June 17, 2016
Editor’s Note: The following conversation can be found in the June 19 issue of The West Texas Catholic and the audio version on the June 17-19 edition of The West Texas Catholic: The Audio Version, on St. Valentine Catholic Radio, 1360-AM, KDJW.
Remembering Arnold Zurek
The West Texas Catholic: This issue of the newspaper comes out the weekend of Father’s Day. Let’s talk about Father’s Day and about your dad. Your dad had an incredible gift for grafting trees.
Bishop Patrick J. Zurek: I’ll be honest; I did not expect you to start with that. From my first conscious recollections of dad, I remember that he grafted trees. He initially grafted pecan trees. I remember we had some acreage on the Brazos River, which right now is flooding terribly at home. The pecan variety was called “Schley” (
pronounced SLY) the precursor to the paper-shell pecan. It was a very good, flavorful, oily pecan. We were selling that property and dad didn’t want to lose the trees. So he took some pecans trees that had grown on the property. Some of them were six inches in diameter and he still grafted onto them. And behold, we had this strange tree. The bark below was very fine, native bark; the bark above the graft was very large bark. When you looked up about five feet, you realized that it was two separate trees. But it grew and it produced fruit.
The more fun trees were the wild peach trees dad planted so he could have fun with grafting. He planted wild peaches because the root stock is so good. It’s like the cockroach; nothing will affect it. Onto the wild peach he grafted three types of yellow peaches, each of them ripening about a month apart. He also grafted on two varieties of apricots and two varieties of plums, red and purple. They are all the same fruit family. He also grafted on two white peaches. So there were four varieties of fruit. We always referred to it as our schizophrenic tree. It bore fruit. It was the oddest thing in the world. People would come by and look at it. Grafting was just one of my dad’s hobbies and he was very good at it.
Keep in mind that I grew up on a farm/ranch about 45 minutes southwest of Houston, between Rosenburg and Sealy, near the little town of Wallis. It was about 2.5 miles from the Brazos and 2.5 miles from the San Bernard Rivers. It was a very nice area, where we lived on a 500-acre farm-ranch. I was the third son so dad had practice at fathering by the time I came along. I was his shadow. Being on a farm/ranch I was always curious about growing things, cattle and other animals.
Dad took the time to explain things to me. I was even with him when he would have to help deliver calves when the mother was having a difficult time. He had tremendous patience to deal with the work; everyone had to work. Sometimes we got up in the night to go cover the cotton-loaded trailers when a thunder, lightning and rain storm would be coming. We all got up to help when a problem arose.
I have good childhood memories. Being only three or four miles from town, it was a big to-do when we went to town to the ice cream store, run by dad’s uncle (my great uncle). I don’t know how Uncle Ed ever made any money. It seemed that he always gave everything away. We loved going to the ice cream store. Dad was spontaneous too. When we harvested calves or pigs, we always had parties. That meant that we would have whatever the kids wanted. We even had spontaneous parties with nothing special going on, which was kind of nice.
I learned generosity from both mom and dad. When we did process a calf or pig or duck—we raised lots of ducks for the market—I was always charged by dad to take a roast or pork steaks or duck to the poor neighbors. On my bicycle, I had to go through pastureland and farmland because the road did not always go in the right direction to the neighbors. Dad always said that we had to share; my question was “why do we always have to share?” He replied “because they don’t have as much as we do.”
When you told me you would like to do this interview, I thought about religion. Many people think that a priest comes from a very pious family. My mom was pious; her father, my grandfather was pious; my mom’s mother, my grandmother, was pious. Dad wasn’t pious; he wasn’t one of the pious ones. He didn’t run around saying the rosary, wearing things around his neck all the time. But I have to say that he lived the Faith. He was ready to do anything that was needed in the parish. If Father or the Sisters or the school needed something done, he was quick to do it. He would never think of missing Mass or the special devotional days of the Church in those days.
He made sure too that we didn’t miss Mass. I remember when my middle brother was older and going out on dates. One night it was really foggy outside and my dad waited up for him when he came home late, giving him the third degree. He didn’t want to get up to go to Mass the next morning. Dad told him that if he could stay out late he could get up and go to Mass in the morning. “But it’s foggy,” he said. Dad said that he had come home in the fog and could go to Mass in the fog. My brother insisted that he didn’t feel like going to Mass. Dad’s response was that it didn’t matter how he felt. He needed to go to Mass. Punto. No ifs, ands or buts.
Something we always did as a family was to celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi with a procession. We celebrated the solemn High Mass in the church and then went in procession around the block. There were three separate outdoor altars in the block around the church, two of them on front porches of homes. Dad and my brothers always built one of the altars; his mom would always bring flowers galore from her yard. Ours was the best altar in town. The third altar, celebrating Our Lady of Lourdes at the grotto, was built in thanksgiving that all the men from the parish who went to war came home, every single one of them. They were very grateful for that.
Another memory besides them building the altar was the music that accompanied our procession around the block with the Blessed Sacrament. We had benediction at each altar and then we went back to the church for the final prayers. A brass band accompanied us. You have never lived until you have heard
Tantum Ergo and
O Salutaris Hostia sung to the accompaniment of a brass band, sung in Latin “to boot.” These are very good memories.
One more memory, back to piety, when my parents were celebrating their 60
th anniversary, dad was not very healthy and on oxygen. Mother asked if they should celebrate. My response was “Mother, 60 years! You have to celebrate (a little guilt trip). Not many people live to celebrate 60 years of marriage. You did and we are celebrating that it is possible.” Mom responded that maybe Mass and a dinner would be too much for dad. Dad looked up at her and said, “Vicky, if we don’t have Mass, we are having no dinner.” So that was that. As much as I say that he wasn’t pious in a way,
he was committed.
WTC: Let’s talk about the Deanery Confirmation Masses. The fifth celebration took place on May 21 and what celebrations they were here in the Diocese of Amarillo…
Bishop Zurek: I’d like to tell the story of how they originated because I was a little concerned with the idea. I was reading the Prophet Joel and the wonderful words: “On the day of the Lord, the Lord will pour out his Spirit upon humanity and old men will dream dreams and young men will see visions.” I remember my Scripture professor once told me that you can’t have an accomplishment or initiate a change without a vision or a dream that precedes it. The vision or dream, if the Spirit planted it there, has to come and give you the impetus to do it. I had a dream, not like Martin Luther King Jr., but I wanted to know what it would be like to celebrate all the Confirmations at the Cathedral. I liked the idea. But I was one among the priests. Then there were the parents, the confirmandi, the sponsors and the DRE’s and confirmation coordinators. I thought this might be an obstacle course and a half.
I persisted, if you will, and went to the Priests’ Council first to see what they thought. My rationale for doing it was threefold. Let’s do something special for the Jubilee Year of Mercy. What could be more special than not doing Confirmation in the ordinary way. What if we did it by deanery, which would make it very special. Number two, it would give the candidates for Confirmation, their parents and their sponsors the opportunity to visit the Cathedral. In most dioceses, probably 85-90% of the people never see the Cathedral. Thirdly, it would give them a chance in the Jubilee Year to go through the Holy Door. Catechesis was provided beforehand which gave them the opportunity of walking through the Holy Door, saying the prayers and receiving the special graces and indulgences for that.
I took the idea to the Priests’ Council and they said, “what an idea,” “this is great,” and “let’s do it.” Hurdle one was over. Let’s tackle the coordinators and DRE’s; I had Sister Janet Abbacchi help me with that one. She told me that no one was anything but in favor of it and thought it was a great opportunity. The last group would be the parents and they surprised me too. No one actually said anything negative about the idea. In all the cases it was: yes, yes, yes. We did have to split the Central Deanery into two groups because there were just too many candidates. We had five celebrations, all at the Cathedral. The Central Deanery group one had 175 candidates, the south 146, the central group two had 152, the east had 71 and the north had a total of 250 candidates to be confirmed, shocking us all.
What was it like on the day of Confirmation? The first celebration took place the Saturday after Easter (April 2). I was absolutely amazed when I walked into the Cathedral about an hour before the ceremony was to begin. I could not believe there were 1,000 plus people and it was so quiet. I was going down the aisle to check that all the books were ready for me and I thought “Wow! Look at those handsome young men and those beautiful young ladies.” They were dressed to the nines. I saw smiles on their faces and sparkle in their eyes. It was truly an exciting day for them, extra special. I noticed the same response in the eyes of the parents and sponsors.
I would like to give you an idea of how flexible we had to be with 250 candidates for confirmation for the last celebration. In addition to the candidates, we had 250 sponsors and basically 500 parents who would fill the cathedral. They set up 800 chairs in the gymnasium with live streaming, video and voice, so they could participate that way; they could also receive Holy Communion there. The estimated attendance is between 1,850 to 2,000. It was a phenomenal celebration. I think Sister María Elena Ferrer, diocesan Director of Faith Formation, put it best: “It was the largest (group), but also the most prayerful.”
I want to take this opportunity to thank all the confirmation coordinators, Sister María Elena and my secretary Roxy Lucero, for helping with this. It took a lot of extra work for all the pastors and parishes to get the paper work, the certificates and everything else ready. But it was done and we are all very proud of the newly confirmed. I praise God too for the beauty of the celebrations. I think they will be a memory we will treasure all of our lives. Thanks to all of you who also participated; these were great celebrations for the Jubilee Year of Mercy.