Funeral services for the 19-year-old volunteer firefighter slain, along with mentor and friend Lt. Mike Chiapperini, during a Christmas Eve ambush in Webster, were held late this morning, the day after services for Chiapperini.
The church bells tolled, the bagpipes played and hundreds of firefighters stood quietly, saluting.
The scene was beautiful and touching yet incredibly heart-wrenching as the funeral Mass for Tomasz Kaczowka, 19, of Webster came to a close about two hours after it started early this afternoon, Monday, Dec. 31.
Tomasz Kaczowka, a volunteer firefighter with the West Webster Fire Department, was slain, along with friend and mentor Lt. Mike Chiapperini, 43, during a Christmas Eve ambush, as they answered a fire call on Lake Road in Webster. Lt. Chiapperini's funeral was yesterday, Dec. 30, at Schroeder High School in Webster, where calling hours for both men were held Friday night and Saturday.
His family, his Polish heritage and his Church meant as much to Tomasz Kaczowka as being of service. He was also an overnight 911 dispatcher for the City of Rochester.
Referred to as "everyone's little brother," Tomasz Kaczowka became involved in the fire service as an Explorer, then became a full-fledged member just over a year ago, when he turned 18.
He was also active at his church, St. Stanislaus on Hudson Avenue in Rochester, where the beautiful, glittering Christmas decorations he and his father had helped set up just days ago were still on display during his funeral Mass, presided over by Bishop Emeritus Matthew Clark of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester, and about eight other priests.
Like Chiapperini, Tomasz Kaczowka's casket was borne to the church atop a West Webster firetruck, draped in mourning, which was preceded by a motorcade of police and fire vehicles and a contingent of bagpipers and drummers.
West Webster firefighters who accompanied Tomasz on one of his final rides reverently lowered the casket from the truck as hundreds of mourners, many of them uniformed firefighters and police officers, filled the street across from the church entrance. They stood there, in the snow and cold, for about an hour prior to the start of the 10 a.m. Mass and until its conclusion after noon.
A choir sang "Here I Am, Lord," as firefighters and Tomasz's family processed into the church, where a picture of a smiling Tomasz had a place of honor on the altar.
The first reading was done by Greg (Grzesiu) Kaczowka, one of Tomasz's older twin brothers, followed by one in Polish.
In his homily, Deacon Ray Mielcarek called Tomasz "an extraordinary young man" who was intelligent, caring, and had high moral standards.
"Everyone who met him liked him," Mielcarek said, adding that Tomasz "was unselfish with his time and gave freely of himself."
He ended by reading a 100-year-old poem that concluded, "how we will laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again."
The priest who baptized Tomasz and helped prepare him for his first communion traveled from Ohio to be part of the Mass. He said Bishop Clark confirmed Tomasz in 2007.
Tomasz Kaczowka still was an altar server during Polish Sunday Mass at St. Stanislaus and had just attended the 11 a.m. Polish Mass there with his family on Dec. 23.
The Prayers of the Faithful that are a traditional part of the Roman Catholic Mass were read by Nick Chiapperini, son of Lt. Mike Chiapperini, followed by more prayers in Polish.
Besides the full church and firefighters standing outside, overflow attendance was hosted at nearby Franklin High School.
The formal part of the Mass ended with a medley of Christmas hymns, followed by eulogies and reflections by his other older twin brother, Darius (Darek) Kaczowka, two representatives of the Polish community and two West Webster firefighters.
Darius recalled his younger brother saying, "Mom, don't you know I'm going to save lives," explaining his dedication to the fire service to his family.
He said his brother was "an optimistic, loving individual with a contagious smile," but that he was also a jokester and prankster.
Darius admitted he never quite understood his younger brother's fire service "hobby," and even would be annoyed by hearing his pager going off in the middle of the night, but now he understands that the fire department was simply "his extended family."
"God will take care of you now," he finished quietly.
A spokesman from the Polonia Civic Center told the Kaczowka family that the Polish-American community locally and beyond "shares in your grief."
Mateusz Stasiek, vice-consulate general for the Republic of Poland in New York, read, in Polish, words of condolence from the Ambassador to Poland and the Consul General in New York, then added in English, "Tomasz was proud to be American and proud to be Polish ... You will stay forever young and forever a hero; you will never be forgotten."
Fellow West Webster firefighter Nick Volo said Tomasz "was always there if you needed him," adding that "his goofy smile always seemed to brighten up the room."
Volo added that he and other firefighters know that "Tom" and "Chip," as they knew the two slain heroes, "will have our backs."
"Rest easy, brothers," Volo concluded. "We'll take it from here."
West Webster Chaplain Hugh Knight wrapped up by reading the firemen's prayer.
Fr. Roman Caly, current pastor of St. Stanislaus, also made some final reflections, as did Bishop Emeritus Clark.
"I'm amazed at this family's strength and the power of your faith," Clark told the Kaczowkas. "I can understand Tomasz's spirit of service and caring for others ... What a blessing he must have been to you."
The final hymn was "On Eagles Wings," including the words, "make you to shine like the sun."
Surely, both Tomasz Kaczowka and Lt. Mike Chiapperini are both now "shining like the sun."