The Reverend John R. B. Szala died from complications of diabetes on January 1, 2008 in Plymouth, NH. He was 72.
Rev. Szala was born on September 30, 1935 in Pittsburgh, PA, the oldest of six children, to John and Julia (Sliwa) Szala. He entered a Carmelite Monastery as a junior in high school and spent 10 years as a contemplative monk before applying for dispensation of his vows. During his time in the monastery, Rev. Szala studied theology at the University of Pittsburgh. After leaving the monastery, Rev. Szala taught school, and then administered a cancer research project at the University of Pittsburgh while earning his M.Ed. from the University of Pittsburgh. In 1972, Rev. Szala became acquainted with Unitarian Universalism at the First Unitarian Church in Pittsburgh under the mentorship of Rev. David A. Johnson, who was minister there at the time.
Rev. Szala was ordained and installed at the First Unitarian Church in Pittsburgh on October 14, 1973. He served as their interim minister and as campus chaplain at the University of Pittsburgh from 1973 to 1974. He served the First Universalist Church of Rochester, NY from 1975 to 1978. He was then called to the First Church in Salem, Unitarian, in Salem, MA where he served from 1979 until 1991. Finally, he served the Caribou Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Caribou, ME, from 1993 to 1996.
Rev. Szala was an active member of the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA), an organization devoted to vexillology, the scientific study of flag history and symbolism. He served as their president from 1978-1980. In 1993, he designed a flag for their annual meeting in Portland, ME and in 1995, he designed a personal flag which contained symbolism for "peace” as well as "the abiding presence of God.” He was also the author of Poland's National Flag and Emblem.
The Rev. Dr. Thomas D. Wintle, of Weston MA, a friend of Szala's for 30 years, wrote in an email to colleagues: "John was cantankerous and the ultimate curmudgeon. Even when I called him to wish a happy birthday, he would chastise me for sermons on our website that allowed people too easily into the baptized community of Christians! Yet I mourn his passing. And pray that he 'may find his place in God's kingdom.'"
Survivors include his mother, Julia Szala, of Pittsburg, PA; his brother, Frank Szala, of Locust Grove, VA; his sisters, Marlene Bateman and Dolores Mattress; and many nieces and nephews.
A service has already been held. Please send messages of condolence to Rev. Szala’s mother, Julia Szala, 223 Spencer Ave Apt A1, Pittsburg, PA 15227.