LENOX — The Rev. Christopher J. Waitekus, pastor of St. Ann's Church, as well as St. Vincent de Paul in Lenox Dale and St. Patrick's in West Stockbridge for the past 14 years, has accepted a transfer to St. Mary's Church in Longmeadow.
His final Masses at the three area churches will be on Nov. 21 and 22; his new assignment begins the following weekend.
"Every month, there's a parish opening that needs to be filled," said Mark Dupont, communications secretary for the Springfield Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church.
The opening in Lenox will be communicated to all priests in the diocese immediately, he said. "We like to not have a gap once a decision is made, we like to move along quickly," he said.
For Waitekus, known as Father CJ, the transfer "came out of the blue," he said in an interview. As a member of the Vicar Clergy Commission, which evaluates pastors applying for vacancies, he learned of the opening in Longmeadow. "Part of my job is to pick up the phone when an opening occurs to seek applicants," he said.
Waitekus, a Pittsfield native, was appointed last July by the Most Rev. Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield as a new vicar, helping to fill pastoral vacancies within the diocese and offering guidance to fellow priests.
Parishioners in Lenox, Lenox Dale and West Stockbridge were hard hit by Father CJ's announcement at weekend services.
"I cried like a baby in the pulpit," he said. "I barely got through the announcement. For the parishioners, it was extremely emotional, a gasp and then a cry-fest. But I got through it, and it has been 14 wonderful years."
Waitekus explained that when no applicants emerged for the Longmeadow vacancy, a fellow Clergy Commission member suggested him for the post.
"I could have said no; it's not a good time for me to move," Waitekus said. "But I accepted it because it's a one-church parish with a pre-K to 8 school, and the thought of working with a school excited me. It also has a standalone rectory, and I've always wanted to live in a residence with more privacy. So, it's a pretty sweet deal."
Waitekus, 53, marked the 24th anniversary of his ordination on Monday. Before coming to Lenox, he served at the former St. Francis of Assisi Parish in North Adams and St. Rose de Lima Parish in Chicopee.
"How can I as a Vicar for Clergy not consider moving out of my comfort zone," he said. "I have to set a good example for my fellow priests. I was ordained to serve a parish but first and foremost to serve a diocese. I can't ask somebody to do something if I'm not willing to step up to the plate."
Waitekus recalled how he knelt before Bishop Joseph F. Maguire 24 years ago. "He looked me in the eye and asked, 'Do you promise to respect obedience to me and to my successor?' And with my hands in his, I said, 'I do.' I took the vow seriously and I go where the Holy Spirit is calling me and where the need is."
Noting that Longmeadow is 55 minutes away, he expects to return to Lenox weekly since he has an elderly mother and other family members in the area.
"I'm sure there are many disappointed people," Dupont said. "It's always sad to lose a beloved pastor but it's also an exciting opportunity to welcome a new pastor. That's healthy for the community."
A successor for the three pulpits Waitekus now serves could result from the Vicar Clergy Commission's next monthly meeting on Dec. 1, depending on whether a suitable candidate emerges for appointment by Bishop Rozanski.
Meanwhile, Dupont said, as of the last weekend of this month, Msgr. John Bonzagni, the Judicial Vicar for the Diocese of Springfield, will act as temporary administrator until a new pastor is appointed.