Monsignor Edward H. Bucia
Just after World War II, young Edward Bucia took part in a flag raising ceremony to honor the men of St. Joseph's parish who had died in the fighting. He was a violinist with the Polish American String Band. He did not dream, at the time, that one day he would be a priest, and the pastor of that same parish.
Edward H. Bucia was born on July 15, 1932, in Philadelphia's St. Adalbert's Parish. He attended Northeast Catholic High School, St. Mary's College in Michigan and Mount St. Mary's Seminary. On April 14,1962, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Camden, he was ordained a priest.
On his first assignment he was sent to St. Joseph's. He later served assistantships at St. Lawrence's, Lindenwold; Epiphany, Longport; St. Joseph's (again); Our Lady Star of the Sea, Atlantic City; and St. John's, Collingswood. On July 6, 1981, he was appointed pastor of St. Joseph's. He was elevated to the rank of Monsignor on September 11, 1986.
Monsignor Bucia, proud of his Polish roots, was among the founders of the Polish American Association of South Jersey. He has also served as the Diocesan Scout Chaplain.
The Polish character of St. Joseph's Parish was close to his heart, and he worked hard to preserve it. The 9:00 Mass on Sunday is still said in Polish. The "Swienconka" tradition of Easter (the blessing of food baskets) and the "Oplatek" at Christmas (the sharing of blessed wafers) are still observed. The Corpus Christi procession, with Benediction at outdoor altars, was held in June. Animals were blessed on the feast of St. Francis, Oct. 4. Monsignor encouraged the activities of the area Polish clubs, marches in Pulaski Day parades, and was fond of all occasions which require the wearing of Polish ethnic costumes.
In 1989, Monsignor commissioned a highly original animated Christmas display, which illustrates parts of Polish history. It was one of only four such wooden displays in the world, the other three being in Poland. Large enough to fill half a room, it consisted of a procession of historical figures, which are connected to a moving track. Kings, musicians, mountaineers and shepherds glide by the Christ Child in His manger, and each traveler salutes Him in a different manner: by raising a sword, tipping a hat, blowing a bugle or beating a drum.
The parish plant received much of Monsignor Bucia's attention, to the delight of parishioners who had seen the buildings deteriorate over the years. Nine hundred families contributed to Monsignor's renovation efforts, including the installation of an altar to Our Lady of Czestochowa, the repainting of the ceiling, and the repair of the roof and arches. The exterior windows were painted, and casement windows installed.
Monsignor was able to expand St. Joseph's Cemetery. There is now room for 5000 additional graves.
During his tenure, the old convent had been converted into a social services center called "El Centro," which gathered and distributed goods to the poor. Indeed, many poor people were in evidence in surrounding neighborhoods as the character of the Whitman Park area continued to lose its once-solid Polish flavor and the problems of the city encroach on the parish. One unfortunate result of the decline of the area was the closing of the Annex in 1982.
Beginning in 1980, Sister Hugh Marie had been the Director of the Senior Citizens Center. Sister Hugh, a native of Weehawken, New Jersey, had a Master's degree in Home Economics from Columbia University in New York. She had previously taught school at the high school level and held the position of dietician at St. Joseph's in Flourtown, Pennsylvania. In a parish where much of the population was over 70, Sister's contribution was invaluable.