The new Hooters restaurant may have gotten an unwelcome reception from some of the community’s religious leaders, but tonight it will get a little help from above.
As part of a private opening party, Monsignor Isidore Rozycki, the head Catholic priest for the Greater Waco area, plans to bless the chain’s newest location at New Road and Interstate 35. The public won’t be able to attend the event. But they can bask in the divine dedication starting Tuesday morning, when the restaurant officially opens.
“Blessings are part of the Catholic tradition,” said Rozycki, who is pastor of St. Martin’s Church in Tours. “You bless the building so it will be a safe haven, so that the families that enter will be blessed, so the employees will be blessed E’ as they support their families.”
The 63-year-old priest says he knows some people might think it’s odd for a man of the cloth to bless a restaurant best known for waitresses who wear tight tops and short shorts. Rozycki also knows the move may draw the ire of other local religious leaders.
About 60 local ministers signed a letter this fall in which they expressed their disapproval of the restaurant. They said they oppose Hooters because it exploits women and bases its marketing campaign on sexual innuendo.
But to Rozycki, offering the blessing is just another way he can reach out and serve the community. He pointed to the biblical story of Jesus eating with a tax collector, even though men in that profession were considered among the worst of sinners. He says he doesn’t see how attending the Hooters event is any different.
“God’s image is in all of these folks,” Rozycki said.
For the record, though, Rozycki said he doesn’t think Hooters deserves the bad rap it has gotten from some. He has eaten at a Dallas-area Hooters twice, he said, and enjoyed the experience.
People who go to the restaurant with lust in their hearts are sure to find what they are looking for, Rozycki said. But that would be true no matter where they went, he said, adding that the waitresses’ uniforms are less revealing than what is on display at the beach or a public swimming pool.
“I respect (the ministers’) opinion, but I think it’s the way and the attitude with which you approach it,” Rozycki said. “I look it as a very fun place. E’ It was a place of laughter. You forget about the tensions and stress of daily life and get an opportunity to laugh with friends. E’ And it’s great food.”
Rozycki also pointed out that Hooters offers tuition assistance and has helped college students earn money to put themselves through school.
People who don’t know Rozycki may wonder how a priest got involved with the opening of a Hooters. But his participation doesn’t surprise the people who know him best.
Rozycki’s parishioners, fellow priests and other friends describe him as a fun-loving, laid-back guy who defies many of the notions people hold about the clergy. For example, one of his prized possessions is a 1975 Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
Although his pastoral duties don’t leave him much time for riding nowadays, Rozycki clearly still has a love for the open road. On a recent weekday morning, he was wearing a black Harley-Davidson shirt with bright orange piping. The chime on his office clock sounds like the roar of a motorcycle.
Rozycki also is an avid sports fan. He spent 25 years as a high school football referee and has taken in quite a few horse races. He also follows the career of Chicago White Sox outfielder Scott Podsednik, who is a native of nearby West.
On top of that, Rozycki is known for his magic tricks and practical jokes. Podsednik’s parents, for example, found several pairs of the priest’s white socks hanging from a tree in front of their house after their son’s team won the World Series last year.
At weddings, Rozycki has pulled all kinds of gags, friends say. One of his favorites is to secretly swap out the bride’s ring with a gaudy, plastic version if he senses the couple is too tense.
“I like to make people laugh,” said Rozycki, who has been a priest for 38 years and at St. Martin’s for 19.
All of which helps explain why one of Rozycki’s church members approached him with the idea of the Hooters blessing.
The parishioner, Waco Police detective John Rozyskie, helps coordinate officers who work off-duty restaurant security jobs. When he found out from Hooters officials that the restaurant was having an opening party, he thought it would be fun if Rozycki took part.
The detective passed the idea on to Hooters officials, who also liked it. They invited Rozycki to give a blessing, and the rest is – almost – history.
Jerry Opperman, administrator of St. Peter’s Catholic Student Center at Baylor University and a member of Rozycki’s parish, chuckled when he heard about the blessing, saying, “that’s typical Father.”
“He’s not afraid to go places other priests won’t go and he takes his message in such a way that you don’t feel like you are being preached at,” Opperman said.
The Rev. Mark Deering, who retired after leading Waco’s St. Louis Catholic Church for four decades, agreed that the opening celebration seemed like a perfect event for Rozycki. The St. Martin’s priest has always opened his arms to people in all walks of life, Deering said, adding that he is not opposed to Hooters opening here.
“I remember when Waco was so dry, I thought it needed rain,” Deering joked. “You used to only be able to buy alcohol in the next county and it used to look like a funeral procession (from Waco to there) on the weekends.”
“I think it shows we are just catching up with bigger cities,” the retired priest added. “We can’t be narrow-minded. People won’t accept that anymore. If they don’t get it here, they’ll go somewhere else. I think Hooters is just one of those commodities people should use in moderation.”
The official grand opening celebration for the restaurant will be at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.
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