Archdiocese’s 2020 anniversary priests
40 years after his ordination, Msgr. John Myslinski remains grateful for his life as a priest
Aug 15, 2020
Now retired, Msgr. John Myslinski is at home living in the Berkshires region of his native Massachusetts with his sister Donna and their Labrador retriever Chocolate. And in a special way, the priest of the Archdiocese of Washington marking his 40th anniversary has been at home with his priestly vocation over the years, serving as a parish priest, in television ministry and through outreach to the homeless.
“The priesthood allows me to encounter Christ in a unique and a beautiful way,” he said. “I can’t imagine my life without it. I’m more grateful for my priesthood today than the day I was ordained.”
A native of Salem, Massachusetts, he grew up in the Boston area, getting a Catholic education through elementary school, high school and college thanks to the sacrifices of his parents, A.J. and Patricia Myslinski. His father, a postal worker raised in a Polish Catholic family, had served in the Army during World War II and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. The future priest’s mother, raised in an Irish Catholic family, worked as an accountant for a company in Salem.
While growing up, Msgr. Myslinski developed a deep respect for the priesthood.
“I never encountered a priest in my life that wasn’t a wonderful example of God’s love,” he said.
While attending Boston College, he was inspired by the Jesuits and joined that religious community for eight years. “The novitiate was really a school of prayer,” he said.
After earning a degree from Boston College, the society assigned him to teach sociology, history and religion for two years at the order’s Cranwell Preparatory School, which like the novitiate, was in the Berkshires, in Lenox, Massachusetts.
“I fell in love with the area… I find it one of the most beautiful spots in the country,” he said, noting that he dreamed of one day living there, which he later did in his retirement.
He ultimately decided to leave the Jesuits before being ordained as a priest for that order. After working in the Salem office of Rep. Michael Harrington, he got an offer to interview for the United States Capitol Police, and took a train ride for his first visit to Washington, D.C. After being accepted as a candidate for the force, he graduated number one in his class at the Federal Law Enforcement Center in Georgia and also trained at the FBI Academy.
His first day as a federal officer with the U.S. Capitol Police was on July 4, 1976 – the nation’s bicentennial celebration. “We worked the (National) Mall from 7 in the morning until 7 at night,” he said, remembering that hot day.
While walking his beat on Capitol Hill, he would think about the things that his spiritual director with the Jesuits, Father James Leo Burke, had said to him. “He always encouraged me,” he said, remembering the Jesuit’s advice that if religious life was not for him, maybe he could be a diocesan priest.
So one day after walking his beat near the Rayburn Building, Officer Myslinski called the vocations office of the Archdiocese of Washington, and made an appointment to see then-Msgr. William Curlin, the vocations director.
After a two hour meeting with Msgr. Curlin, “I left thinking I should try this,” he said.
His friends on the Capitol Police force were supportive of his decision, and three of them later drove him to Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, and after Father John Myslinski was ordained as a priest for Washington in 1980, about a dozen of them attended the reception, and gave him a set of vestments.
“Friends have made a great difference in my life,” said Msgr. Myslinski, who over the years has presided at the weddings and baptized the children of some of the friends whom he served with on the U.S. Capitol Police.
His vocation director, Msgr. Curlin, became a close friend.
“He was always an inspiration… He loved the priesthood,” said Msgr. Myslinski. “…He taught me the importance of relating the priesthood and Gospel to my lived experiences, my life and sharing that with the people of God. He radiated a tremendous (sense) of compassion, empathy and joy, always.”
Msgr. Curlin, a friend of St. Teresa of Calcutta who served as the chaplain at the Gift of Peace convent where her Missionaries of Charity cared for people dying of AIDS. He later served as an auxiliary bishop of Washington before being named the bishop of Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1994. After Bishop Curlin died in 2017 at the age of 90, Msgr. Myslinski was a pallbearer at his Funeral Mass.
In his early years as a priest, Father Myslinski served as a parochial vicar at St. Patrick Parish in Rockville and at St. Rose of Lima in Gaithersburg, both in Maryland, and then from 1984-93 at Annunciation Parish in Washington.
The priest became noted for his TV work, hosting the “Real to Reel” Catholic talk show for six years, and celebrating the television Mass for the Washington area for eight years. He remembered receiving thanks from viewers of the TV Mass who hadn’t been able to attend Mass in person for years. “This was a special way of reaching tens of thousands of people,” he said.
In 1992, Msgr. Myslinski was named as a “Washingtonian of the Year” by Washingtonian magazine and received congratulations from then-President George H.W. Bush for his outreach to the homeless. The priest was known for hosting Christmas fundraisers for the homeless, and also for celebrating Easter Sunday Masses for them on the sidewalks and grates outside homeless shelters. “I just felt, isn’t this what the Gospel is all about?” he said.
The next year, the priest received his first assignment as a pastor, leading Holy Face Parish in Great Mills in Southern Maryland from 1993-99. While he was pastor there, the church underwent an extensive renovation, with local craftsmen building a new altar and pulpit, and then-Father Myslinski obtained oak pews from a parish that was closing in Philadelphia. He noted that Holy Face Parish had master carpenters who restored the pews, taking them apart, sanding and staining them.
“It brought me together with them,” he said, praising the faith and spirit of the members of that country parish.
During his time there, he served as dean of the St. Mary’s County Deanery, and after being named as pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in Rockville in 1999, he would later serve as dean of the Upper Montgomery County Deanery. Over the years, he also served as a chaplain in the Air Force Reserves.
In 2005, Msgr. Myslinski was among a group of priests in the Archdiocese of Washington named as monsignors by Pope St. John Paul II shortly before the pontiff died.
As pastor at St. Mary’s in Rockville, Msgr. Myslinski worked with parishioners in renovating the church, restoring its historic chapel, enlarging the school and building a parish center. “I had a wonderful 10 years there,” he said, adding that a special memory from that time was an annual candlelight Mass that he celebrated in the chapel.
In 2011, he moved back home to Massachusetts to help his sister care for their mother when her health was failing, and she died the next year. Msgr. Myslinski received permission to serve in priestly ministry there. For the past five years before the coronavirus shutdown, he was assisting at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Chicopee, celebrating Masses and hearing Confessions on weekends.
After returning to his home state, Msgr. Myslinski joined Father Peter Daly, another priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, in co-authoring Strange Gods: A Novel about Faith, Murder, Sin and Redemption.
Msgr. Myslinski in his interview noted he remembers how, years ago as a student at Bishop Fenwick High School in the Boston area, he was surrounded by wonderful friends and felt excited about what was ahead in his life.
“I still feel that way at 73,” the veteran priest said.