Updated: Thursday, September 14, 2017, 6:34 PM
In a celebratory Mass, James J. Brzyski was ordained a Catholic priest on a May day 40 years ago.
Stripped of his collar, he was found dead Wednesday, surrounded by pills and bottles of vodka in a Texas motel where rooms go for $43.99 a night.
Those were among the new details that emerged Thursday, as investigators tried to piece together the final hours or days of a man characterized by Philadelphia prosecutors as one of the region’s most brutal clerical abusers.
Ron Singer, the administrator of the Medical Examiner’s Office in Tarrant County, said authorities found five bottles of “cheap vodka” in the Super 7 room Brzyski rented on Seminary Road in Fort Worth. Several pill bottles were found, at least one of which was empty, Singer said.
The room was filled with paperwork, but he left no note.
Precisely how Brzyski died remained unclear even after an autopsy Thursday morning. Singer said pathologists will await toxicology reports to determine the cause of death and whether to rule it a suicide, an accident, or from natural causes. Foul play is not suspected.
“We are going to try to expedite this as quickly as we can,” he said.
Singer wouldn’t officially acknowledge the dead man in the room was Brzyski — his office knows the man’s identity but has not yet informed his relatives — but a motel clerk and a neighbor of the once infamous Philadelphia cleric on Wednesday confirmed to the Inquirer and Daily News that he had been found dead at the motel.
Ordained in 1977, Brzyski served in two Archdiocese of Philadelphia parishes during his eight years an active priest — Saint John the Evangelist in Lower Makefield in Bucks County and St. Cecilia’s in the Fox Chase section of Northeast Philadelphia.
In 1985, the church removed him from ministry and, after he had admitted abusing children, placed him in an archdiocesan treatment facility. There, a clinician said he manifested pedophilia. Brzyski left treatment, refused to stay in ministry, and left his post with the church.
A 2005 grand jury report released by Philadelphia prosecutors said he may have molested or raped more than 100 children during those few years. But the allegations were too old for Brzyski — or any of the other archdiocesan priests named as abusers in the report — to be prosecuted in criminal or civil courts.
He was finally defrocked in March 2005.
In his later years, Brzyski became something of an itinerant, moving through Virginia, Wisconsin, California, and finally, Texas. He rented an apartment for about three years, and moved to the motel in the recent weeks.
Police in Dallas, reviewing their records at the request of the Inquirer and Daily News, said Thursday that they had responded to a complaint of a domestic disturbance involving Brzyski at his apartment in 2015. Police said the call was about a “verbal argument” at the address but that no was arrested or injured in the incident.
No other details were available.