On January 27th, 2024, after praying the Eucharistic Prayer during the Vigil Mass for the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Father Jason Victor Kulcynski suddenly passed out. He was rushed to Abington hospital where, after receiving the Last Rites, he died. He was 62 years old.
Father Jason was my good friend, and today, along with all of his parishioners and thousands who knew and loved him, I mourn his loss.
In honor of the gift of his life, I’d like to share with you some of the blessings Father Jason brought into my life. I know that every person who knew him can share even more stories. He was an amazing man, a faithful priest, and an awesome person, and I will miss him greatly. I hope to see him someday, when it is my turn, in Heaven.
Meeting Father Jason
Almost seven years ago, on February 1, 2017, I met my friend Deborah Binder at a little diner across from the National Shrine of St Rita of Cascia. Deborah was the Director of the Shrine at the time, although she later moved to the National Shrine of St John Neumann (she sadly passed away on October 29, 2021). From our booth, I lamented my difficulties in finding a priest to bless my home. I explained how the pastor of our local Catholic Church blessed my home when we moved in: I welcomed him at the door, he took one step in, and started to bless the house.
“Please, Monsignor,” I said, “don’t you want to come a little further in?”
“I’m fine here,” he said. I think he was finished in under five minutes. When he left, I was flabbergasted.
I had frequently heard of priests who walked throughout homes, opening closet doors and even blessing the garage with incense and holy water. I wanted the nooks and crannies of my home to be blessed thoroughly, but I couldn’t find a priest willing to do it.
“I know just the guy!” Deborah said. She told me of her friend, Father Jason Kulczynski, who was pastor of Holy Martyrs Church in Oreland, PA, only about 25 minutes from my home. He had brought her father back into the church, she beamed, shortly before he died. He was a good friend of hers and, she knew, would soon be a good friend of mine.
Two days later, I emailed Father Jason and asked if he would bless my home. He responded in the affirmative almost immediately, and a week later, was blessing my home, my medals, my statues and rosaries, and even my dog, Nemo, who you can see with him in the photo above. Father Jason loved dogs. He had a jar of dog cookies in his car, just for the special occasion of making a new friend.
As Father left, I gave him a DVD of my television series, The Faithful Traveler in the Holy Land, and a small bag of white dust from the Milk Grotto in the Holy Land. Later that day, Father told me the wonderful coincidence that the Parish Nurse at Holy Martyrs, Doris, had been in the Holy Land with me when I filmed the series! He told me that he would be including some of the dust from the Milk Grotto in his relic collection, which he then invited me to visit when he exhibited them on March 29th, just before Lent.
At the time, I had been a parishioner at my local church, and had been finding it a frustrating experience, and even sometimes, a near occasion of sin. It wasn’t the worst church out there, I know, but there was a painful lack of respect for the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament and the sacredness of the church that had me bringing earplugs to Mass just so I could pray. When I realized that a frequent lector at daily Mass (a nun, I later found out) repeatedly removed male pronouns from the readings during Mass, I complained to the woman in charge of the lectors, then the pastor, and then the Archbishop. Their collective shrug had me sobbing in the pews, and I begged God to save me from the indifference.
“God deserves so much more!” I often cried.
Holy Martyrs, Coffee, and Relics
The morning of March 29th, I drove to Holy Martyrs thinking all the while, “this isn’t that far… maybe I could go to daily Mass here…”
Once Mass began, my heart sang. Father Jason celebrated the Mass with such love, such reverence. Again, I sobbed in the pews, but this time, I shed happy tears. “This is the love God deserves!” I thought.
I emailed Father Jason that night, gushing about his parish and his obvious love for the Mass. “Sure, the church could use some architectural help (haha!),” I said, “but the parish you have built, Father, has its heart in the right place: with Our Lord.” Father later told me that my email brought tears to his eyes. He had such a gentle heart.
Soon, I was welcomed by the many loving parishioners at Holy Martyrs, and one day, Father approached me after Mass and asked if I’d like to come to the rectory to have coffee with him.
“Me?!” I thought. I was incredulous.
You have to understand, I was 45 years old and have been Catholic all my life. I love priests. To me, they are the face of God. But me to them…? I don’t know. I’ve never had a priest be anything but standoffish with me. “Priests just don’t like me,” I’ve often complained.
Father Jason was the exception.
From that day on, Father Jason and I often had coffee in his office at the rectory. I got to know and love his wonderful staff–and dear friends–Terry Melanson (Father’s right hand), and Doris Duncheskie (his left), Adele McGovern, and Chris Napiczek.
As the years passed, I was blessed to help Father set out and store his massive relic collection before it had its magnificent permanent home in the basement of Holy Martyrs. There were many times when I would help him bubble wrap the reliquaries for transport, or unbubblewrap them for storage in the little curio cabinet of his office. As I did so, I would rub each reliquary on myself, claiming to be dusting it, but really hoping that some of the graces of the relic would rub off on me.
Later, when I had a great need for spiritual companionship and protection, Father allowed me to rub a piece of cloth against every single relic he had, and He asked God and the saints to protect me from the evil pressing against my life.
Father often told the story of how he acquired his first relic–a relic of the True Cross–when he was a seminarian. His curiosity led him to uncover the relic from the archives of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. His boldness moved him to ask, “Can I have this?” And the grace of God enabled the priest he asked to say yes. The rest is, for those of us who have been blessed to visit Father’s relic collection, is history. It was the beginning of a love of the saints that has moved hundreds of thousands of people, including those who have visited the relics or heard Father speak about them on the radio, television, or in his podcast with Radio Maria, Aim High. I was blessed to join Father as a guest on his show a few times, to talk about my Portugal series, The Faithful Traveler in Portugal, or to read about the life of St Philomena.
I’m happy to have contributed to Father’s relic collection, from my travels to Fatima, Italy, and the Holy Land, including rocks from the Holy Land and the Shrine of St Michael at Monte Gargano, and dirt from Fatima and the Shrine of Our Lady of Revelation in Rome. Here are some pictures Father sent me of his most recent acquisitions.
Father Jason would always shoot me a quick text with photos of new relics he added to his collection, or of new reliquaries, asking me to come have coffee and see. We often discussed best ways to showcase their beauty and the lives of the saints. From my travels, I sent him photos of all the amazing reliquaries I saw, so he could live vicariously through me. Father hated to travel. He longed for a first class relic of Blessed Carlo Acutis, which I attempted to get for him on a recent trip to Assisi! Now, I hope he’s met him! Father told me, and many others, that he’d willed his relic collection to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Częstochowa, where he began his priestly ministry as a Pauline Father. I know The Pauline Fathers will love the relics as much as Father Jason did, and I hope they’ll find a way to share them with visitors, as Father Jason loved to share his love of the saints with all of us.
Father Jason and the Latin Mass
Father Jason loved the Latin Mass, or as it has been known: the Tridentine Mass, the Extraordinary Form, the Pre-Vatican II Mass. He loved it greatly, and before Archbishop Chaput invited the Priests of the Fraternity of the Order of St Peter (FSSP) to St Mary’s in Conshohocken, Father Jason was the priest who celebrated the Latin Mass in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Even after the FSSP came, Father Jason celebrated the Latin Mass at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa once a month, and he loved doing it.
I grew up in the Novus Ordo, and while I had dipped my toe into the Latin Mass every now and then, I’d never had a pleasant experience. I ventured out to Czestochowa shortly after meeting Father Jason, but because I was afraid of everything–being judged, doing things wrong, not knowing what I was doing–I sat in the back and only ended up hearing screaming babies.
No, I later told him, the Latin Mass was not for me. But Father loved it so much, he never stopped sharing his love of the Latin Mass.
Father had a habit of often retelling the same stories or jokes. It made me laugh and gave me good practice with patience! To his credit, his stories and jokes were always good. One thing I remember him telling me about the Latin Mass was the prayer of confession (confiteor) the altar boys would pray as Mass began and later, just before receiving Holy Communion.
“Just in case they sinned in between!” Father would laugh.
I thought of that today, as I prayed along with them the second time.
When the FSSP came to St Mary’s in Conshohocken in 2018, Father Jason asked if I’d go.
Even though St Mary’s is all of seven minutes from my home, I said, “No, I don’t like the Latin Mass.”
“Give it a try,” he begged. “You won’t regret it. But then you’ll leave me, I know it!”
“I won’t leave, Father,” I laughed. “Don’t worry. I don’t like the Latin Mass.”
A few months later, I said to Father over coffee, “You were right, Father, it’s so beautiful!”
He smiled and ribbed me for leaving him, then he said wistfully, “I wish I could go with you!”
Every now and then, I would join the Holy Martyrs parish for Mass on Thursdays and Coffee with Father. He so loved his parishioners, and he loved having coffee! He would often gush about his various coffee apparati, and then invite me to try them out.
I will miss having coffee with Father Jason.
Father Jason’s Gift
This morning, as I was reflecting on my friendship with Father Jason, I realized how very blessed I was to know him so well, and to be able to spend so much time with him.
Was I Father’s close friend? I wondered.
I confided in him, and he in me, both in and outside of the confessional. Because of that, I know–and this is his gift–that while Father loved God and Mary and the saints and the Church and the Mass, and he strove for holiness, he was just as human as I am. He had things he had to work on, as do I, and as he was my friend, I prayed for him and I know that he prayed for me.
Now that he is gone, I will continue to pray for him. Now, I don’t have to text him. I know that he can hear me, no matter where I am, and I know that I can ask him to pray for me, and that his prayers will be that much more efficacious, because now he is closer to God than before.
The gift of being friends with a priest is realizing that they’re not plastic saints. They’re men who are as fallible as you and I, and they need our prayers desperately. While the enemy wants to ensnare us all, he seeks priests out with a vengeance, and celebrates whenever he catches them in his ugly nets.
I have already ordered a series of Gregorian Masses for Father Jason, and if you knew and loved him, I encourage you to do the same. The gift of a Mass is priceless, and Father Jason needs them and our prayers now more than ever.
Since Father Jason was named the National Director of the Universal Archconfraternity of Saint Philomena, he had a great love of the young saint, and often spoke of her intercession and help in his life. (You can watch a video of him talking about it here.)
I trust that St Philomena welcomed him into the afterlife, and I hope she stood at his side at his judgment, along with all of the saints in his relic collection, and maybe Bruno and Nemo and his beloved Aunt Alice, and Deborah and her dad, and Father’s mother.
Please pray for all of us left behind, most especially Father Jason’s father, sister, and niece and nephew.
Until we meet again, Father Jason. Today, we had Mexican food in your honor, and we’ll have some sushi later. I love you. Pray for me.