Ask most first-graders what they hope to be when they grow up and you’ll get the standard responses — firefighter, doctor, police officer, teacher or pro baseball player. But from the age of 6, Peter Dobrowski knew he had a different calling. He felt the persevering inner tug of the Holy Spirit to serve God as a priest.
“I really don’t know how I decided,” said the newly retired former pastor of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Bullhead City. “It was just there and it persisted.”
He joined the Stigmatine priests in his Italian parish in Lynn, Massachussetts, and was ordained June 5, 1971. Fr. Dobrowski settled into life in Woodbridge, Virginia, serving at Our Lady of Angels Parish. After nine years the Stigmatine Fathers wanted to move southwest, so they sent Fr. Dobrowski to Arizona.
Fr. Dobrowski’s first Arizona assignment was at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, from 1980 to 1982, with Fr. Joseph Gillespie. He was then named pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Flagstaff for five years, from 1986 to 1991. His love of parish life drew him to seek incardination in the Diocese of Phoenix.
“I was very happy there,” he said of the two parishes.
He then got a call from then-Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien transferring him to Bullhead City. Fr. Dobrowski went from a winter of 20 degrees below zero in Flagstaff, to a summer that reached 120 degrees in the Mojave Desert. Located in the northwest corner of the diocese, near Kingman and the borders of California and Nevada, St. Margaret Mary Parish serves about 1,300 parishioners.
“I loved it right away,” Fr. Dobrowski said of the parish. “The people were very welcoming.”
During his pre-ordination studies, he had taken Spanish classes and even worked for a short time in Mexico City. At St. Margaret Mary, Fr. Dobrowski had many parishioners who only spoke Spanish, and he quickly found himself serving the parish in both languages.
“It was a challenge, that’s for sure,” he said. “I had a kind of a motto though, ‘If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. But if it’s really worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.’ I did a lot of things badly, but I did the best I could with it.”
Shortly after he arrived there, the parish began work on a new church to accommodate their growing community. Though he first presented parishioners with a half-moon modern design, parishioners told Fr. Dobrowski they instead wanted a traditional church that looked “Catholic inside and out.” The pastor set about creating a church the people would love with the help of design architect Duncan Stroik from Notre Dame University.
Nearly 19 years later, the cruciform church that dominates the Bullhead City skyline was finally completed and dedicated by Bishop Thomas Olmsted in 2011. The church holds 1,022 worshippers and is designed to honor the southwest mission churches. Its majestic blue ceiling houses a marbled baldachino, a matching marble tabernacle with copper doors designed after the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple, a vaulted ceiling above the sanctuary, 16 chandeliers, and pews made of ash.
“We built a church that was Catholic inside and out, and he (Fr. Dobrowski) is a good Catholic priest inside and out to match it,” said Susan Rittal, St. Margaret Mary administrative assistant, who has served the parish for 20 years. “We were very, very blessed to have had a leader like Father Peter for all of those years.”
Rittal said Fr. Dobrowski stayed true to the church design parishioners requested. She said that as the church was being built, he would sit inside it and pray.
“I’m sure his prayers were heard,” she said.
Rittal added that “everyone just loves” their former pastor.
“It doesn’t matter who you are rich or poor, he never passed judgment on anyone,” Rittal said. “He was a loving father to all of us.”
A few months before his retirement, the Bullhead City Council surprised him by giving him the key to the city after he’d delivered the invocation opening their meeting. Now newly retired after serving for 45 years as a priest, Fr. Dobrowski unequivocally encourages any young man who is interested in the priesthood to pursue his call.
“It is a worthwhile life — I think it is just great,” he said. “Looking back, it absolutely was more than I could have ever expected.”