Friday, February 20, 2015

Bro. Bernard Zdanowicz, SDB

Bro. Bernard Zdanowicz, SDB (1924-2015)

Bro. Bernard Zdanowicz, SDB, ended his earthly pilgrimage early on Feb. 20 at the Joe Raso Hospice Residence in New City, N.Y., after a long illness related to heart problems. A member of the SDB community of the Marian Shrine-Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw-Stony Point, he was 90 years old and had been professed as a Salesian brother for more than 58 years.

Bernie was born in Trenton, N.J., on July 26, 1924, the 5th of the 12 children of Stanley and Stanislava Wisniewska Zdanowicz. The family belonged to Holy Cross Parish, where Bernie was baptized on Aug. 8, 1924, and later confirmed. He attended Holy Cross School in Trenton. The guidance of the Felician Sisters in the school and Bernie’s participation in the parish choir for many years helped foster in him a religious vocation that emerged years later.

He was graduated from Trenton Central High School in 1942, where he played football three years. Drafted into the Army, he served with the 69th Infantry Division and, following illness, in work battalions from 1942 to 1945.

After being discharged, he worked as a postal clerk in Trenton and used the G.I. Bill to get training as an auto mechanic. He worked as a mechanic from 1948 to 1953. At that time, Bro. Bernie said, he was “seized by a great devotion to our Lady and the Holy Rosary promoted by Fr. Patrick Peyton and his Family Rosary Program, and felt God’s presence and vibrant urge to give myself to God and serve his people.”

So at age 29 Bernie went with his dad to see their pastor. They looked into several religious orders but found that only the Salesians had a suitable program for “late” vocations. He entered Don Bosco Seminary in Newton, N.J., in October 1953 and spent two years doing preparatory studies. In September 1955 he was admitted to the novitiate, and on Sept. 8, 1956, professed vows with 20 young Salesians. Bro. Bernie felt “an intimate and personal encouragement from Don Bosco himself” at that time.

Bro. Bernie’s classmate Fr. Tom Juarez remembers him with deep appreciation: “Gentleness was inscribed deeply into Bro. Bernie’s person. It was there in his eyes, in his smile, in the way he walked and interacted with people. It flowed from his warm love for Jesus and Mary. You had to love him. I think of a phrase in Spanish used to describe a good person: tan bueno como el pan (as good as bread). He will be a wonderful intercessor from heaven.”

At the celebration of Bro. Bernie's 25th anniversary (a half year late, 2/14/82),
he was joined in song by DBT's DRA Fr. Steve Schenck
Immediately after his profession, Bro. Bernie was sent to Don Bosco Technical HS in Paterson, N.J., to teach automotive technology, and he remained there until 1993. His students were very fond of him, and he was well liked and respected by all of the staff. He was famous for working with donated clunkers to get them into roadworthy condition—although that might have depended upon one’s definition of “roadworthy”—for keeping the shop spotless, and for his cheerful attitude.

A former Salesian fondly remembers Bro. Bernie’s serenity when confreres in the Paterson community would tease him. He continues: “While I was there he often asked me to take a car to the Motor Vehicles for inspection [explaining], ‘The collar helps. When I got there the inspectors usually announced that there was a ‘Bro. Bernie Special’ in the station. They were always professional, but their affection was evident.”

Fr. Tony Mastroeni of the Paterson Diocese has this memory of Bro. Bernie: “I knew Bro. Bernie from the Tech in Paterson. During my seminary days at Darlington, and during the summer months, I ran the Neighborhood Youth Corps, a federal/state anti-poverty program whose aim it was to find suitable summer jobs for poor high school students, for which the government paid the modest weekly salary. I would always place my best boys with Bro Bernie at the Tech, for he would not only teach them auto mechanics but form them by his sterling example. Often I would visit in the afternoons, and their heads were in some engine, while in the background could be heard Brother’s radio, which was usually playing some religious station—often an evangelical one—with a strong message about Jesus. He was so good to these kids who could never afford even the modest tuition of the Tech. I think Bernie, like so many coadjutor [brothers], was our saint from Trenton.”
DBT was unable to keep up with the increasing technical sophistication of automobiles. So the auto shop was closed in 1993. At age 69 Bro. Bernie was assigned as caregiver and administrator of Blue Gate, the Salesian residence for sick and elderly confreres in Stony Point, N.Y. But he also maintained the vehicles of the adjacent Marian Shrine-Don Bosco Retreat House. With the closure of the residence in 1999, Bro. Bernie moved to the Marian Shrine to continue caring for the vehicles, help in the gift shop, and assist the pilgrims who visit the Shrine on weekends—all of which he kept up as best he could into his 91st year, despite various physical ailments.

Salesian Cooperator Arthur Yankowski of the Stony Point unit recalls Bro. Bernie’s warmth: “A smile and a Salesian greeting was always there to greet me, and I was blessed to have been there for our meetings.”

In the fall of 2014 he was admitted to Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, N.Y., with a serious heart problem, and death seemed imminent. But the situation was not quite so dire, and he recovered sufficiently to return home in a couple of weeks. Bro. Bernie was genuinely disappointed not to have gone to heaven instead! But he needed more and more care and was in increasing physical difficulty, so that early in February he was admitted to hospice care at Joe Raso.

Bro. Bernie’s wake will be held in the Marian Shrine chapel, 174 Filors Lane, Stony Point, N.Y. 10980, on Monday, February 23, from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m.

The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated in the chapel at 7:00 p.m. with Fr. Tom Dunne, provincial, presiding. Fr. Jay Horan will give the homily.

Bro. Bernie will be laid to rest among his confreres in the Salesian Cemetery in Goshen, N.Y., on Tuesday, February 24, at 10:00 a.m.

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