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
Father George Zabelka
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
His first appointment was as an
assistant to Reverend John Blasko,
He received a commission as a
1st Lieutenant and Chaplain on December 23rd. After
He was finally assigned to the
11th Airborne Division on Tinian and
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
Father Zabelka pointed out that in 1945,
"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
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
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.
Father George Zabelka
Father Zabelka served in the Occupation forces in
After returning to the
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
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
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
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
."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
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
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
What would have happened if
Concerning the morality of the atomic bomb, is there any
doubt that if either
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)