DETROIT — Fr. Janusz Iwan was a “priest’s priest” who went to great lengths to visit parishioners when they were sick and comfort those who needed it while maintaining parish life at St. Hyacinth Parish in Detroit.
An avid gardener and great conversationalist, Fr. Iwan was a good friend to parishioners who knew him best and always had time to visit parishioners’ homes.
The longtime Polish pastor of St. Hyacinth died Jan. 5 at the age of 74.
“He was a very good friend with whom I could talk about anything,” St. Hyacinth parishioner Joan Kaczorowski told Detroit Catholic. “He used to come by and visit my husband and I all the time. We enjoyed one another because I spoke Polish, and there weren’t too many parishioners left who spoke Polish.”
Fr. Iwan became pastor of St. Hyacinth Parish on Detroit’s east side in 2006, and later added Our Lady Queen of Apostles Parish in Hamtramck to his assignments, faithfully serving the east side’s Polish-Catholic community by maintaining cultural traditions and regaling parishioners of stories of his family back in Poland.
“He brought a lot of good memories from Poland,” Kaczorowski said. “He would talk about his parents, his sister, his niece, life back in Poland. He was a very nice and kind person. He was serious about being a priest, but once you got to know him, he would give you his heart.”
Fr. Iwan served as a member of the in solidum team of priests serving the Genesis 1 Family of Parishes (Mother of Divine Mercy Parish, Detroit; Our Lady Queen of Apostles, Hamtramck; St. Florian, Hamtramck; St. Hyacinth, Detroit; St. John Paul II, Detroit). He retired in 2023.
Janusz Iwan was born June 15, 1949, to Stanislaw and Rozlia Iwan in Debica, Poland. He was ordained a priest for the Society of Jesus’ Southern Province of Poland on July 31, 1976.
In 1979, he was sent to the Polish Jesuit community in Chicago. He came to the Archdiocese of Detroit in 1997 to serve as associate pastor at St. Veronica Parish in Eastpointe (1997-99) and Immaculate Conception Parish in Lapeer (1999-2005).
Fr. Iwan was incardinated into the Archdiocese of Detroit on May 9, 2000. He was assigned as pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish in Wyandotte in 2005, serving there a year before being assigned to St. Hyacinth in 2006. He added responsibility for Our Lady Queen of Apostles in Hamtramck in 2013.
Fr. Iwan also served as chaplain at Henry Ford Wyandotte General Hospital from 2005-11.
Fr. Iwan was known for his horticultural skills, planting a garden behind St. Hyacinth and inviting parishioners to pick vegetables from the garden for a lunch he’d prepare.
“My husband, my brother, and I would come every Wednesday down to the garden,” St. Hyacinth parishioner Caroline Newville said. “He’d fix lunches for us, and we’d have conversations around the lunch table. One of his favorite dishes was mashed potatoes, and the other was boiled potatoes with freshly picked dill that he grew.”
Newville said conversations were always friendly and never too serious. Fr. Iwan was always a faithful, accommodating priest, especially to Newville and her husband, who wasn’t Catholic but treated Fr. Iwan more as a friend than a priest.
“I think he enjoyed hanging out with my husband more because he wasn’t Catholic, so he never treated him like a priest; he treated him like a friend,” Newville said. “He was very thoughtful and led by example. When my brother was in hospice, Father had no problem coming over to give my brother last rites before he passed away. When my husband passed away, even though he wasn’t Catholic, Father was very heartfelt and celebrated a memorial Mass for him at St. Hyacinth. That was very comforting for me.”
Kaczorowski is a lifelong St. Hyacinth parishioner who cleaned the church, cooked meals, decorated the altar for Christmas and Easter and assisted Fr. Iwan with getting to appointments.
Kaczorowski said Fr. Iwan could give off a cold demeanor at times, but once the Polish priest warmed up, he was a kind, friendly soul who cared deeply for his parishioners.
“He was a very kind and gentle person,” Kaczorowski said. “I remember talking to him once, suggesting that instead of prepared homilies, just speak from the heart, because those were the ones that always left an impression on people.
“You could always talk to him as a person; he never regarded himself higher than anybody else, even though he was the pastor,” Kaczorowski added. “When Father said he was going to be there, he was there, whether that was helping with children’s confessions at St. Barbara’s (in Dearborn) or doing a blessing of the sick for a parishioner. No matter his schedule, Father had time.”
Fr. Iwan is predeceased by his parents, Stanislaus and Rozalia; and his sister, Susan. He is survived by his brother, Michael; as well as nieces and nephews in Poland.
Condolences may be sent to St. Hyacinth, 3151 Farnsworth St., Detroit, MI 48211, and Our Lady Queen of Apostles, 3851 Prescott St., Hamtramck, MI 48212.
His funeral was celebrated Jan. 13 at Our Lady Queen of Apostles. A private burial took place at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, 25800 W. 10 Mile Road, Southfield.