Father Brian Fabiszewski has hit the ground running as the parish administrator at Most Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in Gulfport, with the exception of a minor early hiccup.
He arrived for his first day on the job July 1 and then tested positive for COVID-19 July 5.
“I was out for two weeks as soon as I started,” he said, referring to the isolation period in his residence on the church property.
A native of Pittsburgh – which is apparent to anyone who walks into his office due to the Steelers memorabilia on the wall, including an autographed photo of Franco Harris – his last post was as an associate pastor in the Town & Country area of Tampa near the airport. He has lived in the region since 1993, mostly in Clearwater, but got a late start of sorts in the priesthood, having been ordained eight years ago, at age 37.
“I graduated from Eckerd College with a degree in history,” he said. “I was accepted into a master’s program at USF and into a seminary at the same time. I chose the seminary.”
Most Holy Name was founded in 1960. Its first pastor was Father Frank Goodman, the first priest ever ordained for Polk County. At the time of its founding, the church was split between the Diocese of Miami and the Diocese of St. Augustine, as there was not yet a diocese in the Tampa Bay region.
Goodman served here 32 years. An engineer by trade, he designed and oversaw the construction of much of what is now on the property. Since his departure, the parish has lacked continuity. Fabiszewski is the parish’s ninth pastor in 30 years. The effects of the pandemic the past two years have not helped.
“When I arrived, a lot of the programs had still been shut down,” he said. “They weren’t having confessions on Saturday, and they hadn’t for a year-and-a-half or two years. But we have restarted them.”
In-person services have been going on for a while since the restrictions in Florida were not as severe as in other parts of the country. Congregations were initially distanced and start times for Mass were changed to give enough time to clean in between services, but changes in CDC guidance have now made those steps unnecessary.
Right now about 100 people attend each of four weekend Masses. The Spanish mass sees the best overall attendance, although many of the parishioners do not live in the immediate area.
“I’m not conversational, but I can understand what people say. I can celebrate the Mass and give a short homily in Spanish,” said Fabiszewski. “It’s good that a lot of the Spanish community is bilingual. They are very welcoming because they know it’s not my primary language, and they are appreciative of us for offering the Mass.”
During the week he visits various assisted living facilities in the area, offering the services of the church – eucharist, confession, anointing of the sick – to those who are homebound. The church campus is busy with daily Mass as well as programs for different groups hosted here.
Overseeing a relatively small parish, he operates without an associate pastor and finds himself doing more administrative work than in his last post, where most of what he did was ministerial. That administrative work includes things like dealing with aging air conditioning units and addressing needed roof repairs on a couple of church buildings.
“I’m by myself here,” he said. “Except for my cat.”
One of his main goals is to break the cycle of turnover at the church. A six-year term is standard in his line of work, but he could stay longer if he and the members are in favor of it.
“The people here are wonderful. They are very passionate,” he said. “They really do love this place. It has that small family-type feel to it.”
The parish has a large snowbird population, which could mean a 50% increase in the congregation this winter. That means he’ll have even more new attendees to meet.
“I’ll be introducing myself again in a few weeks,” he said.