The first time you meet Father Chris Ciastoń, the new associate pastor at St. Anne Catholic Community in Barrington, he will warn you about his “South Side” accent. No, Father Chris is not from Bridgeport. He means the south of Poland, where he grew up in picturesque Muszynka, a village of about 400 residents (if Wikipedia can be trusted), very near the border of Slovakia.
Father Chris moved into his new role at St. Anne’s in July 2013. I had a great time chatting with him after Mass last Saturday evening. In fact, in my almost 18 years at St. Anne, I can hardly recall a time when we laughed and smiled as much as we did during that service. Father Chris has a terrific sense of humor and a delightfully honest way of telling you about his life and experiences. He has one sister and four brothers back in Poland, along with his mother. He shared a story with us of a time when his family was so exasperated with him for no longer attending church services, two brothers simply picked him up and carried him to Mass! He does not shy away from admitting that leaving his native country to study and work in an unfamiliar place with a foreign language has been challenging.
Father Chris came to study for the priesthood here in Chicago 10 years ago, and his career choice before entering the seminary might surprise you. He graduated from cooking school, first working as a dietician. He eventually became a chef at a famous resort and spa in Krynica-Zdrój, Poland, a tourist destination known as the “Pearl of Polish Spas.” During his homily last week, he told us he had a very high quality of life in Poland, where excellent chefs are sought out and held in high esteem. Nevertheless, the good life and the “partying” left him pondering where and how he could find deeper meaning in his life.
In the last decade, Father Chris studied English and American culture along with theology. He sums it up with his trademark humor, “Thank God, my eight-year adventure with philosophical-theological and linguistic studies at three different seminaries ended in May 2007.” He was ordained in the Archdiocese of Chicago, and went to work first at Saint Tarcissus in Chicago, then Saint Raymond de Penafort in Mount Prospect.
Now that Father Chris is here in Barrington, I asked him for his first impressions of the community. “I like the friendliness of the people, the openness.” He gestured to all the people still socializing in the church’s Gathering Space and noted that people don’t run out the door after Mass, they want to stay and talk. In the photo below, he wears a particularly broad smile as he is being greeted in fluent Polish, and I was impressed at his comfort in rapidly moving between two languages.
Another thing Father likes about Barrington is feeling like he’s in the “countryside.” He laughed at his own choice of words, knowing that Barrington is not exactly rural, but added that the rolling hills in our community remind him a bit of his Polish village near the mountains. If only our hills were more substantial, as Father says he is a “stellar skier” but a “mediocre golfer.” I disagree with his evaluation that his joking is also mediocre, given the laughter he inspired in the church on Saturday night.
I had two other important things I needed to know from Father Chris. The first: how to correctly pronounce his last name (his first name, by the way, is Krzysztof, but he is okay with “Chris”). He says Ciastoń sounds like CHAH-stone. The first syllable is accented and it’s similar to the Italian “ciao,” without the “ow” at the end. The other detail I needed to know: when was he coming over to get his Barrington Area Library card? He assures me he’ll visit the library soon, after he returns from a trip back to Poland for his baby brother’s wedding. And no one will have to pick him up and carry him to the church for that special occasion!