Jerome Zawada was born in East Chicago, Indiana, on April 28, 1937 to Valentine and Albany (Ladowicz) Zawada. He was baptized on May 25, 1937 at St. Stanislaus Parish, East Chicago, Indiana.
Jerry, as everyone knew him, completed his elementary education at St. Stanislaus School in 1951. After a semester at Bishop Noll High School in Hammond, he transferred to St. Bonaventure High School, Sturtevant, and graduated in 1955.
Jerry entered the novitiate of the Franciscan Friars of the Assumption BVM Province, in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and was invested with the Franciscan habit on August 14, 1955, where he was given the religious name “Damase”. He made his simple profession on August 15, 1956. He moved to St. Francis College, Burlington, Wisconsin, to begin the study of philosophy. He made his solemn profession on August 15, 1959 in the hands of Fr. Theophane Kalinowski, OFM, at St. Francis Friary.
Jerry studied for the priesthood at Christ the King Seminary, West Chicago, Illinois, and graduated in 1964. He was ordained to the priesthood on June 13, 1964, by Bishop Rembert Kowalski, OFM, in West Chicago.
In August 1964, Jerry requested the permission of Fr. Remigius Steczkowski, OFM, to minister in the Philippines. In his letter to the Provincial, he noted, “On this side of the fence, the gates are opened for me to begin preparing for the mission life.” Jerry received the mission cross at his departure ceremony held in the Chapel of St. Bonaventure High School on November 15, 1964. His next stop was Manila where he was warmly greeted at the airport by Julian Arendt, OFM and Neal Kaminski, OFM.
Jerry began his ministry at Christ the King Seminary, Calbayog, where he served as a professor, Master of Brothers, a parish priest and a pastor. It is here that Jerry looked into the eyes of the poor and set a direction for the rest of his life.
“He embraced the idea of helping the very poor – even those of other faiths and cultures. Food was scarce for everyone. It took a heavy toll on the people and on Jerry himself.” - Debra Woloch, sister of Jerry.
In 1971, he asked to return to the United States where he settled at the office of the Franciscan Missionary Union, Burlington. Seeking to live and minister among the poor, Jerry joined the Gospel Brothers Community, Chicago, 1972-1977; St. Elizabeth Social Center, Rockford, 1979-1981; the Diocese of Brownsville, 1983-1984. From 1984, he lived and worked in inner city ministry, Catholic Worker houses, Casa de las Rosas and friaries of the province. Becoming an advocate for peace, Jerry was arrested outside of a military recruiting center in downtown Chicago – his first arrest among many to follow.
In many ways, Jerry modeled the simple, direct spirit and life of St. Francis of Assisi. Jerry was generally a quiet man, but with strong convictions. His quest for the truth, peace and justice often challenged authority. Notoriety for himself was not important. He went on a humanitarian mission in Iraq, risking his life and visiting hospitals, orphanages mostly consoling the innocent young victims of war. Jerry worked for the Catholic Worker Movement for several years to serve the poor, homeless, and hungry in our own country. He learned Spanish to help many oppressed Latinos survive. He also made unselfish efforts to help refugees of other nationalities, some whom were tortured in other countries seeking asylum in the United States. He also had very strong convictions about the dangers posed by nuclear missiles and served several prison sentences to exhibit his passionate stance. Debra Woloch
After many arrests and long terms in federal prisons, Jerry began to face a series of health issues, including the failure of the muscles in his legs which caused him to wear braces for support. Unable to climb stairs or walk long distances, Jerry moved to Queen of Peace Friary in 2013. Jerry needed even greater care and moved to the Milwaukee Catholic Home.
Jerry died on July 25, 2017 at the Milwaukee Catholic Home, in the 80th year of his life, the 61st year of his religious profession and the 53rd year of his priesthood. Survivors include brothers David (Judie) Zawada, Daniel (Linda) Zawada, sisters Valerie (Tony) Lenzo, Diane (Fred) Price, Joan (Jerry, late) Meece, Debra (Joe) Woloch, many nephews, nieces, and the brothers of the Assumption BVM Province.
Visitation will take place at St. Clare Catholic Church, Wind Lake, Wisconsin, on August 2, 2017 at 11:00 a.m. The Funeral Mass will be celebrated at St. Clare Church at 1:00 p.m. The burial of his cremains will be at the Provincial Cemetery in Pulaski, Wisconsin, on a date to be determined. May the soul of Jerome, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace.
May the soul of Jerome, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace.
_--Written by Andrew Brophy, OFM, Secretary of the Assumption BVM Province.