Br Zeno Zebrowski


Br Zeno Zebrowski

Mazowieckie, Poland
Death 24 Apr 1982 (aged 90)
Tokyo Metropolis, Japan
Burial Fuchū-shi, Tokyo Metropolis, Japan
Memorial ID 29914288 View Source
Suggest Edits

Zeno Zebrowski was born on December 27, 1891, as the fourth of Jozef Zebrowski and Anna Kozon's five children, in the village of Surowe, in the Province of Lomza, then part of the Russian Sector of partitioned Poland.

Christened Wladyslaw, in a Gothic Church in Myszyniec, in the former Diocese of Plock, Poland, he was confirmed in May 1912, in the beautiful Neo - Gothic Church, in the Parish of Czarnia, Poland, which originated in 1899. He spent his childhood and youth in the family home in a Religious Patriotic atmosphere. Without the fear of monetary fines, or even the real danger of deportation to Siberia, Wladyslaw's parents sent their children to secret classes, which were held quite often in their own home. According to family lore, Wladyslaw was a lad of many interests and at the same time, very energetic and lively, but somewhat unruly. In spite of the fact that this was a time of occupation, the Zebrowski family was pretty well off and belonged to the richer part of the Community.

Young Zeno, valuing his independence, recklessly spent his parents' money and was considered frivolous up to the moment of his internal transformation where he was inspired by the sermon given on St. Stanislaw Kostka's Feast Day at the Church fair in Rostków near Przasnysz. He also, did not always react positively to his worrisome mother's caring remarks and good advice. Only the shock of her sudden death, and the fact that he did not know about it and could not even attend her funeral provoked young Zebrowski to see life in a different light.

Wladyslaw was a handsome, energetic and happy youth. He liked to dress well and always looked for new experiences. His younger sister Helena remembered that concerning her brother, many rich girls vied for his attention. He, on the other hand, did not pay much attention to this, repeating constantly that it was not yet the time. Dormant in the young Wladyslaw was a restless sprit and an innate passion to roam. On July 1, 1919, after the end of World War I, When Poland regained it's long awaited Independence, Wladyslaw, pushed by his desire to experience something new and guided by the Patriotism carried from the family home, enlisted in the 1st Infantry Regiment of Legiony in Lomza. Shortly after, his Machine Gun Corps was dispatched to the defense of Wilno, which was threatened by the Bolsheviks. Because of his sudden illness during the campaign, he found himself in the Field Hospital in Komorow.

As soon as he felt better, he started to take care of the wounded soldiers brought over from the front line to the Hospital Barracks, where he often watched over the dying. When the need arose, he transported the deceased to the Cemetery. The range of his responsibilities in the Army changed with time. However, his internal perplexities did not stop tormenting him. His military career lasted less than three years. He said, "I quit, because in the Army the Officers make all the decisions, the Solders have nothing to say". This did not agree with his life's philosophy of absolute freedom. Wladyslaw, man of a resourceful nature, tried his luck at different professions. With the thought of making a fortune, he became a shareholder of the Maritime open peat mine near Gdansk. All his savings were lost there, as well as a considerable amount of his father's money. Later, he seriously considered opening a business with his older brother Joseph. His efforts were never immortalized by success.

The sudden death of his ever caring mother, along with the unfulfilled youthful desires and the unsuccessful enterprises, shook the views that young Wladyslaw held up to this moment. He began to wonder seriously about the real sense and goal of human existence. Certainly, more than ever, he recalls his dead mother's words, always encouraging her sons to desire heaven and to recite three Hail Mary's each night, in the hope of finding a good wife. He even had thoughts of staying in a strict Monastery of the Passionist Fathers in Przasnysz, where he could reinforce his faith in an atmosphere of work and prayer, and after a yearly stay amongst the monks, he would return to the layman's life and start his own family. Such thoughts whirled in his mind for a long time. Finally, young Zebrowski decided on an unexpected step. He resolved to devote his life to the service of God.

With such a resolve, one day he knocked on the gate of the Passionist Fathers in Przasnysz. To test the sincerity of the young man's intentions, the Abbot of the Monastery set rather harsh conditions and ordered him to wait one year for a final decision. Young Zebrowski accepted the challenge and decided to follow the recommendation from the Przasznysz Monks reliably. However, after a few impatient months of the long trial period, he knocked on the Capuchin Fathers' gate in Warsaw.

Accustomed to a comfortable life and of elegant attire, he was discouraged at the site of a Monk dressed in a shoddy habit, in addition to that, bald with a long beard and barefooted. Wladyslaw then went a bit farther to the Conventual Franciscan Fathers' Monastery in Warsaw, and knocked on their door. Charmed by the clean looking Monk, his beautifully tailored habit, well cut hair and nicely polished shoes, he decided to join the Franciscans. A smiling Brother gave him complete information about the Order and the principals of acceptance. Shortly after, Wladyslaw traveled to Grodno to begin his Novitiate there. On May 10, 1925, he presented himself in the Grodno Monastery with a valise, bursting at the seams with his personal belongings. Yet, the same evening, they stripped him of most of his possessions, and before long, cut his beautiful hair. For the aspirant to the Order, it was a bitter disappointment.

In Grodno, Wladyslaw met Fr. Maximilian Mary Kolbe for the first time, who would later become his direct Superior. Accustomed to freedom and a comfortable life, for a long time, young Zebrowski could not find his place in the harsh conditions of the Convent Life, where he experienced many spiritual crises. One day, he decided to leave the Monastery, realizing that this lifestyle is too difficult for him. However, he remained in the Order after a sincere talk with Fr. Kolbe. Five months after his arrival to Grodno, the aspirant Zebrowski, donned a Franciscan Habit and received the name of Zeno. At the same time, while learning the secrets of life of the Order, he helped in publishing a periodical, "Ryczerz Niepokalanej" - Knight of The Immaculate Conception - started by Fr. Maximilian Kolbe. Zeno then recognized his Spiritual Superior as a conscientious Priest and great admirer of the Mother of God. Brother Zeno quickly obtained the trust of the zealous, as well as demanding Fr. Maximilian.

Resourceful and technically capable, Zeno became Fr. Kolbe's right hand in organizing a new Convent and relocating the Editorial Offices of "Ryczerz Niepokalanej" to Teresin, near Warsaw. "Here, on the grounds donated by Prince Jan Drucki Lubecki, Br. Zenon, in August 1927, erected a pedestal on which he placed a statue of The Mother of God, The Immaculate Conception". This was the engraving on the corner stone on which the biggest Franciscan Convent in the world was built and received the name of "Niepokalanów". Two months later, the responsibility of building the first Barracks of Niepokalanów, was given to Br. Zeno. He started by putting up the Living Quarters for the Monks, as well as the buildings for the newly relocated Editorial Offices from Grodno of the periodic "Ryczerz Niepokalanów". Br. Zeno began his Novitiate on December 7, 1927, the day before the celebrations of The Immaculate Conception of The Holy Virgin Mary. He completed it successfully on December 15, 1928, and then he took his Monastic Vows for the next three years.

During the building of Niepokalanów, Br. Zeno came to be known as a zealous Monk and at the same time a good organizer, easily able to make contacts with people of different levels of society.

Br. Zeno's apostolic zeal, his technical talents and ingeniousness, were the reasons why Fr. Maximilian assigned him to the group departing to a Mission in the Far East. On February 26, 1930, along with Fr. Maximilian Kolbe and three other Brothers, Zeno left Poland to set out on his exhausting, overseas voyage. At first, the Missionaries sought success in Shanghai. After a short and not particularly interesting stay in that City, Fr. Maximilian undertook the decision to continue the trip to Japan, recommending however, that two of the brothers remain in China. He took Br. Zeno with him and they reached the Harbor City of Nagasaki on April 24. From this moment on, Japan will become a second homeland for the enthusiastic Missionary from the Zebrowski's clan.

In a very short time, in the "Land of Cherry Blossoms", Br. Zeno on the recommendation of Fr. Maximilian, undertook the task of finding a location for the Japanese "Niepokalanów", and from March of 1931, supervised the construction of a Monastery on acquired terrain at the base of Hikosan Mountain. Just like in Poland, Br. Zeno was responsible for many different matters. He took care of providing food to the Monastery as well distributing the Japanese version of "Niepokalanej" Periodical, entitled "Seibo no Kishi". On January 21, 1931, he took his Solemn Vows in the new Japanese "Niepokalanów".

From the beginning, Br. Zeno led an active Missionary Life fulfilling different functions, amongst others he was the Receptionist and was in charge of the Library and the lending of Religious Books. His gift of captivating people quickly became apparent, so that in spite of the linguistic barriers, he instantly communicated with the locals. When Japan, in coalition with Italy and Germany, entered into the Second World War, they confined all the foreigners into internment camps. During the period of heightened restrictions towards the foreigners, Zeno established friendly relations with the local Police, and as the only Monk from the Mission, could freely move about Nagasaki. He survived the explosion of an Atomic Bomb dropped on August 9 1945, by the Americans. In the face of the horrendous tragedy and human suffering, without caring for the harmful results of radiation, Br. Zeno began a Movement for saving victims in Nagasaki. Shortly after, in January 1946, he began his charitable work by founding an Orphanage for boys called Mugenzai no Sono. This is the name by which the Convents of Japan's "Niepokolanow" were known. Later, with Br. Zeno's efficient help, on November 11, 1946, the publication of "Saibo no Kishi" was revived. Thanks to his wit and many contacts, Br. Zeno in these very economically difficult times of Post War Japan, was able to negotiate the acquisition of paper, moulds, fonts and other necessary materials for printing. In August 1948, when he finalized the purchase of land in Tokyo Akabane, Br. Zeno himself, took charge of the construction of a Church and Monastery at this newly acquired place. At the same time in "Konagai", near Nagasaki, he was building an Orphanage.

The destructions of War, the helpless, the crippled and the homeless, the orphaned children of the streets, deeply moved the sensitive to human suffering. Br. Zeno. His charitable work took on stronger dimensions from day to day, and brought him renown. For this reason, on May 26, 1949, to the great surprise of the media and the whole nation, the Emperor Hirohito visited the orphanage built by Br. Zeno in Omura. This visit became the "water on the mill" for the Polish Franciscan.

In April 1951, while he stayed in Tokyo, Br. Zeno joined in the caring of approximately 6000 poor and homeless people. He helped them obtain materials to build modest shacks, and in his free time, he oversaw the continuation of the dynamic construction and often worked on it himself. Thus was born "Ari no Machi", which means, "Ant City". With the help of Br. Zeno, similar settlements were growing in many Regions of Japan, like mushrooms after the rain. In 1953, Br. Zeno's charitable work for the poor brought him general acclaim, and the Directors of the Japanese Railway, offered him free transportation in the entire Country.

Br. Zeno was reaching the poor in countless Towns and Hamlets. In relation to this, he traveled a lot, crossing Japan in every direction. Quite often the train became his home. Continuous work and lack of sufficient rest, slowly strained the health of the Polish Franciscan. In February of 1951, tired Br. Zeno fainted in the train on the way to Hiroshima. With lightening speed, this news spread throughout the whole Country. His health problems did not slowdown the activities of the Polish Missionary. He still served the needy with the same energy. In the year of 1962, an untiring apostle of goodness, received a parcel of land in the district of Hiroshima, where, with the help of soldiers and students, he built a home for children with special needs. In the following year, Br. Zeno suffered a heart condition and found himself in the Franciscan Sisters' Hospital in Himej. Once more, newspapers and radios informed the Japanese people of this incident. This provoked a wave of Japanese visitors, who brought him flowers and presents. The unselfish and self - sacrificing charitable activities of Br. Zeno, won him the sympathies of the press and photojournalists. The biggest Japanese newspapers competed with each other in relating the news of the activities of the "Father of the Poor", as he was often called. Many times, there were photo exhibitions organized about him, to which he was then invited. In the year, 1954, at the exhibition of the prestigious Gakushuin University of Tokyo, a large section was devoted to the achievements of the Polish Missionary. Not only was Br. Zeno the guest of honor at the envisage, but he also had the occasion to have a friendly conversation with the present Emperor Akihito, the Heir to the Throne.

Br. Zeno, favorite of the media, knew how to use them skillfully to popularize his actions. That is why he willingly granted interviews, in which he asked for support for his charitable work with the poorest of the poor. The Japanese reacted positively to the appeals of the Polish Missionary and gladly gave him material help for his needy.

Br. Zeno not only rushed to the aid of the homeless, abandoned and war abused, but also to those who suffered through earthquakes, floods, fires as well as those who lost their work because of the closing of factories and mines.

Br. Zeno's charitable activities often reached across the borders of Japan. Never did he remain indifferent to the tragedies of people in other countries. He organized the shipments of clothes, food, medications and money. That is how he reacted when the people of Nicaragua suffered the disaster of a horrific earthquake. In Tokyo, on December 26, 1972, he presented the Ambassador of Nicaragua with 22,000 Yen for the victims of that cataclysm. Very often, he helped the Vietnamese refugees, who in fear of Communist Repressions, fled to Cape Hope on Japanese land, risking their lives through stormy seas in small boats.

Br. Zeno, giving supports beyond the Japanese frontiers to the needy, who were most often the victims of natural disasters and wars, by taking advantage of an intermediary from the Japanese Red Cross. He also sent the donations to the suffering through the Consulates of different Countries, who held their Seats in Japanese Cities.

The poor from many countries profited from the help of Br. Zeno. Among them, were the poor from Korea, Vietnam, India, Birma, Peru, as well as from the previously mentioned Nicaragua. Often, Governments of those Countries rewarded Br. Zeno by awarding him with Diplomas, expressions of thanks and even with Decorations of Distinction. Therefore, on June 10, 1957, the Polish Franciscan received a Medal, a Diploma of Acknowledgement and expressions of gratitude from the Korean Government, and on November 27, 1975, he received a Diploma of Acknowledgement and expressions of gratitude from the Government of Nicaragua.

Br. Zeno also received many Japanese Awards, Decorations and Medals for his charitable work. Among them, The Order of Holy Treasure, awarded to him on July 15, 1969, by the Emperor. An unusual, rarely occurring event at the foot of Mount Fuji, on November 18, 1979, was the unveiling of a huge Monument of the still living Br. Zeno. This Monument was the joint masterpiece of the Polish Architect Adolf Ryszka and the Japanese Artist Togashi Hajme.

On June 8, 1976, The Polish Government honored their fellow compatriot, by presenting him with the Golden Cross of the Order of Merit, at the Polish Embassy in Tokyo.

On May 1, 1983, in Br. Zeno's family Parish in Czarnia, the dedicated commemorative tablet embedded in the Church's wall was consecrated to a great Pole and untiring Missionary of Japan, and on September 19, 1998, his Monument was unveiled in the same place. Books dedicated to the Apostle of the Poor appeared in Poland, Italy and Japan.

To popularize Br. Zeno's personality in Poland, the Polish Japanese Association organized post - mortem, photo - biographic exhibitions in selected Cities. The life and achievements of the Polish Missionary in Japan were perpetuated on film. The Japanese animated film made for children, "Zeno kagiri naki ai Ni" - Zeno, Unlimited Love - was produced in 1998. In 2001, a short firm depicting the life of Brother Zeno entitled, "Niespokojna Dusza" - The Restless Spirit - won an award in the International Catholic Film Festival in Niepolkalanow, Poland.

Br. Zeno was a hard working person, stubbornly striving to a designated target. He was a good Psychologist and knew how to cunningly take advantage of any situation, as well as every good means to realize his projects. The main goal of his Missionary Life was his concern with humanity, especially those in need. As a Missionary, he treated everyone as a whole person, equally taking care of his spiritual development, as well as his material needs. He knew quite well that in the first place, man must be fed and have a roof over his head, so that he can then be convincingly told about God's love of humanity. Br. Zeno naturally sensed that a hungry, homeless and broken down man, is incapable of listening to even the most beautiful of a Missionary's sermons. The simplicity of his heart, a natural friendliness, inherited shrewdness, the ability of making contacts and most of all a sensitivity to human suffering, helped him to find the key to people from different surroundings. The combination of all of these characteristics, helped in the construction of the Polish Niepokalanów, but it were perhaps even more helpful in distant Japan.

Br. Zeno had friends among the very poor, but also among the rich, often those occupying high Governmental positions. One such person was the distinguished Japanese Politician and Former Minister of Labour and Communication, Mr. Hakuei Ishida, who, at one of the interviews said among others, "I met Br. Zeno in 1957, when I became the Minister of Labour. This took place in the present District of Arakawa, which was previously a district of absolute poverty and populated by a multitude of unemployed and homeless. Those people, just to make a living, even sold their own blood, which drained them and made them weak. As the Minister of Labour, I organized regular medical checkups for them, in which Br. Zeno helped me a great deal. Later, I found out that Br. Zeno right after World War Two, when poverty reigned in Japan, he sacrificed devoted himself totally to the children he always had candies for them in his pockets, but rewarded only the hard working ones. After having met Br. Zeno personally, I concluded that this man would do everything to help others. We quickly befriended each other, so that even later on, I met with him three to four times a year". Having such an influential friend, and in addition, one who understood the problems of the destitute, the guardian of the poor often took advantage of his help.

For his projects, he gained the aide of Lay People, Priests and Nuns. Among the most dedicated co-workers, belonged Ms. Reiko Kitahara, from the "Ant City" in Tokyo and later Mr. Shizuki Edami, Founder of the Fuji Foundation. Br. Zeno appreciated the support a relative, the Polish Ambassador Tadeusz Zebrowski, who arrived to his Diplomatic Post in Tokyo in 1955, where he fulfilled his obligation for the next six years. Ambassador Tadeusz Zebrowski supported the activities of his distant cousin through his authority and his financial means. The benefits were mutual, since Br. Zeno's fame created a good atmosphere for the Polish Ambassador to work in Japan, and the Ambassador, taking advantage of his professional position, upon the request of Br. Zeno, negotiated with the authorities in Warsaw in the matter of facilitating the shipment of supplies from Poland, fulfilling the needs of the Mission in Japan. Br. Zeno, as well as his co - Friars traditionally celebrated Christmas Eve at the Ambassador's home. Tadeusz Zebrowski quite often donated sizable sums of money to the charitable activities of his relative.

Br. Zeno had many influential friends who supported his beliefs. The Emperor Hirohito and his family were also part of this group of friends and the Polish Missionary often met with members of the Emperor's family. The Emperor Hirohito even gave Br. Zeno a special official letter of recommendation in which he appealed to the Japanese population, so that whoever was asked by the Polish Franciscan for help, they could not refuse him. Br. Zeno quite often made good use of that letter. His album, containing photos of himself with the Emperor, the afore mentioned official letter and press clippings describing the charitable work of the caretaker of the needy, was opening the hearts and wallets of the directors of numerous firms, which the Franciscan Missionary with the grey beard was able to reach.

Br. Zeno's diplomatic talents were also useful during contacts with his nephew Joseph, a fighter pilot on the American Carrier and his colleagues. This ship, based in Okinawa often visited the Nagasaki Harbor. Br. Zeno, frequently a guest on this ship, where he was always greeted with great honors. Zeno usually told the sailors about his work and of the vast needs of his poor people. He also asked them for the material support for the huge legions of needy under his charge. Thanks to the intervention of Br. Zeno's nephew Joseph Zebrowski, he received a large amount of food, blankets, first aid kits and medications, from the warehouses of the American Army. A recording was preserved of a conversation held on the carrier deck, in 1954, which Jozef Zebrowski had with his uncle, the Apostle of Mercy.

In 1971, the great Missionary of Japan, for the first and the last time, visited his Old Country to the great rejoice of his family. He was fervently begged to stay in Poland and spend the rest of his life amongst his own. His reply was that he still has much work in Japan and that he is awaited there. While overjoyed in seeing his friends and family, his thoughts and heart on the other hand were in far away Japan, his second homeland. He expresses this sentiment publicly in an interview on Polish television, on Olgierd Budrewicz's program, "Klub Szesciu Kontinentów" - Club of Six Continents.

On October 17, 1971, Br. Zeno, deeply moved, experienced great joy at the Beatification of his Master and Founder of the Japanese Mission, Martyr of Auschwitz, Friar Maximilian Kolbe. During his stay in Rome, he met Pope Paul VI and Krakow's Archbishop, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the Future Pope John Paul II.

After his return to Japan, Br. Zeno steadfastly continued his charitable work. Incessant work and fatigue finally drained the strength of the Champion of the poor. In 1978, Br. Zeno was admitted to a Hospital in Tokyo. On January 2, 1979, Father Mieczyslaw Mirochana administered the Sacrament of the Sick to a much weakened Br. Zeno. On February 23, 1981, during the first days of the Papal Pilgrimage to Japan, Br. Zeno was transported from the Hospital to Tokyo's Cathedral for a meeting with the Holy Father, John Paul II. This occurrence was described in detail in every Japanese Newspaper.

Throughout the last three years of his life, Br. Zeno was constantly hospitalized. Often, the Japanese people visited him expressing in this way their eternal gratitude. Among one of the visitors was the present Empress Michiko, the wife of the Heir apparent to the Throne.

Br. Zeno ended his own earthly pilgrimage on April 24 1982, on the 52nd Anniversary of his arrival to the Mission in the land of the "Cherry Blossom".

He died in the realm of Sainthood. Because of his readiness to the greatest of sacrifices, the Japanese called him, "Alter Christus" or "Second Christ" or "Second St. Francis". For the Japanese, Br. Zeno became a symbol of Christian Love. He was also a precursor of volunteerism in Japan. Earlier, the word "Volunteer" did not exist in Japan. Thanks to Br. Zeno's selfless work, which emanated from the Spirit of the Gospel, this new word was inscribed forever into the Dictionary of the Japanese Language and Mentality.

His Funeral took place on April 26, in Akabane, Tokyo. The Apostolic Nuncio to Japan, Archbishop Mario Pio Gaspari and Archbishop of Tokyo, Msgr. Petro Seiichi Shirayanagi celebrated the Solemn Mass, assisted by fifty Priests. Before the Mass, the Nuncio read a telegram from Rome, with condolences from The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. There were also other telegrams, as well as over forty Funeral wreaths. Br. Zeno was buried in a double coffin, made of metal and wood, at the Fuchu Catholic Cemetery in Tokyo. Immediately after his funeral, the Japanese press and television extensively informed the nation of his achievements in Japan. On May 31, the overseas Polish Radio Service, broadcasted a special program about the deceased Br. Zeno Zebrowski.

Although Br. Zeno departed from this world, his spirit and deeds, which he initiated, will go on from generation to generation, serving the needy people in Japan and beyond her borders. Equally, his memory will live forever in his homeland, owing to the Monument, erected in his honor by his Countrymen in his place of birth. The permanence of this memory will be reinforced with the Museum dedicated to him in his Home Parish, with Schools and streets carrying his name, articles in the press, symposiums, book editions and ever increasing scientific publications devoted to his person. The memory of Br. Zeno and his Missionary Work on Japanese soil, undoubtedly will last through generations in the consciousness of his enormous and world spread family.


In their memory
Plant Memorial Trees

Sponsored by Ancestry