Yesterday, July 25, 2017, I found out that my friend and brother, Br. Jerry Zawada, OFM, passed away and returned home to God. He was 80 years old and lived a life that was totally committed to justice, peace, nonviolence, and solidarity with those whom he felt were excluded and marginalized. He was an inspirational figure for me and my brothers, and was one of the reasons why I was drawn to JPIC and human rights work as a Franciscan.
I found myself filled with great sadness after hearing of this news, but I am filled with gratitude, hope, and love for this great Saint.
I had first heard of Jerry from an NCR Online article I read about his removal from public ministry. He had concelebrated Mass with a woman priest. When I discovered that he was going to be living next to the novitiate, I was excited to meet someone who had been brave enough to take a stand for justice and equality. Jerry’s commitment to justice was solid and integrated all the way through. In the article he said, “Every single one of my dreams at night are dreams about living and sharing life with the poor, with people who are destitute, and I sense I have a strong calling for that.”
I had the blessed opportunity to get to know Jerry during my novitiate. I was in Burlington, Wisconsin for one year as a novice starting August 2014 and Jerry lived next door at Queen of Peace Friary, where he was convalescing from an injury (he had to use a walker). My novitiate year was a very challenging for me and some of the other brothers – but Jerry was a ray of light in that night.
My experience with Jerry was of someone who longed to live life fully, with a strong desire to be one with and among those who are poor. Many mystics dream of union with the Divine, but Jerry dreamed of union with God who is among the poor. He said, “I really hate borders.” He hated borders because of the division they cause and because he loved so much. He became one with those whom he was drawn to. I can only pray that I may be given this same grace as he had.
During the novitiate, we invited Jerry to talk to us about his involvement with social justice and his vision of religious life. “We have to take risks and learn to trust in God, and to know that taking these risks is an act of faith.” Good friend, good Brother, good Troublemaker, good and faithful servant – may you rest peacefully with the One whom you desired to be with. I love you Jerry.
Video courtesy of Br. Javier del Angel, OFM