Dear Parish Family,
St. Mary’s has had the distinction for the past several years of having the most senior employee in the whole Diocese. OF COURSE Jo Kaczmarek stands out from the pack! Everyone who knows her, loves her, and we can all agree that there isn’t another like her in all of Creation.
Jo Capodicasa (capo di casa = “Head of the House”) was born in 1931 in West Buffalo. She said that her earliest childhood memory is walking to church hand-in-hand between her Sicilian parents. After finishing her studies, she got a job teaching in the North Tonawanda school district. In the two years she taught there, the kids were delighted that they got to throw her an engagement party during her first year, and a baby shower in the second.
In 1954, she married the love of her life, her beloved Conrad (“Connie”), with whom she would have seven children over the span of 19 years.
In the 1960s, the Kaczmareks moved to New Jersey where a kindly Irish priest, Fr. McHugh, saw the spark in Jo, and recruited her to be a catechist and a substitute teacher for the newly formed Little Flower Catholic School, where her first four children attended.
In those years, both Jo and Conrad drew strength from attending weekday Mass. But since they couldn’t afford a babysitter, they would split one Mass between the two of them: Connie would go to Fr. McHugh in the sacristy before Mass began and receive communion, and then would stay through the Gospel. He would then go home and Jo would scoot over to the church and slide into the pew in time for the Eucharistic prayer. (For the record, that’s not really by the book, but what can you do?) ☺
In August 1967, Connie was recruited to a new position at Glens Falls Hospital. The first things Jo did in moving to town was to join a parish and get a library card. The only house that would fit the growing family was in Queensbury, where Jo still lives today surrounded by her treasured neighbors. So, she naturally contacted the nearby pastor and told Fr. French she was grateful to be a new member of Our Lady of the Annunciation Parish. Soon, she was offered the job of Director of Religious
Education, and thus began the iconic ministry career that stretches to this very day.
With her children’s births spanning two decades, it took 25 years for Jo to get her youngest packed off to Kindergarten. On little Paul’s first day at SMA, her eldest daughter, Ellen, all grown up and in a medical residency program in Rochester, kindly called her mom mid-morning to see how she was doing with having an empty nest during the school day for the first time. Jo said, “I’m definitely doing OK… I’m having friends over for lunch and I’m already into my second pitcher of whiskey sours! …Ellen, It’s been 25 years!!”
With all seven kids enrolled at SMA, Jo threw herself into school life, volunteering for this, that and everything. Finally, in 1981 the principal recruited her for a special job on the faculty – a second-grade classroom, which put her in charge of the kids’ Reconciliation and Eucharist preparation. A dream come true, and the beginning of ten happy years at St. Mary’s Academy. Thirty years ago, the pastor at St. Mary’s wouldn’t leave Jo alone – he visited her classroom every day until she finally agreed to give up her beloved second-graders and come over to the parish as the new Faith Formation director with these marching orders:
“We’re in disarray; we need you to build a new program from scratch.”
It was early on that she developed what seemed at the time to be a crazy idea that parents would come to Faith Formation sessions with their kids and grow in their faith all together as a family. And thus was born a program that was vintage Mrs. K. – filled with laughter, prayer, learning, sharing and love.
Jo’s soul print has left an indelible mark on St. Mary’s and SMSA. Her faith has inspired us, her wisdom guided us and her love enfolded us. We’re eager to get her involved as a volunteer on some of the projects and programs dear to her heart and we wish her a long and happy and blessed retirement.
Jo’s Grateful Pastor (and yours too!),