A Roman Catholic priest and teacher who survived the infamous 1956 sinking of the SS Andrea Doria has died, the Archdiocese of Chicago reported Wednesday.
The Rev. Richard J. Wojcik, 89, taught at the University of St. Mary of the Lake and the Mundelein Seminary for parts of seven decades. He also was the longtime choir director at Prince of Peace Church in Lake Villa and continued to be an assistant priest there on weekends in his later years.
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Wojcik died Saturday of natural causes, according to an archdiocese spokeswoman. He had been living at the Resurrection Life Center nursing home in Chicago.
Wojcik was born in Chicago on June 20, 1923. He graduated from St. Bruno School on the city's Southwest Side and then Quigley Preparatory Seminary. He later earned degrees in theology at the Mundelein Seminary.
Ordained in 1949, he served at St. Mary of Perpetual Help Parish in Chicago for a year, then was a professor of Latin and music at Quigley Seminary.
In 1953, he began studying sacred music in Rome and earned a master's degree in Gregorian chant while in Rome.
"I think he had a passion for music and how music touches the hearts of people," said the Rev. Richard M. Yanos, a pastor at Prince of Peace who was a seminary student of Wojcik.
Wojcik's interest in music wasn't limited to traditional church tunes. He loved musical traditions from around the world, including African, Hispanic and Polish, Yanos said.
"He was all over," Yanos said. "He would try anything."
Wojcik became part of history on July 25, 1956, when the Andrea Doria, an Italian ocean liner, was struck by the MS Stockholm east off the Massachusetts coast.
Forty-six passengers aboard the Andrea Doria were killed, while 1,660 survived.
Wojcik, who was returning to the U.S. from Rome with three other priests, was among those who ministered to passengers during the lengthy rescue effort.
Wojcik never bragged about the experience but would talk about it if asked, Yanos said.
"When I was in seminary, I was always curious about that," Yanos recalled.
Wojcik was appointed to the faculty at the University of St. Mary of the Lake and Mundelein Seminary in 1956. He served as director of music until 1990 and remained part of the faculty until 1994, when he retired from active ministry.
But Wojcik's service to Catholics didn't end there.
He had joined the staff of Chicago Studies, a theological journal, in 1972 and continued working for the publication until recently.
He also worked at Prince of Peace Parish from 1971 until recently.
"He had a lot of relationships with a lot of folks here in the parish after all those years," Yanos said.
Wojcik is survived by his brother, Eugene.
Visitation is 3 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Kristan Funeral Home, 219 W. Maple Ave., Mundelein.
Mass will be said at 10:30 a.m. Friday in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception at Mundelein Seminary, 1000 E. Maple Ave. Cardinal Francis George will lead the service.
Interment will be at St. Mary of the Lake Cemetery in Mundelein.