Msgr. Stanley Milewski, affectionately known as ‘Mr. Orchard Lake,’ dies at 84

Msgr. Stanley Milewski

Msgr. Stanley Milewski

ORCHARD LAKE — Msgr. Stanley Milewski, P.A., a “legend” of the Orchard Lake Schools and an institution there for more than six decades, died July 6 following complications from a series of blood infections.

Msgr. Milewski, the first chancellor of Orchard Lake Schools and a giant of the Polish Catholic community in southeast Michigan, spent all but the first few of his 59 years as a priest serving in various capacities at the Orchard Lake Schools, beginning as a teacher in 1957 and eventually becoming its chancellor when its governing structure was changed in 1977. Under Msgr. Milewski’s leadership, the umbrella organization operated three institutions: St. Mary’s Preparatory, St. Mary’s College and SS. Cyril & Methodius Seminary — all three of which he attended during his own formation.

“He was Mr. Orchard Lake. Anybody who heard his name automatically associated him with Orchard Lake Schools,” said current chancellor Msgr. Thomas C. Machalski.

Msgr. Milewski retired as chancellor in 2000, but continued to support the Orchard Lake Schools in various capacities. For instance, no one was more dedicated to Eaglet sports than the “All Time Super Fan,” as he is affectionately referred to around campus. Though never having played for his beloved school himself, Msgr. Milewski spent 70 years supporting its teams — in his student days as a scorekeeper, reporter and booster, and during his ministry as athletic director, statistician and in other roles.

“After the basketball season was over, our present athletic director in announcing that monsignor was present at the banquet, said he was a ‘man who bled red and white,’ our school colors. He was the No. 1 fan of the Eaglets, for sure,” Msgr. Machalski said.

“The students loved him because he was always with them, especially at the games,” he added. “In his later years he wasn’t as visible to them as he was previous, but he certainly tried to get to as many student functions at the high school and seminary as went on. He was very visible to them that way, and they were always very happy when he was around.”

Msgr. Milewski was honored as just the ninth “Legend of the Catholic League” in 2000 for his decades of service, and he was honored with a “Banner of Excellence” in the school’s Dombrowski Fieldhouse in 2004. He is a member of the St. Mary’s Prep Athletic Wall of Fame, and the school’s red-turfed football field is named in his honor.

During his 23 years at the helm, Msgr. Milewski oversaw an expansion of the campus, including a College Academic Center, the Dombrowski Fieldhouse, new dorms, the Padzieski Science Center and a new chapel for the seminary, of which he was most proud, Msgr. Machalski said.

Cardinal Edmund C. Szoka said Msgr. Milewski always held Orchard Lake in a particularly special place.

“I have known Msgr. Milewski since our days in the seminary,” Cardinal Szoka said. “His whole priestly life was dedicated to ministry at the Orchard Lake Schools. He was always faithful to that ministry and to the promotion of the schools. He will be missed.”

An only child, Msgr. Milewski once remarked that working with the Orchard Lake Schools gave him “an army of brothers and sisters and nephews and nieces.”

And there was no one more passionate about Polish Catholic affairs, either. During his ministry, Msgr. Milewski also served as president of the Priests’ Conference for Polish Affairs of the Archdiocese of Detroit, as moderator of the Catholic League for Religious Assistance to Poland, as vice-chairman of the board for the Piast Institute, and as national director of the Polish American Congress.

Msgr. Stanley Milewski signs his profession of faith upon becoming a protonotary apostolic, the highest of the three ranks of monsignor, in 2007 as Cardinal Adam J. Maida acts as witness. (Robert Delaney, The Michigan Catholic)

Msgr. Stanley Milewski signs his profession of faith upon becoming a protonotary apostolic, the highest of the three ranks of monsignor, in 2007 as Cardinal Adam J. Maida acts as witness. (Robert Delaney, The Michigan Catholic)

“He was the face of Orchard Lake to the Polish-American community, and the Polish-American community sees Orchard Lake as the defender of their life and history here in the United States,” Msgr. Machalski said. “In his heyday, he was at everything that had to do with Polonia both locally and nationally.”

That included being personally invited by President Jimmy Carter to be part of the official U.S. delegation for Pope St. John Paul II’s inauguration and installation Mass in 1978, which he viewed not as a personal honor, but “as a great honor for Orchard Lake” and affirmation of its place in Polonia and the Church, Msgr. Machalski said.

In an interview with The Michigan Catholic last year, Msgr. Milewski recalled being “completely enthralled” at Cardinal Karol Wojtyla’s first visit to Orchard Lake in 1969, and said he recognized the late pontiff’s sainthood and began praying to him immediately after his death in 2005.

Cardinal Adam J. Maida, who attended school with Msgr. Milewski at Orchard Lake, recalled his lifetime of service with fondness.

“I have come to appreciate his dedication to the Church as a priest and his great love for the Orchard Lake Schools,” said Cardinal Maida, who along with Cardinal Szoka and many others plans to attend the funeral. “He was a remarkable leader in Polonia, in our local Church and beyond.”

As for Msgr. Milewski’s own spirituality, Msgr. Machalski recalled his predecessor’s great devotion to prayer. During a trip to Traverse City together two years ago, Msgr. Machalski recalled Msgr. Milewski asking to pray the rosary during the car ride. When Msgr. Machalski agreed, “He said, ‘OK, good. We’ll do all the mysteries of the rosary and then the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and by the time we’re finished we’ll be in Saginaw,’” Msgr. Machalski said. “And sure enough we were in Saginaw by the time we were done with all that. He had it timed perfectly.”

More than 1,100 people attended a Mass to honor Msgr. Milewski’s retirement in 2000, and at least that many are expected for his funeral Mass at 11 a.m. Friday, July 11, at the Shrine Chapel of Our Lady of Orchard Lake. Burial will be in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Southfield.

Visitation will take place at the Shrine Chapel of Our Lady of Orchard Lake on Wednesday, July 9, from 3-8 p.m. with a Scripture service at 7 p.m., and Thursday, July 10, from 3-8 p.m. with a rosary at 7 p.m. Msgr. Milewski will lie in repose Friday, July 11, at the Shrine Chapel of Our Lady of Orchard Lake from 9-11 a.m. Condolences may be sent to Msgr. Francis Koper and Fr. Walter Ptak, 3535 Indian Trail, Orchard Lake, MI 48324.

Msgr. Milewski had been hospitalized for several weeks before his death with multiple blood infections. It was hoped that after a series of blood transfusions, he’d be able to return to Orchard Lake, but further infections made that impossible, and he had requested palliative care July 5.

Born Nov. 30, 1929, to Stanley and Jadwiga Milewski, the young Stanley Milewski grew up on Detroit’s near west side, attending grade school at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (West) Parish and St. Andrew School. He then attended St. Mary’s Prep and St. Mary’s College before moving on to St. John’s Provincial Seminary to finish his priestly formation. He was ordained for the Archdiocese of Detroit on June 4, 1955, but later went back to earn a master’s degree from SS. Cyril & Methodius Seminary, and a doctorate from Alliance College in Cambridge Springs, Pa. His first assignment was as associate pastor of St. Francis D’Assisi in Detroit (1955-57) before quickly becoming a Polish, religion and history teacher at Orchard Lake.

Msgr. Milewski served in several leadership roles for the Orchard Lake Schools, including as procurator/treasurer, athletic director and faculty member and as vice rector of SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary before becoming chancellor in 1977.

He was named a Prelate of Honor to His Holiness Pope John Paul II (monsignor) in 1990, and later elevated to the highest rank of monsignor — Apostolic Protonotary — by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007. He was honored with the Bishop Stephen Woznicki Award for his contributions to Polish affairs.

Upon his well-deserved retirement, Msgr. Milewski said he looked forward to spending his last years in quiet prayer and reflection.

“I’m going to sleep later. I’m going to soak in the sun. I’m going to dangle my feet in Orchard Lake,” he said in 2000. “And I’m going to spend a lot of time in the Shrine Chapel and the new chapel in preparation to meet my Lord — and may He be a kind and gentle judge to me.”

Those who knew him are certain that will be the case.