Eulogy for Sister Mary Leo Zeman, Dec. 12, 1917-Nov. 1, 2010

November 4, 2010 by

Eulogy for Sister Mary Leo Zeman CSJ

By Sister Bette Moslander, csj

Nov. 4, 2010, at the Nazareth Motherhouse

We are gathered here this evening to remember and to honor the life of Sister Mary Leo Zeman who died Nov. 1, 2010, at Mt. Joseph Senior Village.

Sister Mary Leo was the fifth of nine children of Frank and Barbara Vopat Zeman. She was born on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dec. 12, 1917, at the family farm southwest of Wilson, Kan. Her parents named her Georgina Alice.

Georgina received all of her grade school education in a one-room country school. During the course of those grade school years Georgina suffered a serious attack of ruptured appendix and was near death. On that occasion her mother dedicated her to the Blessed Mother and Mary Leo said that as a consequence she always had a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin.

Mary Leo attended high school at Wilson. Father McManus, the pastor, recognizing her ability, urged her to attend Marymount College when she graduated. She was vacillating between entering the Sisters of St. Dominic in Great Bend and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia when she came to a decision while making a retreat as a student at Marymount that she decided to enter the community of St. Joseph. Her parents supported her decision, so on Sept. 8, 1926, at the age of l8, she entered the Congregation. In her life review she reflects on her own spiritual growth and maturing under the guidance of Sister Sabinus and Sister Isabelle. She remembered her years in the postulancy and novitiate as happy and enriching years. She made first vows on March 19, 1928 and final profession three years later.

Mary Leo’s life review is typical of her simple, direct way of living her life — it captures in small vignettes, her life as the years unfolded.  She writes of her initial anxiety in teaching and her growing confidence in grade school classrooms. As was the custom of the time, Mary Leo spent the school year teaching; every summer was spent at Marymount working toward her undergraduate degree hour by academic hour. Mary Leo was being prepared to teach commercial subjects in the high schools and it was not long before she found herself assigned to high school class rooms.

In 1951 she was asked to go to Creighton University to begin work on her master’s degree, which she completed in 1957. She immediately was assigned as principal and commercial teacher in Beloit and later in Tipton and Junction City where the high school students enjoyed learning to be credible bookkeepers and secretaries. The late ’60s and early ’70s were times of great sadness for her. Her father died in 1969 and her mother a little more than a year later in January 1971. In her life review she speaks of recording her mother saying some prayers and singing a song in Bohemian so that she could relish that memory.

In June 1971 Mary Leo was elected to serve as Secretary General of the Congregation. It was a work she gave herself to with precision and generosity even though she missed teaching the lively high schoolers. When she had completed her four year term, in 1975, she applied for a position at Central Catholic High School, in Grand Island, Neb., as secretary to the principal. She loved her work at Central Catholic where she quickly became a favorite of both students and faculty alike. She served at Central Catholic for 15 years before retiring in the Grand Island convent where she continued to volunteer in the parish, visiting the shut-ins and counting the Sunday collections. One student’s memory of Mary Leo appeared in the UPDATE 91, a school news bulletin: “If you attended Central Catholic in the ’70s and ’80s, you undoubtedly have one of those fleeting images whenever you think of Sister Mary Leo. You might remember her smiling at you over the office counter, or how she scolded you for ‘wasting paper.’ You might remember her bending over the flowers in front of the school preparing for graduation, or defrosting the ice box in the teachers’ lounge. And how many of you remember her lunch bag? It appeared to be such a small bag. And yet out of its depths, Sister Mary Leo could produce a seven-course meal to the wonderment of all.”

In all Sister Mary Leo served in Grand Island for 28 years. It was during these years that Sister Mary Leo realized that she was slowly but steadily loosing her eye-sight and it was this that helped her decide to retire from active duty at her beloved Central Catholic.

In her life review Mary Leo poignantly describes her own spiritual journey during what she calls her greatest years of growth, 1971-1975. She made her first directed retreat in 1971 and after several eight-day directed retreats asked to make the 30-day retreat in Hales Corners. She continued this spiritual journey throughout the years she spent in Grand Island. The Diocese had encouraged and supported the Pentecostal and Cursillo movements. May Leo became deeply involved, serving on Cursillo teams. She commented that for her it was a beautiful experience of praying and sharing.  Her retreats and her work brought her much consolation and strength which helped her through the chaos of the post Vatican II renewal in the community. “That was a time of frustration for me,” she wrote “prayer, community living, clothing, ministry — everything was changing. It took me some time to sort things out and be at ease with it, but as the years have gone on I feel it was one of the greatest things that happened in the Church and in religious life.”

As the years moved on, other members of her family experienced a variety of illnesses and Mary Leo always made the effort to be with them at critical times. The aging process was taking its toll on her and those she loved.  Her reflections on her family reveal the deep felt affection and faithful love of a large, faith filled family. In her memoirs she had written about her 60th Jubilee and the reception that her family hosted in Wilson at the parish center. All relatives and friends were invited. It was a grand affair and Mary Leo remembered it with relish.

She retired from Central Catholic in 2000 and took up work with the RCIA program, giving talks to prospective converts and acting as a facilitator for small groups in discussing the Word of God. She also visited the elderly in nursing homes and in their own homes. She also answered the phone at the rectory one day a week and helped with the cooking in the convent. At the same time she was slowly losing her eyesight.

In 2003 Mary Leo returned to the Motherhouse when it became evident that the convent in Grand Island had to be closed. Here she entered into the life of the Motherhouse community and continued to cope with her increasing loss of sight. Through the years as the limitation in her eyesight was inevitable she adapted well, accepting this diminishment gracefully.

Interestingly enough, Sister Mary Leo wrote an essay for the West Nebraska Register in October 1988 on the Gospel story of the blind Bartimaeus. In that essay she describes how blindness can be a spiritual condition, more serious than the physical handicap. She praises Bartimaeus because he had the faith that he needed to be healed. This applies, she says, to the spiritual healing needed as well as to physical healing. In the end, she states that it is only with the heart that we can see rightly. Her own increasing blindness became a means of ever-greater faith for her. She never stopped praying for faith and for patience and gratitude.

Through the years, Sister Mary Leo filled out her mission commitment statements. Over and over she committed herself to a life in community that was a life lived out of love. Her overall concern that community life was in the words of Psalm 133: “… how good and how pleasant it is when sisters live together in unity. For there the Lord bestows his blessings, even life forevermore” In that framework she promises to live a life of kindness, of loving and sharing, knowing that this will enable her to be a person of joy and peace.

We will miss her! We all remember her pocket. She could pull from her pocket everything from soup to nuts, literally and figuratively. It was just a matter of fact that she would have anything required at any time: screwdrivers and bottle openers, flashlights and glue, notepaper and even a hammer and nails. Capacious and ready for any occasion: that pocket, later turned pocketbook, was just a metaphor for how she lived in the world: ready for anything that was of service to others — with characteristic generosity, patience, congeniality and humility.

Sister Mary Leo Zeman, we remember you with profound gratitude  and joy. May you rest in peace!


One Response to “Eulogy for Sister Mary Leo Zeman, Dec. 12, 1917-Nov. 1, 2010”

  1. sr. Katarzyna Zdanowska on October 10th, 2020 12:43 pm

    What a beautiful and fulfilled religious life. Thanks be to GOD.

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