The Rev. Joseph C. Stec, 88, of Philadelphia, a longtime Catholic priest and Latin teacher at Cardinal Dougherty High School, died Monday, Sept. 17, of heart disease at Holy Redeemer St. Joseph Manor in Meadowbrook.
Father Stec was best known as pastor emeritus of St. Hedwig Parish in Fairmount and as a much-loved teacher for 37 years at Cardinal Dougherty.
"He taught me in high school," said Msgr. Joseph Corley, temporary rector for Villa St. Joseph in Darby, where he assisted Father Stec in his final months. "He probably taught a couple thousand kids back in the 1960s."
Born in Philadelphia, he was the son of Clement and Mary Kijac Stec. He attended St. Adalbert Parochial School, in his home parish, and Northeast Catholic High School before entering St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, where he earned a bachelor's degree in divinity in 1953. He completed a master of divinity degree at Villanova University in 1969.
Father Stec was ordained on May 11, 1957, at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Philadelphia.
He became assistant pastor at SS Peter and Paul Parish, Lansford, Carbon County, and served in the same role at St. Stanislaus in Summit Hill, Pa., and St. Casimir in Mahanoy City, Pa., until 1959 when he returned to his home parish, St. Adalbert, as a pastoral assistant.
In 1986, he became parochial administrator for St. John Cantius Parish in Bridesburg.
In June 1994, Father Stec was named pastor of St. Hedwig Parish at 24th and Brown Streets.
"When he went there, the church was still thriving," said Father Joseph J. Zingaro, his longtime friend and the current pastor at St. John Cantius. "He took a lot of joy in that. It was his first pastorate."
In July 2000, St. Hedwig was merged with St. Francis Xavier in Spring Garden, part of the consolidation of parishes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Father Stec was named pastor emeritus and moved to St. Laurentius in Fishtown, where he lived and assisted the parish priest.
Father Stec's tenure on the faculty at Cardinal Dougherty High School stretched from 1957 to 1994, but it was interrupted briefly in 1986 when he was first assigned to St. John Cantius.
"The students just loved him," said Zingaro. "When he was with St. John Cantius, they [the Dougherty students] were unhappy. He got notes. He did go back." He returned to the high school in June 1986.
Father Stec was known for telling goofy, Latin-related jokes. "What's agricola?" he would ask the students. "A farmer — a person outstanding in his field."
"When he laughed, his head would stand still, and the rest of his body would shake," Zingaro said.
Corley described Father Stec as a humble, gentle man. "This is the way an old-fashioned priest would be, who trusted in God and wanted to do God's will," Corley said.
Father Stec retired to Villa St. Joseph around 2010. He was active until the last two months, when his health declined, Corley said.
There are no survivors.
A viewing will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 25, at St. Francis Center for Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, 1412 Lansdowne Ave., Darby, followed by a Funeral Mass at 11 a.m. celebrated by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, the Rev. Msgr. Paul F. Curran, the Rev. Edward P. Kuczynski, and Zingaro, who will be the homilist.