Monsignor John Bendik celebrated his 50th anniversary on May 28 and will mark an even bigger milestone on June 26, when he retires from St. John the Evangelist Parish in Pittston.
Despite his pending retirement, he says he has no plans to stop serving the Greater Pittston community — which he has called home as pastor of St. John’s for more than two decades.
“I know it’s happening and I have to plan for the future, but I fully intend when I retire to continue doing priesthood because that’s important to me,” he said.
Bendik was led to the priesthood by a strong faith instilled by his family and an enthrallment with the practice itself.
“I didn’t go on saying that I was going to be a priest. You know you can go to medical school saying that you’re going to be a doctor, and you’re going to be a doctor,” Bendik said. “There’s something different about being a priest.”
But he pursued his goal and was ordained at the Church of Nativity, Scranton, by the Most Rev. J. Carroll McCormick, bishop of Scranton.
He was first assigned to the Parish Community of St. Matthew in East Stroudsburg and as an assistant pastor, was given the job of ministering to the students of East Stroudsburg University.
“I loved it. It was so exciting,” he said of working with the college students. “We had so many programs there that we developed with the kids. They gave me a sense of hope for the future.”
He served at East Stroudsburg for 14 years before being named chaplain of Misericordia University.
Bendik fondly refers to all the students he came across as his children.
He continued to serve as chaplain until 1986, when he was given his first assignment as pastor of the Church of Our Lady of the Snows in Clarks Summit. During his time as pastor there, he helped build and establish the Church of St. Benedict in Newton Twp.
He returned to St. Meinrad School of Theology in 1995 for sabbatical studies in sacred scripture and sacramental theology. Upon his return, he was assigned as interim pastor of the Church of St. Mary of Czestochowa in the Greenwood section of Scranton.
On July 8, 1996, he became pastor of the Parish Community of St. John the Evangelist, which includes the consolidated churches of St. Casimir, St. John the Evangelist and St. Joseph in Pittston. In 2005, St. John the Baptist Church joined the parish community as well.
“No matter where I went, under any circumstances, I always figured I’m going to do my best. You can beat me up, but you can’t beat me down,” Bendik said.
Bendik said one of his greatest accomplishments in the St. John the Evangelist Parish Community is the annual bazaar. People from all the churches come
together to volunteer and enjoy the three-day event.
Another of his accomplishments started with a much smaller initial goal.
The closure of Seton Catholic High School in 2007 came as a shock, Bendik said. But the decision was made to keep the building — built and founded as a Catholic school in 1864 — open. From that, the Care and Concern Free Health Clinic Ministry evolved. Originally, a store front was going to be open and a baby wellness clinic was going to be run, but Bendik offered up the space at the school, which allowed the offerings to expand.
The health clinic opened its doors on Nov. 7, 2007, and now has more than 24,000 office visits from 4,000 individual patients.
With the health clinic doing so well, parishioner and volunteer Peggy Burke went to Bendik when the need for food arose and then he helped establish the Greater Pittston Food Pantry on Oct. 16, 2008. It started out helping approximately 100 to 125 people, and has grown to serve 16,290 people who have made 21,750 visits and have received more than 79,000 bags of food. Burke is now coordinator of the pantry.
“Then the food pantry workers would come to us and say, ‘Is there anyway that you can get us clothes?,’” Bendik explained. “So we would go out and buy clothes. And that turned into Susan Lombardo’s Children’s Closet. And then we morphed into a pediatric clinic, and when the kids come in we’ll give them a toy if they read a book. So they come to the library and get a book and a toy.”
The Kid’s Clothes Closet opened April 1, 2009, and features two separate rooms of new and gently-used clothing for all seasons. It has had more than 8,150 visits from 1,250 families with 2,880 children.
The Free Pediatric Clinic opened July 25, 2010, and has served 300 children from 195 families who have made more than 1,500 office visits.
The Toy and Book Corner was established on Sept. 10, 2014, with no limit to the amount of books a child can take out. There are 300 families listed with 700 children currently reading books.
Bendik has also helped to establish the Healing Hearts Bereavement Ministry and a knitting ministry that provides warm gloves, hats, scarves and blankets for the needy during the winter.
“I never expected it would get this big. Never. Never. Never. I never expected this at all,” he said.
As Bendik prepares to retire from the parish community after 21 years, he said his mission still isn’t over.
“I keep telling people, I have my zeal without my zip. I can’t get around like I used to,” he said. “And though I won’t be with this parish, I’ll be open to any other who needs another priest, because there’s fewer of us these days.”
He will remain active in the Greater Pittston community, he said. In fact, he is looking forward to offering the opening prayer and his usual yearly rendition of “God Bless America” at the Pittston Tomato Festival in August.
Bendik’s last Masses will be celebrated at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, June 24, and at 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. Sunday, June 25. A Mass and dinner celebrating his 50th anniversary in the priesthood was held May 28.
The Rev. Joseph Elston will be the new pastor for the St. John the Evangelist Parish Community. Elston, who has been serving in residence at Nativity of Our Lord Parish, Duryea, is chaplain of Holy Redeemer High School and Marywood University and Sacramental Minister at Holy Family Church, Luzerne.