashman.
They stayed in close touch over the years, with Fr. K presiding at both of their weddings and the baptisms of both of Weber’s daughters with husband Joseph Weber ’05.
“Jan. 28 was bittersweet this year,” Cashman says, “but I know he was sending his well wishes and prayers our way, and I was absolutely thinking of my birthday buddy.”
The Privilege of Helping Others
We met Fr. K when he was just Mr. K, in 1974, when he was in the final stages of preparing to be ordained into the Society of Jesus. He was so open and easy to talk to that many of us spent a large amount of time discussing why he wanted to become a priest and why the Society of Jesus. I, for one, came away understanding a call that I never could get my arms around. I believed, but really did not fully understand what it meant to be a good Catholic. You did what was right because you did not really want to embarrass your family and it felt good to not let your parents down, even though we would not admit it. After having a class and the associated time to talk to Fr. K about life in general, you could come away believing that the sacrifices he was about to make to be a Jesuit made sense. There was a true feeling that he could have an impact on young people’s lives and help them grow into their full potential. You believed that listening to him and following his direction would really help you be a better person. Somehow helping others seemed less of a task and more of a privilege.
I will never forget a dinner this fall that really says it all. Forty-two years ago, a few students thought they made a tiny, insignificant gesture to say thank you by buying him a Bible. Apparently it meant more to him than we ever thought, as he brought the Bible to the dinner to show me that he still used it every day.
I am happy that so many people recognized him publicly. But Fr. K, as you look down on us, I disagree that you passed. You live through so many of us that you molded and helped become who we are. It will be many generations before people will not remember firsthand what you did for them. What you taught us made us better, and now, in your memory, I only hope that we can repay you by teaching the next generations what you stood for and living our lives in a way you would approve of. — Al Correia ’78 P14
Thursday Night Mass
During my time at Holy Cross, there were four Jesuits on campus who had developed a nice tradition of taking turns celebrating Mass in the lower (crypt) chapel at 11 p.m., Monday through Thursday. That late daily Mass became something I really looked forward to each evening before bed. Since the Mass did not attract a lot of participants, those who did attend would sit on a bench connected to the semicircular wall behind the altar. The celebration of the Eucharist this way, with the congregation sitting together, illuminated mostly by candlelight with the priest facing us, made for a very intimate setting. It was a beautiful way to end the day. Fr. Kuzniewski was usually on the schedule for Thursday night, and I always looked forward to his Masses. I never had him as a professor, but always knew he was a special priest. Requiescat in pace, Fr. K. You were well known as a history professor, but I shall always remember your evening Masses. — Leonard J. Moraglio ’91
The Grace of Fr. K
I am so sad to have lost Fr. Kuzniewski, but am inspired by the grace with which he accepted his illness and moved to “the life of the world to come with a strong sense of Jesus leading [him]” as he said in his recent letter to us.
Tony was our Jesuit leader on the 2015 Ignatian pilgrimage. After saying Mass on the last day at Sant’Andrea al Quirinale in Rome, he asked me to take a couple of photos. He laughed that he might make one his Christmas card that year…
A lovely man with a big impact on Holy Cross. God bless him. — Ellen Keohane,
Holy Cross Chief Information Officer
Written by Maura Sullivan Hill for the Spring 2017 issue of Holy Cross Magazine
About Holy Cross Magazine
Holy Cross Magazine (HCM) is the quarterly alumni publication of the College of the Holy Cross. The award-winning publication is mailed to alumni and friends of the College and includes intriguing profiles, make-you-think features, alumni news, exclusive photos and more. Visit magazine.holycross.edu/about to contact HCM, submit alumni class notes, milestones, or letters to the editor.
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