Fr. Jerry Zawada, OFM memorial peace vigil and celebration of life, November 13, 2017, Tucson, Arizona


On November 13, 2017, the day after the conclusion of the SOA Watch Border Encuentro, there was a peace vigil at Tucson’s drone base in honor of Fr. Jerry Zawada, OFM, followed by a celebration of his life.  You can read more about Jerry here

Read the program from Fr. Jerry Zawada’s Celebration of Life here: JerryProgramFinal_A

See photos from the memorial peace vigil at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base here:

See photos from the Celebration of Life here:

Processional song – Sacred Creation, text based on “The Canticle of Brother Sun”, by St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), adapted by Rufino Zaragoza (1990); Music by Rufino Zaragoza (1990) – LISTEN HERE

Click here to watch an edited video of the peace vigil and Celebration of Life (22 minutes) –

This audio clip, played at Jerry’s August funeral in Wisconsin and at his celebration of life, is from the beginning of a talk he gave in New York on December 2, 2001, ending with his sharing the words of Sr. Ita Ford, one of four churchwomen who were abducted, raped and murdered in El Salvador on that date 21 years earlier.  LISTEN HERE: 

Readings from the program:


On December 5, 2007, Jerry was not allowed to share this statement in a Tucson federal courtroom, before he was sent to prison for his November 2007 action at Ft. Huachuca protesting torture training:

I stand in awe and gratitude to so many who showed me how to live and act in these days – courageous people, some who have already moved on to the other side of life, who continue to bring to this earth a powerful message of what is needed to be done at this ominous juncture in human history – 

a thorough commitment to nonviolence, to a world where people of all backgrounds, nations and ways of life are respected and cherished, people who say NO, absolutely NO, to all forms of torture, all forms of dehumanizing practices, NO to warfare of any kind, certainly to one which is unprovoked and based on falsehood, NO to sanctions which bring about the deaths of thousands of innocents….

and YES to the reality that we are able to live as one family on this planet.  It is on account of the example of these courageous people that I have acted with others to draw attention to what is happening at Ft. Huachuca and its participation in bringing about a regime that condones unmitigated abuse of truth and opens the door to physical and psychological torture and warfare.

For this reason at this time I refuse to promise that I would refrain from acting (in a nonviolent manner) to take whatever risks needed to stop the warfare and abuse carried on in our name in Iraq and other places of the Middle East, and if financial means were provided, I would go anywhere to join other people of conscience to change the downward course our nation and its leaders have taken.

As a follower of St. Francis and Clare of Assisi, I long to spread peace, justice and care for all creatures in our earth-home.  At the sacred season of ADVENT, it is HOPE that looms large in many a heart – a good time to spend in or out of prison, if the message of this season becomes a reality for a world sickened by violence.



In addition to the three knots in Jerry’s Franciscan cord, representing his vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, in later years he added a fourth knot – for the vow of nonviolence written by Fr. John Dear and Eileen Egan:

RECOGNIZING THE VIOLENCE IN MY OWN HEART, yet trusting in the goodness and mercy of God, I vow for one year to practice the nonviolence of Jesus who taught us in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons and daughters of God…You have learned how it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy’; but I say to you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. In this way, you will be daughters and sons of your Creator in heaven.”

Before God the Creator and the Sanctifying Spirit, I vow to carry out in my life the love and example of Jesus

  • by striving for peace within myself and seeking to be a peacemaker in my daily life;
  • by accepting suffering rather than inflicting it;
  • by refusing to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence;
  • by persevering in nonviolence of tongue and heart;
  • by living conscientiously and simply so that I do not deprive others of the means to live;
  • by actively resisting evil and working nonviolently to abolish war and the causes of war from my own heart and from the face of the earth.

God, I trust in Your sustaining love and believe that just as You gave me the grace and desire to offer this, so You will also bestow abundant grace to fulfill it.




Soon after being ordained a Franciscan priest in 1964, Jerry began a seven year ministry in the Philippines. He visited barrios in isolated mountain areas where food was scarce. When he returned to the U.S. in the early 1970s, he lived and worked with the Gospel Family among the poor and gang members on Chicago’s North Side. 
Years later, Jerry was part of a group in Milwaukee that occupied an abandoned house to draw attention to H.U.D. not supplying these homes to the homeless. It was a very hot day so Jerry and a Catholic Worker friend went down the street to buy ice cream cones for everyone. They returned with the ice cream cones, climbing back in through the window just in time to be arrested by the police.
Several years ago, Jerry told a reporter: “Every single one of my dreams at night are dreams about living and sharing life with the poor, with people who are destitute, and I sense I have a strong calling for that.”

Call (Jim)

When we feed the hungry, clothe the naked and house the homeless,

Response (all)

We celebrate the life of Jerry Zawada!

TORTURE (Leonardo Maturana)

As a young priest in Chicago, Jerry began to suffer from clinical depression. After a leave of absence from the priesthood, he continued his recovery, and moved to San Antonio to study Spanish. He was helping refugees there when he heard the story of Maria Alicia Rivera, a school teacher who was tortured by the military in her native El Salvador. Jerry said later, “I realized I didn’t have the luxury any more of concentrating on my depression…. her story was my resurrection. It dawned on me almost like a light – I could not not do something. I didn’t have to take away anybody’s pain. I just needed to walk with them and learn from them and accompany them in their plight, and maybe somehow, I describe it in my religious terms as seeing the face of Christ, and then hopefully work with others for some type of resolution and relief.”
Soon after, Jerry was living and working at Su Casa in Chicago, where torture survivors lived while receiving treatment at the Kovler Center. He later served three six-month prison sentences for crossing the line at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and two months in prison for crossing the line at Ft. Huachuca in Arizona. The torture manual that was used at the U.S. Army School of the Americas at Ft. Benning was produced at Ft. Huachuca.

Call (Leonardo)

When we speak out against torture and accompany the survivors,

Response (all)

We celebrate the life of Jerry Zawada!

MIGRANTS  (Fr. Bob Carney)

A part of Jerry’s heart was always at the U.S.-Mexico border. Living in Texas in the early 1980s, he transported, fed and prayed with Central American refugees who had crossed into the U.S. He spent several years living and working at Casa de las Roses, a sanctuary house in Milwaukee. Several years ago, while living in Tucson, Jerry started the Dignity Bag project, raising thousands of dollars to buy sturdy canvas tote bags for use by people deported to Nogales, made by the women of the DouglaPrieta Works sewing cooperative. In July of 2009, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers arrested Jerry and others for littering after they left gallon jugs of life-saving water along trails for migrants who were passing through.

Call (Bob)

When we welcome and help the migrant and the refugee,

Response (all)

We celebrate the life of Jerry Zawada!

NUCLEAR WEAPONS (Jack Cohen-Joppa)

In 1988, Jerry and other activists were arrested multiple times while singing, praying and planting corn at nuclear missile silos in Missouri. During one of his arrests, the armed soldiers ordered Jerry to lay face down on the ground, arms outstretched until they put handcuffs on his wrists. A powerful memory returned to Jerry, a memory of laying prostrate before the altar, 25 years earlier on that very date, taking his solemn vows as a Franciscan priest. Jerry spent 25 months in prison for his repeated missile silo arrests, and continued to protest nuclear weapons throughout his life, crossing lines and praying in the road in nonviolent direct actions at the Nevada nuclear test site, Kansas City nuclear weapons plant, Bangor nuclear submarine base and elsewhere.

Call (Jack)

When we act for a nuclear-free future,

Response (all)

We celebrate the life of Jerry Zawada!

PRISON  (Sr. Lil Mattingly)

When Jerry was in prison, he was a friend and advocate to other prisoners. He spent a total of five years behind bars for nonviolent protests against militarism, torture and nuclear weapons, and they were very meaningful opportunities for ministry. He expressed in the last few years of his life that he would rather be in prison, where he thought he could be of greater service than living at the Friary or care home. 
In December 2007, after a protest against torture at Fort Huachuca, Jerry was jailed with many migrants at a private prison in Florence, Arizona. The Spanish-speaking prisoners asked the friar if he could please celebrate mass on Christmas Eve. And so he did, with white bread and watered down packets of grape jelly, saved from his meal trays.

Call (Lil)

When we support our brothers and sisters in prison,

Response (all)

We celebrate the life of Jerry Zawada!

DRONE WARFARE (Brian Terrell)

One of Jerry’s favorite t-shirts had a quote from Catholic Worker, pacifist and anarchist Ammon Hennacy. When threatened with arrest for protesting, Hennacy would say “I’m not disturbing the peace, I’m disturbing the war.”  Once, when Jerry had to sign out of jail after a protest of drone warfare at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, he crossed out the charge, “disturbing the peace,” and wrote in its place, “disturbing the war”. Police threw a fit. Another time, in court for one of the Creech actions, Jerry told the judge, “I would gladly spend the rest of my life in prison if I could save the life of one child.”

Call (Brian)

When we wage peace by resisting weapons that wage war,

Response (all)

We celebrate the life of Jerry Zawada!

WOMEN PRIESTS (Rev. Janice Sevre-Duszynska)

Jerry felt very strongly that there should be women priests and married priests in the Catholic church. He said, “It’s what the Holy Spirit is calling us to do.” 
In November, 2011, Jerry and I celebrated a Eucharistic liturgy together at the annual SOA Watch protest. A disciplinary letter came several years later from the Vatican, restricting him from celebrating the sacraments publicly, and instructing him to live a life of prayer and penance at the Queen of Peace friary in Wisconsin.
Jerry said, “I know that they don’t think I observe obedience very well through these years, but I have to use my conscience. I have to listen to other people who also speak the voice of God.”

Call (Janice)

When we stand up for the rights of women who are called to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church

Response (all)

We celebrate the life of Jerry Zawada!


Jerry’s commitment to nonviolence regularly took him to places throughout the U.S. as well as around the world. He participated in a peace walk in the West Bank, visited hospitals and orphanages in Iraq, and accompanied a torture survivor on a trip to Guatemala.
Jerry was arrested more than 100 times for his acts of conscience. In later years, his body had trouble keeping up with his still strong and unwavering desire to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. With the help of his walker, Jerry’s last three arrests took place in 2015 – an anti-nuclear action at Lockheed Martin in California, a protest of drone warfare at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, and in Washington, D.C., along the route of Pope Francis’ procession, holding a sign in the street in support of women priests.
Thank you, Jerry, for dedicating your life to peace and justice.

Call (Julie)

When we work to build a better world for all, a world of equality, love, justice and peace,

Response (all)

We celebrate the life of Jerry Zawada!



Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. 

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

You are the salt of the earth.

You are the light of the world.



This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine (x3)
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

With every step I take, I’m gonna let it shine (x3)
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Working for peace and justice, I’m gonna let it shine (x3)
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Out there in the darkness, I’m gonna let it shine (x3)
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Spreading Jerry’s love, all around the world (x3)
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine (x3)
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.



My life flows on in endless song
Above earth’s lamentation
I hear the real, though far off hymn
That hails a new creation
Mid all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It sounds an echo in my soul
How can I keep from singing?

What through the tempest loudly roars
I hear the truth, it liveth
What through the darkness round me close
Songs in the night it giveth
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I’m clinging
If love is lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear
And hear their death-knell ringing
When friends rejoice both far and near
How can I keep from singing?
In prison cell or dungeon vile
Our thoughts to them are winging
When friends by shame are undefiled
How can I keep from singing?