If Bishop-elect Slawomir Szkredka has learned one lesson from life until now, what would it be?
His answer is simple. “What God wants me to do, he’ll have to do it.”
Up until a few weeks ago, that sense of reliance on God’s plan — rather than his own efforts or capabilities — had worked out pretty well for “Father Swavek.” Over two decades of priesthood, the native of Poland has earned the affection of parishioners from Fillmore to Santa Fe Springs, two doctorate degrees, and the gratitude of the newest generation of LA priests.
Now, it’s apparently gotten the attention of Pope Francis, too.
The 49-year-old priest got word of his appointment as an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles while on a four-day walking pilgrimage through southern Poland to the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa. Szkredka said that pilgrimage — and a subsequent one days later to the Holy Land — gave him plenty of opportunities to pray, reflect, and recover from the shock of the news.
Born in 1974 to a Catholic family in the town of Czechowice-Dziedzice, Szkredka grew up in the nearby city of Bielsko-Biała during the final years of Poland’s Communist rule. At 15, his father, Kazimierz, died of a sudden heart attack, leaving Szkredka behind with his mother and younger sister. His grandparents and uncles stayed close after the tragedy.
“As painful as it was to lose my father, God supplied good people immediately, and the family felt supported,” remembered Szkredka.
Szkredka said he has felt called to be a priest for as long as he can remember. He became an altar server after his first Communion, all the way through elementary and high school until entering the seminary at 20.
“I’m still at the altar,” he said with a laugh in an interview.
His first four years of studies for the priesthood were spent at the same seminary in the city of Kraków where the future Pope John Paul II once studied. While in the library one day, Szkredka came across an article in an English-language newspaper written by someone named Sister Kathleen Bryant. Beneath her name was her title, which he didn’t understand, and an email address.
It was the mid-1990s, and the young seminarian had recently opened his first email account. So Szkredka decided on a whim to write her an email. The sister wrote back, and the two began a correspondence. Bryant, it turned out, was the vocations director at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and eventually offered to sponsor him as a future priest for LA.
After four years in Kraków, Szkredka transferred to SS. Cyril & Methodius Seminary in Michigan, known for forming priests to serve Polish immigrants around the U.S. He was ordained to the priesthood by Cardinal Roger Mahony at St. Mel Church in Woodland Hills in 2002.
During summers as a seminarian, and later as a transitional deacon, Szkredka spent time at St. Jude the Apostle Church in Westlake Village. Current pastor Father Jim Stehly said the newcomer made a lasting impression on parishioners.
“This parish just let out a collective cry of joy when we all found out” that Szkredka had been appointed a bishop, Stehly told Angelus. “Everybody remembers him with a great deal of love.”
During his first years at St. Genevieve Church in Panorama City, Szkredka couldn’t stay away from the classroom for long. It started with helping teach religion at St. Genevieve School. Then he enrolled at Loyola Marymount University for a master’s degree in philosophy, and even taught a critical thinking class for freshmen. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in Religious Studies at the University of the West in Rosemead while serving at St. John the Baptist Church in Baldwin Park.
In 2008, he was asked to go to Rome to study at the prestigious Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, or “Biblicum.” There he got a front row seat to history during the beatification and canonization ceremonies for St. Pope John Paul II, as well as the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. When Pope Francis stepped out to greet the world after his election in 2013, Szkredka was among the thousands in St. Peter’s Square to bless him at his request.
In 2015, he returned to LA to teach Scripture at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo after finishing coursework for his Doctor of Sacred Scripture degree. Colleagues and former students describe him as a brilliant scholar and patient spiritual director with simple tastes.
“He’s a brilliant mind, all these studies from Rome, and yet has that piety, that kind of faith you would find in a regular parish,” said Father Michael Masteller, associate pastor at St. Helen Church in South Gate since being ordained a priest in 2021.
Masteller entered St. John’s Seminary the same year that Szkredka began teaching there. He said he was surprised, but not shocked to hear of his former spiritual director and teacher’s appointment.
“I know they look for bishops who can teach the faith, and that’s definitely something he’ll be able to do, with respect, with patience, with a listening heart but also with clarity of thought,” said Masteller. “The seminary is losing a treasure, but obviously the rest of the archdiocese will benefit.”
At 49, Szkredka is the youngest — and perhaps least known — of LA’s four new auxiliaries. Stehly, whose family also knows Szkredka well from his Sundays helping out at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Stehly’s hometown of Fillmore, said the bishop-elect’s low-key approach is part of his appeal.
“It’s not important to him that people know who he is,” said Stehly. “He hasn't spent his priesthood trying to be noticed.”