Father George Zabelka

Updated: 22 March 2010

Father George Zabelka was the first pastor of St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Marcellus, MI. He served the parish until 21 July 1958 when he was replaced by Rev. Anthony Wade. Father Wade took up his duties as pastor of St. Mary's Church, Paw, MI on 07 March 1960. In August, 1957, Father Wade transferred his residence from Marcellus to Mattawan to open the parochial grade school there. He continued to care for the spiritual needs of both St. John Bosco Church in Mattawan and St. Margaret Mary Church in Marcellus. Father Wade will be succeeded by the Reverend Leo Zavatsky, who is presently pastor of St. Joseph Church in Gaines, MI. (Source: Marcellus News, 17 March 1960)

Obituary from the Marcellus News:

Father George Zabelka

Father George Zabelka, age 76, of Flint, died Saturday, April 11, 1992 in Flint, following a long illness.

Father Zabelka was born May 18, 1915 in St. Johns, the son of John and Katherine (Zobek) Zabelka.

Father Zabelka was ordained June 7, 1941 by Most Reverend Joseph H. Albers, Bishop of the Lansing Diocese. He celebrated his first Mass on June 12, 1941 at St. Joseph Church in St. Johns. He was then moved to Sacred Heart parish in Flint and served as assistant pastor from 1941 to 1943. From 1943 to 1946 he was in the U.S. Army and served as chaplain. During World War II he blessed the crew of the Enola Gay before their mission on Hiroshima. He was discharged from Fort Lewis, Washington in December 1946 with the rank of Major, and then was assistant pastor at St. Thomas Aquinas parish in East Lansing, where he continued his service until 1951.

On November 6, 1951 he was given the position of pastor at the newly formed Catholic church in Marcellus, St. Margaret Mary. He celebrated the first Mass here on December 9, 1951, and continued to serve here until 1955 when he was moved to Flint. In 1969 he moved to St. Johns until 1971 and then to Mason until his retirement in 1976.

Father Zabelka was best known for his active role in the Peace movement and marched for Peace across the country since his discharge from the service.

A funeral Mass was held at 12:00 noon Wednesday, April 16, 1992 in Flint at Sacred Heart Church.

From the Marcellus News:

Father George Zabelka


By Dave Thornton

World War II Veterans

"The Way It Was"

Part 1


Father George Zabelka


From the Marcellus News, Thursday, 09 August 2001  

  On Sunday, August 19th, St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church will celebrate its 50th Anniversary.

The first priest to serve at the church was Father George Zabelka. During WWII, he served as a chaplain to several army units, and the following story tells of the deep emotional impact his experiences had on him.


  Following college at Sacred Heart Seminary, Detroit , Michigan and 4 years at Mt. St. Mary's Seminary, Cincinnati, Ohio, George Zabelka was ordained June 14, 1941 by the Most Reverend Joseph H. Albers, Bishop of the Lansing Diocese.


  His first appointment was as an assistant to Reverend John Blasko, Sacred Heart Church , Flint , Michigan in June of 1941, where he served until December 23, 1943.


  He received a commission as a 1st Lieutenant and Chaplain on December 23rd. After Chaplain School at Harvard University , he was assigned to Wright Field , Ohio and from there to the 309th General Hospital .


  He was finally assigned to the 11th Airborne Division on Tinian and Saipan Islands during the mopping-up campaign in the spring and early summer of 1945.


  By August of 1945, Fr. Zabelka was stationed on Tinian Island as pastor and priest for the 509th Composite Bomb Group -- the same group that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


  Prior to the dropping of the first atom bomb, Father Zabelka said mass, heard confessions and counseled troubled airmen, just as other chaplains did. Neither he, nor the men he served, knew that they were preparing to drop an atomic bomb. They knew that they were preparing to drop a bomb that was substantially different and more powerful than even the "blockbusters" used over Europe . It was never referred to as an atomic bomb, and they never really knew what it was until after they dropped it off August 6, 1945.


  Father Zabelka pointed out that in 1945, " Tinian was the largest airport in the world. Three planes a minute could take off from it around the clock. Many of those planes were B-29s, headed for Japan with the express purpose of killing, not one child or civilian, but a slaughtering hundreds and thousands, and tens of thousands of children and civilians, and I said nothing."


  "Yes, I knew children and Civilians were being destroyed, and I knew it, perhaps, in a way that others didn't. Yet, I never preached a single sermon against killing civilians to the men who were doing it."


  Father Zabelka's comments point out the great moral controversy about war. For many, World War II was considered a "just" war because of Hitler's mad plan to enslave all of Europe, and Japan ' s goal of conquering all of Asia . Japan ' s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor united Americans with the determination that we must fight to stop the aggression of both Germany and Japan . A popular song following the attack on Pearl Harbor was "Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition," that made most of us feel that even the churches supported America ' s entry into the war.


  For pacifists and isolationists, the saying, “There is no such thing as a ‘good’ war or a ‘bad’ peace,” seemed to suggest that even WWII could not be condoned.


  Following the end of the war, Father Zabelka was in Japan and saw first-hand the terrible destruction and suffering at Hiroshima and Nagasaki . This experience, and his guilt over not speaking out against the slaughter of civilians, changed his life forever.


  From that point on, he was an avowed pacifist and spent the rest of his life working for peace and the prevention of war.



  Next week—More on Father Zabelka’s pacifist philosophy and his crusade for non-violence.



By Dave Thornton

World War II Veterans

"The Way It Was"

Part 2


Father George Zabelka


From the Marcellus News, Thursday, 16 August 2001


Father Zabelka served in the Occupation forces in Japan from September, 1945 to November of 1946. He was first stationed on the southern island of Honshu , then to Tokyo , and finally at Yamagata in northern Honshu Island . During this time, he made 6 parachute jumps with his airborne division.

After returning to the U.S. , he was discharged from Fort Lewis , Washington in December of 1946 with the rank of Major.

Following his discharge, Father Zabelka held positions at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, East Lansing, Michigan; the Newman Club at Michigan State College and was Catholic Chaplain at the Boys Vocational School in Lansing.

In addition to his religious duties, he was a member of the Michigan National Guard and was assigned as Catholic Chaplain of the 125th Infantry Regiment, with headquarters in Flint , Michigan .

Over the next 20 years, he came to the realization that what he had done and believed during the war was strong, and he felt that the only way he could be a true Christian was to be a pacifist.

In 1972, he met Charles C. McCarthy, a theologian, lawyer, and a father of 10. McCarthy, who founded the Center for the Study of Nonviolence at the University of Notre Dame, was leading a workshop in nonviolence at Zabelka's church. The two men fell into the first of several conversations about the issues of nonviolence. During the course of the conversations, McCarthy asked Father Zabelka why he never spoke out against the killing of civilians in the Japanese air raids.

Zabelka replied, "Because I was "brainwashed." It never entered my mind to publicly protest the consequences of these massive air raids. I was told it was necessary; told openly by the military and implicitly by my church's leadership. The whole structure of the secular, religious and military society told me clearly that it was all right to "let the Japs have it."

."I was brainwashed, not by force or torture, but by my Church's silence and wholehearted cooperation, in thousands of little ways, with the country's war machine.

The dialogue continued for some time until Father Zabelka explained his con- version to the pacifist and nonviolent viewpoint. He pointed out that "Until the various churches within Christianity repent and began to proclaim by word and deed what Jesus preached with relation to violence and enemies; there is not hope for anything other than escalating violence and destruction." As Martin Luther King said, "The choice is between nonviolence or nonexistence."

In an ideal world, with all its population convinced that there is no other solution, such a condition might be possible. But even if all Christians could be persuaded to be nonviolent, what about the fanatic Muslims who preach for the Jihad, or holy war, for the destruction of Israel . Century-long ethnic hatreds in Ireland , Africa , In- dia/Pakistan, the Balkans and many other areas still rage on with no end in sight.

All of human history is a record of man's aggressive nature. Leader after leader, from Genghis Kahn, Attila the Hun, Vlad the Impaler to Hitler, Tojo, Milosevic and Saddam Hussein, have preached ethnic hatred and waged wars of extermination and ethnic cleansing.

What would have happened if America had taken a completely pacifist attitude and had refused to enter World War II, even when attacked by Japan ? It has been suggested that, today, all those east of the Mississippi would be "goose-stepping" and greeting each other with "Heil Whoever," and all those west of the Mississippi would be bowing and shouting "Banzai" to the Japanese Emperor.

Concerning the morality of the atomic bomb, is there any doubt that if either Germany or Japan had developed such a bomb, before us, that they would have used it immediately against the Allies? (Incidentally, Germany was ahead of the U.S. in the development of such a bomb until a British Commando raid destroyed their heavy water research plant in Norway ) Germany 's V-2 rockets, equipped with atomic warheads, would have totally destroyed all the major cities of Britain and most of the eastern half of the United States .

As one of the thousands of soldiers sitting in staging areas allover the Pacific, waiting to go in on the invasion of the Japanese homeland, it is difficult for me to say that President Truman should not have used the atom bombs.

Military experts, after viewing the defenses of the Japanese islands and the fanatical dedication of all Japanese to defend their islands, and their Emperor, have pointed out. that the invasion would have resulted in the destruction of millions of Japanese soldiers and civilians, as well as over a million Allied casualties.

We can only hope, that somehow, at some time in the future; mankind will see the insanity and futility of war as a means of solving human differences. Perhaps, one day we will reach that point where, "What if they gave a war and nobody came!”


Blessing the Bombs by George Zabelks

A Military Chaplain Repents interview by Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy

The Bombing of Nagasaki August 9, 1945: The Untold Story by Gary G. Kohls

The Ninth of August by Gary G. Kohls

Should a Christian Be a Military Chaplain? by Laurence M. Vance

Thoughts on violence from the WWII priest who blessed the atomic bombs (blog)