Hundreds mourn death of Franciscan Apprentice,
Stephen Rzegocki

Stephen Rzegocki

MERIDEN, CT (12-08-2011) - He was an Advent man. An unassuming man whose characteristic spirit of patient waiting and quiet reflection beat in rhythm year-round with the season of Advent, a time when we wait attentively and expectantly for the One who is to come. The One-who-is-to-come came on the second day of Advent to bring his Advent man home to live with Him forever. On November 28th, Stephen Rzegocki died unexpectedly of an embolism almost three weeks following a heart valve repair surgery. The day before, on the First Sunday of Advent, Stephen, a Franciscan Apprentice, joined his fellow Apprentices and the Franciscan Sisters and Brothers of the Eucharist at Mass in celebration of the Sisters' 38th Foundation Day. No one knew that the next day he would join his parents, three of his children, his brother and the Franciscan Sisters and Brother who live in heaven.

At the beginning of the funeral Mass, the celebrant, Reverend Robert F. Tucker, asked Stephen's wife, Kelleanna, and their children, Nathan and Katherine, to light the Advent candle from the Easter candle.

Stephen was 17 years old when the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist came to Meriden. His parents, Walter and Katherine (later Sister Jacoba) Rzegocki, were among the first lay people to welcome the Community. Walter organized the Sisters' move to their new house and land on Allen Avenue in 1973 and helped start the large garden, among other projects. Stephen, at the age of twenty, tackled the tedious job of reviving an abandoned clay tennis court on the Sisters' land, converting it into a prayer garden. With one of the Sisters, he wire-brushed the rust from the chain-link fence around the court and repainted the fence with rust-proof paint. He took on the further development of the future prayer garden by designing and creating a meandering walking path through the enclosed space, and then with the Sisters, planted seedlings and wild flowers. Soon after, Stephen became a Franciscan Apprentice, a lay associate of the Franciscan Community. He and two other young lay people were the first of the now approximately 100 men and women throughout the world who are dedicated to Franciscan spirituality through their relationship with the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist.

Trained as a toolmaker, Stephen was the first employee of a fledgling metal stamping shop founded in the 1970's. He gave almost thirty years of service to the company. He was part of a group to develop a spirituality of work for the tool and die industry, based on Pope John Paul II's encyclical, On Human Work. Maintaining a balance between the human and the technical was a mission to be lived, one he witnessed to by his life as a faithful Catholic lay man working within the secular arena.

Stephen and his wife Kelleanna shared a strong commitment to the teachings of the Catholic Church on marriage and family life. With other married couples, they sponsored programs to help prepare engaged couples for marriage. Stephen did not preach, but wisely gave advice when asked and witnessed his beliefs by deeds more than words.

Stephen was an active parishioner of St. Joseph Church in Meriden where he received the sacraments of baptism, first communion, reconciliation, confirmation and matrimony. He served on committees, trained altar servers and was a lector for Sunday Mass. St. Joseph Church received his body on December 2nd, as his brothers and nephews carried his casket into the church for the Mass of Christian Burial.

By age 58, Stephen Rzegocki had quietly impacted the lives of hundreds of people. Men, women and children formed a steady line at Wallingford Funeral Home to say goodbye to Stephen and to comfort his wife Kelleanna, his son Nathan, his daughter Katherine and his six siblings and their families. The Sisters, Brothers and his fellow Franciscan Apprentices deeply mourn his death and know that the experience of having one of the first Apprentices be one of the first to die is a mystery held in God. The Advent man has given us an unexpected experience of the meaning of the season, as we wait patiently, consistently, with fortitude and resolve to greet with an open heart the One-who-is-to-come.

The Franciscan Sisters and Brothers of the Eucharist formed an honor guard on the steps of St. Joseph Church at the end of the funeral Mass. Talented close friends of Stephen built the casket out of pine and elegantly finished it with professional precision.