After taking a moment to admire the rows of vibrant stained-glass windows at St. Christopher’s Roman Catholic Church in Baldwin recently, the Rev. Nicholas Zientarski smiled as slow, rhythmic Gregorian chants echoed in the background.
For the past month, Zientarski has led Sunday Masses at the church in his new role as lead pastor, succeeding Monsignor Steven Camp, who recently completed 12 years at the church before moving to another parish.
While parishioners said they would miss Camp, they have quickly grown to admire Zientarski, in large part because he is reaching out to the Baldwin community to bring in new congregants. “Filling in for Monsignor Camp is going to be a tough job, but Zientarski is doing good so far,” parishioner Chris Battaglia said. “Everyone runs their ship differently, but new experiences aren’t always bad ones, and it’s never a bad thing to make an effort to encourage others to come to church.”
“Sometimes I cry during church services because praying to God is so moving and powerful, and I want other people to share this same connection with God,” Zientarski said. “I care about everyone’s salvation, and I want to encourage people to come to church full-time, instead of only coming to church on holidays or on special occasions.”
“It’s great that Zientarski wants to get involved because the responsibility of the church is to care for others and to give to those in need,” said the Rev. Brandon O’Brien, St. Christopher’s parochial vicar. “This is a great opportunity for us to reach out and try to expand and exhibit the charity of Christ to all people.”
While Zientarski settles into his new position, he plans to become more familiar with the people of Baldwin in order to develop a missionary outreach plan. “I’m supposed to be concerned about everyone’s salvation, whether they’re Catholic or not,” he said. “The major challenge is meeting everyone, finding out the direction that the people want the parish to go and then meeting their needs and concerns with a strategic plan.”
Zientarski said he wanted to make sure that people feel welcome to convert to Catholicism, without feeling pressured to do so. Every year, about 10 non-religious people or people from other faiths attend a welcoming ritual at St. Christopher’s during Easter. Zientarski said he hopes to attract more people to attend the service.
“I want people to know that they’re always welcome to join our parish community,” he said.
“It was sad to see Monsignor Camp go, because he was a great pastor,” said Baldwinite Robert McDougal, who has attended Mass at St. Christopher’s for the past 26 years. “When Monsignor Camp gave a sermon, it was incredible to hear him because he was able to relate it from present day back to the time of Jesus and his apostles by going back and forth in his discussions.”
O’Brien said he would miss Camp because of the guidance and encouragement that he provided to help him in his daily ministry as a priest. But O’Brien said he was pleased to have Zientarski as the new head pastor, noting that he was already comfortable with Zientarski because he was his dean and professor at Saint Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers for two and a half years.
“Monsignor Camp was a great example of holiness and priestly zeal, because he showed me what the responsibilities of a pastor are and what a pastor should be in the church,” O’Brien said. “I think that Zientarski will be able to stand out in a new way by using his skills and abilities as a teacher and as a gifted priest who has been ordained for 15 years to help get involved in the St. Christopher’s School with the students.”