Msgr. Francis Kazista, a veteran priest of the Archdiocese of Washington who served nearly three decades at St. John the Baptist Parish in Silver Spring, Maryland, died on Nov. 2, 2020. He was 84 years old and had been living in retirement at Grace House in Silver Spring. According to an archdiocesan official, he died from the coronavirus.

Msgr. Kazista, who was ordained in 1966, served as a priest for 54 years, including 24 years as pastor at St. John the Baptist Parish, and five years as a parochial vicar there.

Cardinal-designate Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, will celebrate Msgr. Kazista’s Funeral Mass at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 11 at St. John the Baptist Church, followed by the priest’s interment at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Silver Spring. The viewing for Msgr. Kazista will be held at St. John the Baptist on Nov. 10 from 10 a.m. to noon and from 2-6 p.m.,  followed by a Vigil Mass at 7:30 p.m.

In 2016, on the occasion of his 50th anniversary as a priest, Msgr. Kazista was interviewed by the Catholic Standard. He had retired five years earlier and was then in residence at Resurrection Parish in Burtonsville and was assisting there and at the nearby Riderwood retirement community in Silver Spring. After his retirement, he also was in residence at St. Andrew Apostle Parish in Silver Spring.

“My daily life is quiet. I do priestly things. I don’t have to worry about other things. I say Mass and hear Confessions,” said Msgr. Kazista. “I don’t have to worry about holes in the parking lot, teachers’ salaries or asbestos in the ceiling.” 

A native of Old Forge, Pennsylvania, Msgr. Kazista was ordained as a priest of the Society of St. Sulpice serving the Diocese of Scranton in 1966, one year after the Second Vatican Council had closed.

“My first Mass was half English, half Latin,” he said. He had come back to his home parish, St. Michael the Archangel in Old Forge, to celebrate his first Mass as a priest.

“It was exciting being a priest in those days. We didn’t know what was going to happen in the future,” he said of the changes resulting from the Vatican II, which included Mass being offered in people’s own language rather than only in Latin, and increased roles for the laity, including serving as lectors and Eucharistic ministers. 

“We were expecting change all the time, and things got stabilized,” he said, adding, “I liked all the changes.”

Msgr. Kazista’s father was the son of Ukrainian immigrants and worked as a milkman, delivering bottled milk from the dairy in his milk truck. The priest’s mother was the daughter of Polish immigrants and worked in a silk mill, where silk thread was woven.

He thought about the priesthood when he was a child, but his parents encouraged him to get an education first. The future priest studied chemical engineering for a year and one-half at Penn State University, and later served in the Army for three years, including in Germany and at Fort Carson, Colorado. 

At first he dreamed of becoming a missionary, but after ordination, he served as a diocesan priest with the Sulpicians, teaching at a high school in California and later at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. In Maryland, he began helping out at Holy Spirit in Forestville, shortly after the parish was founded.

“I decided that was the life for me, pastoral life,” he said, noting he made friends there, just as he has at all the parishes where he has served, and that interaction helped convince him that he would rather be a parish priest than a seminary teacher. “You helped people out. Instead of worrying about books, you got involved with people.”

Beginning in 1976, he served as a priest for the Archdiocese of Washington, and became incardinated as an archdiocesan priest three years later. Over the years, Msgr. Kazista served as a parochial vicar at Mount Calvary Parish in Forestville, at St. John the Baptist Parish and at St. Hugh of Grenoble Parish in Greenbelt.

Msgr. Kazista served as pastor at St. James Parish in Mount Rainier from 1984-87 and then was appointed pastor of St. John the Baptist, where he served for nearly 25 years before retiring in 2011. He had earlier served for five years as a parochial vicar there, so nearly three decades of his priesthood were devoted to working at that parish.

“I enjoyed the sense of community there,” he said. “Everybody worked together. Everybody was one… It was inspiring. It was like leading a whole bunch of apostles. You just felt as though everyone was into the word of God, and living it.”

He helped start the Knights of Columbus group there, and joined a group of three parishioners on their first visit to St. John the Baptist’s sister parish in Haiti, and those two parishes remain linked today.

“There was a lot of activity of all sorts (at St. John the Baptist Parish). They had a parochial school, a good C.C.D. program,” he said, noting that parishioners volunteered in liturgical ministries, as catechists and in social outreach programs. “It was a great place to spend 24 years” as pastor, he said.

The people there responded generously with their talents and resources, he said, noting that they were able to build a $2 million parish center there with no debt, and without him ever having to ask for money. That building is now named in his honor.

“The lay people did it,” he said.

A highlight of his time at St. John the Baptist came when Mother Teresa visited the parish in the mid-1990s. Then-Bishop William Lori presided at the profession of vows of 19 of her Missionaries of Charity there.

“She was one of those handy people. If someone was in need, she’d wipe their face,” he said of St. Teresa of Calcutta, whom Pope Francis canonized in 2016.

Like his father, Msgr. Kazista delivered with his life’s work, but in the priest’s case, he delivered the sacraments, preached the Gospel and taught the faith to generations of his parishioners, who remained his friends.

The veteran parish priest, then reflecting on his 50 years in the priesthood, said he had no regrets, and he said he hoped that along the way, he helped his people all “get closer to God – that’s the only thing that’s important.”