STAMFORD—When newly ordained Father Peter Adamski celebrated his Mass of Thanksgiving recently at Church of the Holy Spirit, he looked out from behind the altar, where he had spoken the words of consecration, to a congregation filled with family and friends. And in those moments of joy, he recalled his terrible sorrow nearly five years ago at the funeral Mass of his wife, Kathy.
He remembered the eulogy he delivered on October 18, 2014, for the woman he loved dearly for more than 40 years, the woman he cared for as she suffered through seven different cancers and the most painful ordeal of all—early onset Alzheimer’s.
“I told the congregation that I needed no help to walk her down the aisle the day I married her, but I needed help now,” he said. And then, he, his brothers, his son, John and his brother-in-law carried her body to her final place of rest.
God can work in inscrutable ways, but when Father Peter looks back on his 65 years of life and sees the path down which the Holy Spirit led him, he understands completely that marriage, fatherhood, a corporate career, years of caregiving and formation as a seminarian were all part of the divine plan that ultimately led to his ordination on June 1.
A Circuitous Path
Peter Joseph Joseph Adamski was one of four sons born to Peter and Melda Adamski. He grew up in Jersey City, N.J., and was named after his cousin, Msgr. Peter Joseph Joseph Adamski, a priest born in Poland, who for almost 30 years was pastor of St. Stanislaus Church in Buffalo. When Peter visited his grandparents as a teenager, he would spend Saturdays at the rectory, talking about his vocation to the priesthood with the monsignor.
“I thought I was going into the seminary, and then that darn Holy Spirit put Kathy Junker in front of me and said, ‘Young man, you have a lot to learn in life and I want you to dwell with this woman for 41 years,’” he said.
Father Peter remembers meeting his future wife for the first time at Rutgers University on January 23, 1973. “I saw this vision—a young woman with a head of long, curly red hair, wearing a purple sweater and bellbottom dungarees,” he said. “I can still see her leaning against the wall, and I went up and asked her if she knew where my classroom was.”
As fate, or Providence, would have it, she was taking the same class in science fiction and sat directly in front of him. They were both psychology majors and developed a close friendship that led them to marriage 500 days after they met. On June 8, 1974, they were married at the university by the priest who ran the Newman Center.
Over the years, Kathy had many different careers, as a social worker, professional photographer, computer systems analyst and lastly as a registered nurse doing home health care. In 1983, their son John was born.
Peter, who received his MBA in professional accounting from Rutgers, became a CPA and worked at Arthur Andersen LLP for two years before going to Johnson & Johnson Co. at 26 years old. During his 17 years there, he orchestrated several major deals, including the acquisition of a disposable contact lens that Johnson & Johnson renamed Vistakon Acuvue. He also established a partnership that led to his company’s acquiring Splenda, the high-intensity sweetener.
When Johnson & Johnson wanted to move him to California, he resigned and accepted a position at Bausch + Lomb in Rochester, where he worked for 10 years, before going into private equity. His corporate career ended as CEO of a $400 million New Jersey company that manufactured foam for pillows and mattresses.
Father Peter said that when he was a young man and thought of his vocation to the priesthood, he imagined himself as a Franciscan, but by the end of his corporate career, he owned homes in Reno, Stamford and Manhattan and drove a large, black S-Class Mercedes-Benz.
When he entered the seminary, he sold his homes and personal belongings, along with his luxury car.
“I told them I would not be driving that car. It may be fine for a CEO but not a priest,” he said. “Now, I drive a Subaru Outback because I need a reliable machine so that at 2 am when I get a phone call at the rectory that someone’s mom is dying—and I have to get to the hospital during a blizzard—I can make the trip and be the presence of Christ and comfort people.”
A loving husband and caregiver, Peter and Kathy lived a wonderful life together, a life with joy and sorrow, centered on Christ.
Their son, John, was born in 1983 after many years of trying to have children. In 1991, Kathy was diagnosed with cervical cancer at 42 years old. It was the first of seven cancers that would afflict her over the next 23 years. She later had to have both kidneys removed and for 37 months relied on dialysis until she received a transplant from an anonymous donor in 2005.
However, they confronted the greatest challenge of their life together on October 28, 2010, outside of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.
“We had just left the doctor’s office and he told her she had early onset Alzheimer’s,” Father Peter recalled. “We embraced on the sidewalk, knowing there were no survivors of Alzheimer’s. It was the worst diagnosis Kathy ever received.” She was 61.
In the years that followed, he became her primary caregiver and was able to conduct business from his home as the CEO of a manufacturing company. However, as her disease progressed, the stress increased on their family.
“I couldn’t even leave the house to walk the dog without putting three Post-it notes around to let her know where I was,” he said. One time he forgot and while he was at a doctor’s appointment, she called him in tears and said, “Peter, I don’t know where you are! Are you ever coming home?”
In 2014, she was scheduled to have her bladder removed, but the surgery had to be postponed because Peter was hospitalized after suffering an episode of transient global amnesia, a neurological disorder brought on by stress. He realizes now this allowed them to have three more weeks together…before her passing.
“It was a very difficult surgery because of all her prior surgeries,” he said. There were serious complications after the operation, and the doctor told them that if she went back into the operating room, she had less than a quarter-of-a-percent chance of survival.
They threw everyone out of Kathy’s hospital room so they could discuss what to do. “My thought was ‘Let’s bring her back into surgery to see if we can save her.’” But Kathy told him, “Peter, if you love me, let me die. Bring me home and keep me out of pain as best you can and let me die at home.”
A day later, she was under hospice care, lying on a hospital bed in their living room. Peter was standing by her, holding her hand and stroking her hair, and at one point he asked, “What do you think about the idea of me becoming a priest?”
Then, he put his ear close to her mouth so he could hear her, and she said, “You go for it, Peter, and if there is any way, I will comfort you.”
Three days later, she died with Peter by her side while he was praying the Our Father. He watched her take her final breath. Now, whenever he says that prayer, he closes his eyes and remembers those last moments with her.
Reflecting on their years together, he says, “I learned so much from her. She was so compassionate and so smart. If everyone had the kind of marriage that Kathy and I had, with Christ at the center, this would be a whole different world.”
Ordination to Priesthood at 65
Father Peter Joseph Joseph Adamski completed his studies at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass., for candidates 30 and older and was ordained on June 1 at the Cathedral of St. Augustine. On the day of his ordination, he said, “I feel awesome, I feel blessed and full of zeal right now, and I just want to get to work in the vineyard!” (He had the distinction of being the only seminarian eligible for Medicare.)
The next day, he celebrated his Mass of Thanksgiving at Church of the Holy Spirit. Msgr. Kevin Royal was the homilist and concelebrant, along with Msgr. Peter Cullen, Father Brian Kiely, rector and president of the seminary and three classmates.
On July 1, he will begin his assignment as parochial vicar at St. James Church in Stratford.
“I will bring a closet of multicolored t-shirts to my ministry that I can draw upon to help young couples who are contemplating marriage and older couples who are struggling in their marriage,” he says. “I have lived the experience of being married, of raising a child, of climbing the corporate ladder and of losing sight of Christ as you worship this golden idol of success in business. I know what that is like. I know what it is like to lose a job and to care for a loved one who is sick. I bring all that to my ministry.”
Looking back on 65 years of life, he says he has lived with the calling to the priesthood for five decades and that the Holy Spirit led him every step of the way to where he is now. “I know I was created by the Almighty God to be a priest,” he says. “From the moment of my conception, I was made to be a priest. I just didn’t know the route the Holy Spirit would lead me on, through a beautiful 40-plus years of marriage and the painful loss of a spouse. I would do it all again in a heartbeat. I am at peace now, knowing I am a priest. This is what I was created to be.”