Year of St. Joseph: Father’s memory makes pope’s proclamation special

Elsie and Joseph Zloza attend a banquet in 1974, just months before he suffered his first heart attack and became one of the first open heart surgery patients in Northwest Indiana. That surgery gifted him with another two years of life, long enough to see his dream come true as his only child graduated from college. (Provided photo)


       When I first read in December that Pope Francis had proclaimed a Year of St. Joseph for 2021, it brought an instant smile to my face, and anyone who knows me could tell you why.

       My father’s name was Joseph John Zloza, and although he died 44 years ago, he remains the biggest male influence in my life. I love him dearly, and there isn’t a day that I don’t think of some bit of wisdom he spoke, cherish something he did or remember some trait of his that I inherited.

       I am his only child, and he always smiled proudly when people used to joke that, “You couldn’t ever lose her on a street corner, Joe, because anyone who found that kid would immediately bring her back to you.” I looked that much like him.

He never once indicated that he wished he had a son, but always made me feel that I was exactly what he’d hoped for and more than enough to fulfill his dreams. As an adult, my mom and I became best friends, but until the day he died when I was 23, I was daddy’s girl.

       There is so much about my dad that I admire, and that’s why I’ll embrace every day of this Year of St. Joseph. I am a big admirer of St. Joseph, and I know it’s because I see so many of his beautiful qualities reflected in the life of my dad.

       In his proclamation, Pope Francis noted that St. Joseph was “a carpenter who earned an honest living to provide for his family,” and while my dad wasn’t a carpenter, he certainly followed St. Joseph’s example, working three jobs – days, nights and weekends - when I was young to provide for his family. After working a full day at E. J. & E. Railroad in Gary, he worked the evening shift at a gas station he co-owned with a friend, and on weekends he sometimes took me along as he visited the homes of insurance customers to personally collect their policy premiums.

       He never complained, and somehow always had time for barbecues, tending our backyard vegetable garden, weekly Mass, long Sunday afternoon drives that always ended with a stop at a hamburger drive-in or an ice cream parlor, and grocery shopping with my maternal grandmother (and plenty of coupons).

       And just as St. Joseph dutifully packed up his wife Mary for Bethlehem, protected her as she gave birth, and later kept his family safe during their sojourn in Egypt, my dad took care of his family during annual August vacations by car to Florida for fishing (him), swimming (me) and shopping (mom). He also broadened my horizons by planning a sightseeing trip to Washington, D.C. when I was a pre-teen and showing me what true charity and compassion meant on a tour of St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. He was a lifelong financial supporter of the medical center founded by entertainer Danny Thomas, most impressed that families were never charged for the care and treatment their children received.

       Our Sunday drives often included traveling down an unfamiliar road he’d noticed days or weeks earlier when he was too busy for exploring. “Let’s just see where this takes us,” he’d say. From an early age, I was given the maps and charged with being the navigator on our trips, and I credit my keen sense of direction to my dad’s tutelage

       Also like St. Joseph, my dad served as a role model for “a respectful and sensitive man,” as described by the pope. He never spoke unkindly of anyone, was unfailingly patient with all, lent a hand whenever asked, and was courteous to everyone he met.

       A keen observer of the world around him, he patiently sat on a bench observing the swirl of people at a shopping mall as my mom enjoyed a shopping spree. When I tired of the stores and joined him on the bench, he would point out things and people he noticed, but only in a kind and curious way.

       Curiosity is the trademark of a news reporter, and I know I inherited mine from my dad. He died before computers offered instant answers to everything, so instead we “looked things up” in the set of encyclopedias he bought on installment before I could even read. He read daily newspapers and magazines about cars and business and foreign lands, and made sure I had a library card and encouraged me to use it every week.

       There’s no doubt in my mind that I owe my chosen profession to the man who dedicated his life to his family and made sure his only child had every opportunity for a better life. He left school after the 10th grade to go to work to help his parents and younger siblings, but he was the smartest man I knew, because he never stopped learning.

       I know how important an education was to him, because he began buying U.S. Savings Bonds the day I was born as a way to finance my college education. My mom told me he “cried like a baby” the day he watched from the bleachers as I received my diploma from the University of Notre Dame, just a year after he survived open heart surgery and a year before he suffered his fatal heart attack.

       I thank God my dad was alive to witness what I know was his proudest moment, because in so many ways he made it possible. He is my St. Joseph, and the reason I will treasure this Year of St. Joseph in a very special way.

      The Northwest Indiana Catholic would like to publish stories in this Year of St. Joseph about other special connections to St. Joseph as suggested by our readers. If you have a story idea, please email it to and include your name and phone number so you can be contacted.