SPECIAL TO THE CATHOLIC HERALD
With a global pandemic happening, a lot has been canceled and not much has seemed worth celebrating. While larger gatherings are still discouraged, and while celebrating birthdays can seem challenging, they aren’t impossible. And sometimes, they’re necessary.
After all, it is not every day you get to celebrate turning 100.
Milwaukee native Dorothy Kunicki will celebrate her 100th birthday Tuesday, July 21. To honor the centenarian and founding member of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, parishioners and friends are planning a car parade in front of her house.
These days, a birthday party consists of a lot of signs, decked with encouraging messages and colorful designs. Throw in some balloons, honking and music blasting from car windows, and you’ve got a pandemic celebration.
According to her pastor, Fr. Javier Bustos S.T.D, Vicar General, Vicar for Hispanic Ministry, and Archdiocesan Delegate for Healthcare, Kunicki was startled when he told her about caravan of cars for her birthday.
“She said to me, ‘I hope I will be alive by then,’” he said, laughing. “She is very sharp and has a great sense of humor.”
Fr. Bustos first met Kunicki when he became pastor of OLQOP in June 2017 and enjoyed getting to know the regular Sunday Mass attendee.
“She normally comes with her son, Ron, at the 9:30 a.m. Mass,” he said. “During the pandemic, Dorothy is one of the very few parishioners who has been in phone contact with me. She would like to come to Mass, but I have to insist and ask her to stay home and take care of herself. I have brought Holy Communion to her at home and she follows the celebration of Mass through TV.”
Born in 1920, Kunicki married her husband, Anthony on June 20, 1942. They joined OLQOP when it formed in 1948. Fr. Bustos said she witnessed first-hand the creation of the parish.
“She experienced the pre-conciliar Church, the Polish-immigrant Church in the U.S., the Church during and after WWII, the Church during and after the Second Vatican Council, the multiple changes at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish during all these years. Dorothy had Fr. Swerczynski, Fr. Dolata, Msgr. Popek and Fr. Arciszewski as pastor; she witnessed the building of the new Church in 1988,” he explained. “Most recently, Dorothy, participated in the 70th anniversary of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish. What is remarkable is the love she has for our Church and parish; Dorothy has graciously adapted to all the multiple changes in our parish and never once considered to leave or even resist the need to respond to challenges of current times. Since 2017, Our Lady Queen of Peace has opened its door to our very vibrant and numerous Latino neighbors. Dorothy has again expressed to me how grateful she is for our new parishioners.”
When Fr. Bustos brings Holy Communion to Kunicki or calls to check on her, she tells him she loves him each time.
“I hope she understands how significant and life-giving it is for me to hear that from her,” he said.
Because it is becoming more challenging for Kunicki to get around and do things for herself, her niece comes by each week to assist her with the housecleaning and other needed tasks. Her son, Ron, who has some mental difficulties due to a stroke, helps her with laundry. Since neither she nor Ron are able to do much cooking anymore, Meals on Wheels stops at her house. While she is grateful to have someone else do the cooking, she isn’t always a fan of the food.
“It is a good way to lose weight,” she joked. “When I started Meals on Wheels, I was 180 and now I am 151.”
Kunicki is excited for the birthday caravan, but she admits she was skeptical when Fr. Bustos called.
“He called and told me that they will have people drive by my house and what did I think of that,” she said. “I said OK, but at first I thought it was a crank call.”
Missing Mass due to COVID-19 has been devastating to Kunicki, who always enjoyed attending with her son; and in earlier years, she enjoyed paying a visit anytime she wanted, praying a daily rosary in front of the church with a group of ladies and attending Mass in Latin.
“I loved helping with festivals, the fish fry, bingo and making friends at the parish,” she said. “We sent our boys to school there, both were in the service in the Vietnam War. Because of the war, I had to wait so long for grandchildren. Now I have two grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. It is hard that I have not been able to see them because of this disease.”
Kunicki is not sure if she is the oldest member of the parish, but she thinks she is close. She lost a cousin last year who made it to 100 and has a younger sister in a nursing home in Arizona. She attributes her family’s longevity to good old-fashioned hard work.
“Also being responsible is important to living a long life,” she said. “We never got anything for nothing; we worked hard for everything. I cleaned for my mother for 10 cents to go to a movie. Later I worked for $5 for a whole week watching babies in Shorewood. It took me an hour to get there and an hour to get back, and I got $5 and had to pay a dollar for a bus pass. It was during the Depression, so I had to give some of that to my mom because she had young kids and I was the oldest girl, and had to help. It was bad. We lived on rations and lived all summer without electricity; so, we sat on the porch a lot outside. I was brought up working and helped with the shopping, cleaning and cooking. Things have changed so much in this world.”