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In remembrance – Abbot Clement Zeleznik, OSB

In Remembrance

May 7, 2021

Abbot Gary Hoover, OSB was the principal celebrant at the May 7 funeral Mass in St. Andrew Abbey church for retired Abbot Clement Zeleznik, OSB.

Abbot Zeleznik, 89, the fifth abbot of St. Andrew Abbey in Cleveland, died May 3. He was a monk for 67 years and a priest for 61 years.

Baptized as Leo Zeleznik in 1931, he was the son of the late George and Helen (Richnasky) Zeleznik of Cleveland. He was preceded in death by three brothers, James (killed in the Korean War in 1953), Donald and Thomas; and two sisters, Notre Dame Sister Mary Jonathan and Notre Dame Sister Regina Marie. He grew up in St. Benedict Parish in Cleveland, which was staffed by the Benedictine monks of St. Andrew Abbey.

Abbot Zeleznik was valedictorian of the Benedictine High School class of 1950. He helped organize the first cross country team and was a standout athlete in the school’s track program. After two years of undergraduate studies at St. Procopius College in Lisle, Illinois, he entered St. Andrew Abbey as a novice and received the religious name of Clement. He professed his first vows in 1953.

The abbot earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota and continued his studies for the priesthood at the former St. Joseph’s Seminary of the Blessed Sacrament Fathers in Cleveland. He was ordained a priest on May 23, 1959 by Auxiliary Bishop Floyd Begin in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Cleveland.

He taught physics and theology at 1960-1970 and 1973-1997 at Benedictine. He also coached the varsity tennis team, served as school chaplain and was one of the founding members of the Benedictine High School Board of Education in 1968.

Abbot Zeleznik earned advanced degrees in physics from the University of Notre Dame (1963); religious education from Loyola University of Chicago (1969); and in spirituality and religious formation from Duquesne University’s Institute of Man (1973).

In 1996, he published “To My Priests,” an English translation of a book of private, spiritual revelations by Concepcion Cabrera de Armida, a 20th century Mexican mystical writer, mother and widow who founded several religious orders and who was beatified in 2019.

Earlier in 1996, he served on an advisory board to give shape to the research of Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard University Medical School. Dr. Benson had been working with a grant from the Fetzer Institute in Michigan for researching the measurable effects of intercessory prayer on people who had coronary bypass surgery. Later, the abbot became involved in healing ministry and conducted many healing Masses in parish churches.

In the monastery, he served as the director of formation and novice master 1976-1997. He was a popular retreat master for religious communities and developed a large network of counselees for spiritual direction that continued even when he entered Regina Health Center about a year ago. During the lockdown of the facility during the coronavirus pandemic, Abbot Zeleznik provided spiritual direction through phone conversations.

From 1997-2001, he served as parochial vicar at Assumption Parish in Broadview Heights, a parish administered by the abbey. While there, he was involved with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, Scripture study, religious education, evangelization, retreats and he established a partnership program with a struggling parish in Haiti that he visited. He also started the parish’s continuous Eucharistic adoration.

On June 8, 2001, he was elected the fifth abbot of St. Andrew Abbey, succeeding Abbot Roger Gries, OSB who had been appointed auxiliary bishop of Cleveland.

He proposed changes at Benedictine and devised a successful method for addressing financial obligations. In addition, he oversaw a successful $4 million capital campaign (2001-2005) to renovate all the classrooms in the 1940 high school building and to increase its endowment. He endorsed a closer and more effective relationship between the abbey and a new Benedictine community in Slovakia, which he visited in 2004.

Abbot Zeleznik resigned as superior of the abbey in 2008 at the age of 76. In 2011, he accepted an assignment as chaplain in residence for Loyola Retreat House in Clinton, which came under sponsorship by the abbey the previous year. During the next seven years, he gave numerous retreats and days of recollection before returning to the abbey in 2018 for health reasons.

Burial was May 8 in the monastic plot at Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland.

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