Father Ted Dudzinski stood Sunday before the St. Patrick Church parishioners he had shepherded for more than a decade and said his final goodbyes.
He walked among the hundreds of people gathered at the church to hear his last Mass. He talked about the weddings, the baptisms, the funerals he had been a part of. He shared intimate moments with many people.
But now it was time for him to go.
“I will love you and pray for you always,” he told those who were gathered.
The day before, he sat in a cushioned chair in the church office. His own possessions had already been shipped to Lafayette where he will soon work for the bishop.
Serving as the bishop’s vicar general is a great opportunity, Dudzinski said. It will also be nice to return to the place where he grew up and to be closer to his aging parents, he said. His mother is preparing to celebrate her 80th birthday.
Leaving Kokomo won’t be easy, though.
He thought about the farewell reception St. Patrick members had organized for him. It was set for that night.
“Tonight’s going to be very difficult,” he said Saturday. “I’m already tired. I’m exhausted physically and emotionally.”
He’s shared in so many people’s successes, failures and tragedies over the years. He’s been there to baptize babies and see the elderly through the last moments of their lives.
He formed close bonds with the families he shepherded, he said. And they helped him, too.
“With fatherhood is the idea that you also receive support from the people you shepherd and love,” he said.
He’d been receiving that support for some time.
Dudzinski came to Kokomo in 1997 as a newly-ordained priest. He became the associate pastor at St. Patrick.