A tribute to Monsignor Edward F. Wojtycha

by Gary Dickelman, DCW staff

This article originally appeared in the June 2008 edition of Drum Corps World (Volume 37, Number 3). This is the type of article and the quality of writing that is included in each issue. We encourage you to subscribe for one year of monthly issues about the worldwide drum and bugle corps activity.

In 1963, I witnessed my first National Dream contest at the legendary Roosevelt Stadium. Having marched parades on the Jersey Shore up until that time with a tiny neighborhood corps, I found myself in awe of the amazing spectacle.

There, in the city of my birth, at that huge stadium, I saw for the first time Blessed Sacrament, Hawthorne, Skyliners, Buccaneers, Yankee Rebels, Archer-Epler, St. Kevin’s, Bon Bons, Garfield and more. I can still hear BSGK’s Mutiny on the Bounty, Skyliners’ Sounds of the City and the Cab’s Rumps as if it were yesterday.

That single event sealed in me a passion that would influence every aspect of life, to this very moment. There are literally hundreds of people who marched on that legendary field on that very day with whom I am today personal friends and there are thousands who were present who I now consider kindred spirits and warm acquaintances.

Now in our 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, we gather still in many places to watch the derivatives of The Dream in DCI and DCA championships, and to continue living that dream by performing with the alumni corps of these very same legends.

In some significant way, I became a champion that day — in the sense that I saw before me precise examples of what to emulate to succeed in life. In years to come, I would be proud of the sunburn received, not from a leisurely day on the beach, but from the sweat of a long weekend in the blazing sun, marching and playing my heart out in practice and competition.

Camaraderie, strategy, tactics, the glory of victory, disappointment and motivation borne in defeat were key parts of the lessons learned. And all were rooted in a moment in time, in a “Dream”.

There is a much larger dream that brought me and thousands of others to those wonderful experiences. It is the dream of a simple, humble man at his life’s work, exploring the mysteries of faith and the creation, while showing young people the way to God.

Edward F. Wojtycha’s priesthood has been all about realizing such dreams and creating such a vision for those whose spiritual lives were his charge. Just as the Gospels depict the life and deeds of Jesus, providing vivid examples of moral and ethical behavior for all to emulate, the work of Monsignor Wojtycha provided further examples for generations of souls during a specific time and place. Whether it was a young boy or girl in a green and white uniform being transformed from not knowing left from right to a National Champion, to assembling on a Sabbath Sunday the greatest collection of championship junior and senior drum and bugle corps for all to learn from, Wojtycha provided the keys to the kingdom, the ingredients that make us the best of the best in the eyes of God.

Excellence coupled with humility; tolerance peppered with an affinity for diversity; reaching beyond one’s grasp while fostering peace and cooperation; and celebrating all that is good in the human spirit through drum corps are hallmarks of Father Wojtycha’s legacy. In his dream, it does not matter if you place first or last. That you reached for the heavens was what counted. The winning record of “the corps of the ’50s” was, of course, a byproduct of his dream.

Edward F. Wojtycha was ordained in 1938 and assigned to St. Vincent de Paul church in Bayonne, NJ. With an enormous capacity to lead, clarity of vision around where and how one should be led, and a stalwart passion for seeing the mission through, the St. Vincent Cadets and the “National Dream” were ultimately born.

The corps and contest thrived for many years to become legend to the drum corps world and a realization of a soldier of God’s dream. After serving many years at St. Vincent de Paul, Our Lady of Mercy (Jersey City) and St. Andrew’s (Bayonne), he was honored with the title Monsignor. He retired in 1985 and currently resides in Florida, where, as a nonagenarian, he continues to pursue his dream.

In a secular age that is too often shaken by religious fanaticism and scandal, it is a comfort to know that the archetypal parish priest is not a myth or an exaggeration. He has flourished in our time, doing God’s work, and in doing so planted the seeds of a great modern institution:   not drum corps per se, but drum corps excellence.

DCI, DCA, MCA, alumni and the neighborhood corps that still exist owe a debt of heartfelt gratitude to the priests of drum corps, most notably Monsignor Wojtycha. It is fitting that Pope Benedict XVI visited the U.S. in 2008, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Wojtycha’s ordination. While the visit had no direct purpose in recognizing this milestone, its tacit symbolism was surely to recognize the    value of God’s shepherds in promoting good things among human beings, in the name of God.

The Pope’s mass at the new National’s stadium in Washington, D.C., was a monumental event not unlike the 1966 Dream. Clearly, the tens of thousands of people in attendance at both events had hearts full of awe as they experienced the best within us, while being raised just a little closer to heaven.

Across the years I have always thought back to the Dream — as a spectator, a participant and a champion. In 1970, I was privileged to step across the finish line with Blessed Sacrament to one of the loudest and most prolonged ovations in drum corps history, sealing our 11th Dream title. I still have the program and those of many years, stretching back to 1949.

In almost all of those programs is the smiling face of Father Wojtycha, humbly but deliberately underscoring the majesty of the creation, manifested in championship drum corps performances on the brightest Sunday afternoon of each and every year.

Thank you, Monsignor. Blessed is God, ruler of the universe, for bringing us to this joyous time, to celebrate the anniversary of your ordination and the immeasurable benefits that so many have realized through your pastoral work and your example. May God lift his countenance toward you and grant you the greatest gift, the gift of peace.