ROCHESTER — The vestments were rose colored.
But on Dec. 15, Gaudete Sunday, the Advent Sunday dedicated to joy, was there joy in the unveiling of a stained-glass memorial tribute to 19-year-old West Webster firefighter Tomasz Kaczowka?
Kaczowka and his mentor, Lt. Mike Chiapperini, a volunteer firefighter and a member of the Webster Police Department, were shot and killed Dec. 24, 2012, while responding to a house fire. Kaczowka had been an altar server and active member of St. Stanislaus Parish in Rochester.
The stained-glass image depicts a young firefighter with Kaczowka’s features pouring water from heaven on a tiny house below, next to firefighting patron St. Florian, a fourth-century Roman soldier who quells the house fire with a raised hand. The memorial window clearly marks the young firefighter as a member of the communion of saints watching over his fellow firefighters.
With holy water and incense, Bishop Emeritus Matthew H. Clark blessed and dedicated the image of the St. Florian stained glass window, which is under construction and will be installed at St. Stanislaus at a later date. Earlier this year, parishioners and friends commissioned Valerie O’Hara of Pike Stained Glass Studios to create the window in Kaczowka’s memory.
"We still yearn for total happiness and union for those we have been separated," said Bishop Clark, who told those gathered that that reunion has already begun, and he called on the Lord for spiritual healing.
At the end of the Mass, Kaczowka’s mother, Janina Kaczowka, spoke in Polish to thank the parish, and his brother translated their thanks to English.
"We never expected a tribute like this, and we are grateful for all the generosity that made this possible," his brother, Dariusz Kaczowka, said.
After the Mass, members of the Kaczowka family and their friends gave back: They served a meal that included Polish sausage, sauerkraut and plentiful homemade pastries for all the parishioners, firefighters, police officers, 911 responders and other emergency personnel and many other friends in attendance.
Firefighter Brandon Nugent, one of Kaczowka’s friends, noted that his own family had had strong connections to St. Stanislaus Parish, and that he said he was glad that the parish was able to memorialize his friend, whom he described as outgoing and ready with a joke.
"He was a very outgoing, bubbly type of person," Nugent said.
Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering said the past year since the tragedy has gone quickly.
"This is a beautiful church and I’m sure the stained-glass window will be a really fitting tribute to Tomasz," Pickering said.
He said in the past year he had become close to the Kaczowka family.
"A lot of emotions are starting to flow again because of the anniversary coming up, but I think it is all part of the healing process," Pickering said. "It certainly meant a lot to have the service today and to have Bishop Clark here."