On a Friday night in July, Father Edmund S. Nadolny headed to a baseball game at Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford. He decided to take his chances, arriving at the ballpark without a ticket. But he was told there were no seats.
Undaunted, the priest told the cashier at the ticket window, “I’ll pray for you for life, if you give me a seat.” He gained entrance to the park and sat in a high section. “If it was any farther back,” he later said, “I’d be in another town.”
When the time was right, he made his way to the refreshment area, carrying a plastic bag that holds 600 tiny crosses. “While everyone was lined up for beer,” he said, “I gave out 200 crosses.”
According to Father Nadolny, most of the baseball fans accepted the 1¼-inch crosses inscribed with the words “I love you Jesus,” especially when he told them they were intended for loved ones who are indifferent to faith.
“Once you tell them it’s for those who don’t go to church,” he later said, “they want more than one.”
See related story at goo.gl/mwRBz4
Father Nadolny had no plans to watch the game; he was only there to hand out crosses. So he made his getaway. “I left before I got caught,” he confessed.
Despite his “senior priest” status, at age 84 Father Nadolny continues to serve God and the Catholic Church by evangelizing the faith to God’s people with the zeal of multiple priests.
He shares the faith wherever he goes in the archdiocese, creatively reaching out to individuals one-on-one through the use of crosses, mobile billboards on his car, a billboard campaign on the state’s highways and impromptu confessions.
“Retirement gives me a freedom to evangelize in a way I never did before,” he said. “I see retirement as a joyful assignment.”
Father Nadolny is still the creative communicator, entrepreneurial fundraiser and kind and giving priest. He brings an abundance of passion, energy and persistence to all that he does. With his trademark humor and brusque demeanor, he still tells it like he sees it.
“My basic philosophy is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” he said, “whether in Ethiopia or Connecticut.”
In addition to his evangelization projects, he continues to celebrate Mass and help out wherever he’s needed, raises funds for charitable works at home and abroad and sponsors plays about the saints to inspire young people (see sidebar on pg. 20).
He resides at the Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin Residence for senior priests at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield.
Evangelizing through radio and television
Father Nadolny’s priestly vocation has been as unique and colorful as the man himself.
He was born Feb. 18, 1933, into a Polish family in New Britain and was ordained to the priesthood in 1959. He said the priesthood has always been a perfect fit for him.
“It gives you the freedom to be yourself and to make mistakes,” he said.
For many, Father Nadolny may be best known as the first full-time director of the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Office of Radio and Television (ORTV). He served in that role for 15 years, 1968-1983, and was also the director of evangelization.
He stumbled upon his gift for communications while assisting part-time director Msgr. John Wodarski with a one-minute midnight radio spot. A listener called in to disagree, and the monsignor asked Father Nadolny to do more spots.
Father Nadolny took communications courses at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven before being appointed director just three years after the Second Vatican Council, a time of great change for the Catholic Church and for society. He emerged as a pioneer in Catholic media by producing religious radio and TV programs that went beyond preaching to offer engaging music, topical shows and interactive talk shows.
“He pushed the boundaries,” said Sister Patricia Gould of the Sisters of Mercy, who worked with him as TV programming coordinator, along with Sister Arlene Vannie, the radio coordinator. “He was a man ahead of his time.”
He also took advantage of the availability of free public access to commercial broadcasting, which came along in 1969. “At that time, everything was public access programming, so you were able to have seven [radio] shows a week,” he said. Public access applied to TV, as well.
In 1970, Father Nadolny began to reach young radio listeners through music programs such as “Rock with the Reverend,” in which he played a few seconds of music and had listeners call in to guess the tune, and “Message in the Music,” in which he played popular hits and then interpreted the lyrics through a Catholic lens.
“I still remember the first song, ‘Up Up and Away’ by the Fifth Dimension,” he said.
He also interviewed singers — such as José Feliciano, Peter Paul & Mary and Dionne Warwick — when they came to the Bushnell in Hartford. He told them they were prophets of their time and said, “Your message is God’s message, whatever it is. If you look far enough, you’ll see God in it.
“I really believed there was a message in contemporary music,” he explained.
Additionally, he traveled to New York City to produce radio and TV shows for the National Catholic Office of Radio and Television. There, his “Message in the Music” radio show went national, airing weekly on 200 ABC radio affiliates around the country.
“I had a lot of kids listening,” he said.
Back in Connecticut, in 1976 he launched the first archdiocesan radio station in the country, WJMJ, which he said was the vision of then-Archbishop John F. Whealon. Father Nadolny was responsible for starting the daily Mass that is now broadcast on WCCT-TV Channel 20.
Sometime during the late ’70s, he was visited by Mother Angelica, foundress of EWTN Global Catholic Network, who was gathering ideas for programs prior to the network’s launch in 1981.
Over the years, Father Nadolny appeared in shows such as “Risk of Marriage” and “We Believe” on local commercial TV channels and in “Take a Stand,” “Your Place” and “Talk With Father Ed” on commercial radio.
“The most meaningful shows were the talk shows,” he said, whether on radio or TV. “It was always the same — what you always wanted to ask a priest, but were afraid to ask.”
Kids and adults phoned in. One of those kids is now Father Michael Dolan, pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Hamden. As a teen, he and his entire family gathered to listen to Father Nadolny on the radio.
“We always got a kick out of him as a family because he had quite a turn of the phrase,” Father Dolan said. “He would talk about going to visit his parents on the way into the radio station and trying to spend time with his family. We just found him really normal and very engaging.”
At age 13, the young Michael phoned in to a WTIC radio show to tell Father Nadolny that he might have a vocation to the priesthood. As Father Dolan recalls, Father Nadolny said, “You do? Good for you. Well, listen. Do me a favor, kid. Would you finish high school at least?” Father Nadolny then advised the teen to take advantage of the sacraments and to call back after he finished school.
On other radio shows intended for adults, Father Nadolny eventually became known for choosing controversial current affairs topics — ranging from in vitro fertilization to nuclear arms. He angered some listeners, he admits, and a dozen would call the chancery on Monday mornings to complain.
“I never thought of myself as being controversial. I was just trying to be relevant,” he said. “I never asked them to agree with me, but I was just asking them to think about it.”
He realized not everyone agreed with him or liked him. “My brother [Walter], on my 25th anniversary, said, ‘You know Father Ed. You either love him or you hate him. I’ve known him for 50 years and I still haven’t made up my mind.’”
In 1983, Archbishop Whealon reassigned Father Nadolny back to parish life and referred to the transition as “the passing of an era.” The archbishop also wrote, “I am unendingly grateful for your energetic and imaginative efforts to advance God’s kingdom.”
Parish life and other pursuits
During his long career, Father Nadolny served as assistant priest in a number of parishes, including at St. Michael Church in Hartford during the 1960s, which fueled his lifelong concern for the poor.
After his stint at ORTV, he became pastor at the churches of St. Vincent Ferrer in Naugatuck, St. Peter in New Haven, St. George in Guilford, St. Stanislaus in Meriden, Sacred Heart in East Berlin and Sacred Heart in New Britain.
Wherever he saw a need, locally or internationally, he took action.
During the mid-1980s, Father Nadolny ran a telethon to raise funds for drought and famine relief in Ethiopia. “We raised $350,000 in one day on Channel 30,” he said, “after Paul Newman came up with his quarter of a million.”
Father Nadolny turned it over to Catholic Relief Services to build 100 wells in Ethiopia, and then traveled there himself in 1985 and 1986 to see their work and to film a documentary. On one trip, he met a young emaciated girl named Medina and held her in his arms. She died that day.
“That changed my life,” he said. He says he thinks of her every day when he’s in proximity to water.
In 1989, while a pastor in Naugatuck, Father Nadolny began a gun buyback program after an accidental shooting, two suicides and a call from a suicidal parishioner occurred in his parish. He offered his own money in exchange for firearms to rid local homes of guns.
From 1991 to 1993, Father Nadolny served as pastor of St. George Parish in Guilford. Three years later, Father Dolan became the new pastor and heard many stories from the parishioners who credited Father Nadolny with turning the parish around after a number of members left the congregation. “He kept the place Catholic. He brought people back,” Father Dolan said.
“People would say, ‘You either loved him or hated him, but you showed up to see what was going to happen next.’ He’s not ‘Masterpiece Theater,’ but it’s theater,” Father Dolan observed.
Father Nadolny also seemed to be “impervious to criticism,” he said, but at times that proved to be an asset. “I’ve been advised of the fact that everyone can be throwing stuff at him and he’ll stand and say, ‘OK, this is what we have to do.’ In that respect, there’s a gravity to what he does,” Father Dolan stressed, “because he does it.”
Father Nadolny’s longest parish assignment, at St. Stanislaus in Meriden, lasted 13 years. He served 1993-2006 and is well-remembered even now for his boundless energy.
“He’s tireless,” said St. Stanislaus parishioner Mark Kosnoff. “When he came to St. Stan’s, it was like there was six of him. He was everywhere.”
In his first year at St. Stanislaus, Father Nadolny asked for donations for school repairs. Parishioner Krystyna Kataneksza, owner of Krystyna’s Specialties Inc., donated $1,000 worth of pierogies. Her food business was flagging.
“So we sat down with a pastoral associate, came up with a new idea, put a new label on it and got it designed,” Father Nadolny said. He and Kataneksza joined forces to produce four varieties of Polish pierogies, then rebranded and marketed them under the name “Pierogi Priest.” In a supermarket test, the pierogies sold eight times more under the new name, he said.
They were sold in supermarkets around the state and in a kiosk at the Meriden Mall. Father Nadolny donated the money he earned for school repairs and to reduce tuition.
He ended his service as a pastor of parishes in 2014 at the age of 81.
Evangelizing through the Good News Fund
Today, Father Nadolny’s primary focus is the Father Nadolny Good News Fund Inc., a foundation he started in 1983 to minister to “a parish without boundaries.” He raises funds and uses them to support countless evangelization and charitable projects in the archdiocese and overseas.
“We can’t do everything, but each of us can do something,” he said.
Since its inception, the Good News Fund has raised more than $13 million, including $8.3 million from the state for a middle-income housing project in Waterbury. In 2016 alone, the fund donated or spent a total of $194,000, Father Nadolny said.
This year, the fund is supporting health, education and housing initiatives in Kenya, Rwanda, India and Haiti by partnering with a variety of missionaries and with the Haitian Health Foundation.
Father Nadolny also is continuing his evangelization efforts, using the fund to pay for 30 highway billboards in 30 cities statewide. In an increasingly secular world, the billboards boldly display messages such as “Jesus, I trust in you.”
Father Nadolny estimates the billboards reach more than 2 million people. They display his name and phone number, prompting daily calls from those in need and from others inspired to pray.
“The billboards are reaching out to people on a one-on-one basis. It does touch them because these billboards are prayers,” he said. “I don’t want to challenge people. I just want them to pray.”
Why does Father Nadolny put his name on them? “Friends say, ‘You’re narcissistic,’ but this way I get feedback. This way, I’m a contact and connection for people to the Church,” he explained.
He said he recently received calls asking him to officiate at a wedding, a baptism and a house blessing. He has also received calls from the homeless, from people addicted to pornography and from parents whose children are in jail.
In addition, he encounters Catholics who have not gone to confession in decades, hears their confession and then directs them to their local parishes. “I just encourage them to go,” he said, “just to open the door to them.”
The Good News Fund supports the tiny crosses, too. So far, Father Nadolny has distributed 55,000 crosses in person and through the mail, and plans to hand out another 5,000 this year.
Crazy like a fox, some would say.
“A lot of people don’t have religious items in their homes anymore,” he explained, “but I try to infiltrate it with a little cross.” He said people rarely refuse his offer. “I can count on one hand the number of people who’ve said ‘no.’”
Like other senior priests in good health, Father Nadolny makes himself available to cover for parish priests who are sick or on vacation. He says Mass daily at those parishes and weekly at St. Stanislaus and St. Vincent Ferrer.
Wherever he goes, he offers confession immediately after Mass. “Sometimes as many as 30-40 stay for confessions,” he said. “I hear a lot more confessions after Mass than I ever did on a Saturday.”
At the Catholic Youth Spectacular in 2014, Father Nadolny was one of 30-40 priests on hand to hear confessions. All the priests waited patiently for the youths to move toward the confessional area, but none arrived.
According to Father Jeffrey Gubbiotti, who was present at the event and is now vocation director for the archdiocese, Father Nadolny was the one to solve the problem. He went to where the nearly 1,000 young people were gathered and directed them over to the confessional area and into orderly lines, as the other priests looked on in amazement.
“He is the New Evangelization personified — going out to meet people where they are and bringing them to God,” Father Gubbiotti said. “His energy and enthusiasm for the Lord is beautiful. Everything he does is directed toward Christ.”
Jane Woodmansee said she attended a funeral and a baptism in the Hartford area in which Father Nadolny used both occasions as opportunities to preach about the benefits of confession — to the dismay of the families. “He was brusque,” she said with a smile, “but I always liked his message.”
While some may see his gifts as a mixed blessing, Sister Pat believes Father Nadolny’s motivation is clear.
“He is so unique, but basically it’s very simple: He loves his God,” she stressed, “and that comes out as service to everybody. He’s open to everybody. There’s no one that he shuns. He lives what he speaks.”
Using live theater and the saints to inspire young people
The witness of two saints will be brought to the Connecticut stage in October and November. That’s when the Father Nadolny Good News Fund will sponsor theater performances about the lives of two saints: Thérèse of Lisieux, known as “The Little Flower,” and John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests.
Catholic schools will host eight performances presented by Saint Luke Productions, a professional theater company from Washington state. It was founded by Shakespearean actor Leonardo Defilippis.
Bringing these theater productions to Catholic schools is part of Father Nadolny’s effort to spark the imagination of young Catholics, and maybe even get them to consider vocations to the priesthood and to religious life.
“Kids don’t have any role models,” Father Nadolny explained. “Most of their role models die from overdoses of drugs. I’m looking to show them real role models.”
Father Nadolny said he prays daily for 1,100 young people whose names have been forwarded to him so that he might “pray for them to be wonderful husbands and wives, single persons, brothers, sisters, deacons or priests.”
“Thérèse: The Story of a Soul” will be performed in October for students at Sacred Heart Academy and St. Rita School in Hamden, and at Corpus Christi School in Wethersfield. A public performance will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8, at Immaculate Conception Auditorium in Waterbury.
“Vianney: A Live Multimedia Drama Performed by Leonardo Defilippis” will be performed in November at Mercy High School in Middletown, Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in Waterbury and St. Bridget School in Cheshire. A public performance will take place on Friday, Nov. 3, at St. Bernard School in Uncasville.
Weekday performances are intended for students. Weekend and evening performances are free and open to parishioners and the public.