Fr. Warren Zeisler, OFM
He always stood tall
BY TONI CASHNELLI
It was an ordinary photo of an extraordinary friar.
Two years ago Fr. Jim Bok took this picture of Fr. Warren Zeisler mowing the grass at St. John the Baptist Friary in Sharonville, Ohio.
For Warren, 92 at the time, it was no big deal. For others, it was a striking example of a man who never let age interfere with his ministry, his love of gardening, his zest for learning or his social life.
After his death in May, those close to Warren remembered his energy and stamina, even in the face of leukemia and hearing problems. "What a great role model he was for an aging guy," says Fr. John Bok, Warren’s Guardian at St. John the Baptist Friary. "Always positive, putting one foot in front of the other. He was a John Wayne-type guy: Stand tall and move forward. Don’t fuss with bellyaching and whining." That attitude made Warren much admired as he seamlessly moved into his 70s, 80s and 90s.
Fr. Warren moving the grass at St. John the Baptist friary was a role model for aging.
But it was his decency and dedication that earned him the lifelong respect of the friars, students, Sisters and military veterans he ministered to for almost 70 years.
"He was a fine man," says John. "All I ever heard from guys who went to the high school seminary [Warren was a teacher and disciplinarian] was that he was very much admired. At the VA hospital [as chaplain for 20-plus years], everyone would speak positively of Warren. He was there for the veterans."
And he was there for the Sisters he served. In the 1960s, while teaching at Roger Bacon High School, "He was assigned as chaplain to our community," says Dominican Sr. Monica McGloin. "He would come every morning and have Mass. After Mass he would go to the dining room and read the paper, and then go off to school." Later, "We got to know him. He would come over on Friday evenings and play cards. And then he got more involved with the people we were working with in the West End." When local kids needed tutors, "Warren ran the program. He got students from Roger Bacon to come over on Saturday mornings and had them work with the children.
Fr. Warren at the VA chapel
"Then he would offer to do things, go to people’s homes, paint or clean or do repairs for them. He loved working with the people. He was such a respectful man. He was so accepting, and people loved him." When Warren was assigned to the veterans’ hospital, "We liked him so much we said, ‘You don’t have to come here as chaplain, just stay connected.’ He was a very good friend. We always thought we were family."
Later, as chaplain for the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in Reading, "He was absolutely, totally reliable," says John. "He assumed the job was more than doing Mass. He would visit Sisters in the hospital or visit incapacitated Sisters in their rooms. He knew every Sister – there were probably 80 – by name." Even as Warren’s health declined, "He would find a way of getting there. It was his job and he knew the Sisters counted on him."
Warren was 87, the senior in the house, when John moved to St. John the Baptist Friary in 2011. "Warren didn’t want the landscapers [on the property] to do the patch of yard where he had flowers," John says. "Every day he was out there pushing a wheelbarrow or mowing the grass."
A voracious reader, "He kept trying to keep informed. He loved to read the paper. He loved sports. He worked on the puzzles every day. Warren had many different prayers memorized. We would end the meal praying the Angelus. He never had to look at the card." When he preached, he never needed notes. "He was sharp until the very end."
Warren had a lot of lay friends, John says. "Every month he’d go to Foley’s Pub in Reading with some of the guys from Roger Bacon." But sometimes in later life, "He found it difficult to talk to people because he was so dog-gone deaf," an infirmity inherited from his mother. "So he ended up being sort of quiet." If this frustrated Warren, you would never have known. "He was a ‘male’ male, even more than most guys, not showing emotions."
Ever pragmatic, Warren knew his limitations. When the time came, "He gave up his car keys himself," John says. "He said, ‘I think I should stop driving.’" When he was no longer self-sufficient, "Warren made the decision himself when it was time to go to assisted care" at Archbishop Leibold Home.
Like everyone else, John says, "I was in awe of his attitude."
Fr. Warren accepting a plaque at his VA retirement party in 1999