Abbot Clement Zeleznik, OSB, retired fifth abbot of Saint Andrew Abbey in Cleveland, Ohio, passed away on Monday morning, May 3, 2021, at 3:09 AM at Regina Health Center in Richfield, Ohio, his residence for the past year. Abbot Clement was 89 years old, a monk for 67 years and had completed 61 years in the priesthood.
Baptized as Leo Zeleznik in 1931, he was the son of the late George and Helen (Richnasky) Zeleznik of Cleveland, Ohio. He was preceded in death by his brothers, James (killed in the Korean War in 1953), Donald, and Thomas, and his sisters, Notre Dame Sister Mary Jonathan and Notre Dame Sister Regina Marie. He grew up in St. Benedict’s Parish, which was staffed by the Benedictine monks of Saint Andrew Abbey.
He graduated as valedictorian of the Class of 1950 at Benedictine High School where he helped to organize the first cross-country team and was a standout in the track program. After two years of undergraduate studies at St. Procopius College in Lisle, Illinois, he entered Saint Andrew Abbey as a novice and received the religious name of Clement. He professed his first vows in 1953.
Fr. Clement earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, and continued his studies for the priesthood at the former St. Joseph’s Seminary of the Blessed Sacrament Fathers in Cleveland. He was ordained a priest on May 23, 1959 by Auxiliary Bishop Floyd Begin. He then joined the faculty of Benedictine High School and taught physics and theology from 1960-1970 and from 1973-1997. He also coached the varsity tennis team, served as a school chaplain, and was one of the founding members of the Benedictine High School Board of Education in 1968. Known as a demanding teacher, he was, nevertheless, very popular and used creative means to show the relationship between faith and scientific knowledge.
A true scholar, Fr. Clement achieved advanced degrees in physics from the University of Notre Dame (1963), in Religious Education from Loyola University of Chicago (1969), and in Spirituality and Religious Formation from Duquesne University’s Institute of Man (1973) under noted theologian-psychologists Fr. Adrian Van Kaam, C.S.Sp. and Dr. Susan Muto.
In 1996, Fr. Clement published his own English translation of a book of private, spiritual revelations by a Mexican mystical writer of the 20th century, Concepcion Cabrera de Armida, a mother and widow who founded several religious orders and who was beatified in 2019. Entitled “To My Priests” the book is an urgent call for priests to seek greater holiness and sanctification in response to the power of evil in the modern world. In 2002, as abbot, he was a featured guest on EWTN television and was interviewed by host Fr. Mitch Pacwa, SJ, about the book.
Earlier in 1996, Fr. Clement participated in a project of fast-growing interest at Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts. He served on an advisory board to give shape to the research of Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard University Medical School. Dr. Benson had been working with a grant from the Fetzer Institute in Michigan for researching the measurable effects of intercessory prayer on people who had coronary bypass surgery. Later as abbot, Fr. Clement would become involved in healing ministry and conducted many healing Masses in parish churches.
In the monastery, he served as the Director of Formation and novice master from 1976-1997. He was a popular retreat master for religious communities and developed a large network of counselees for spiritual direction that continued even to his entrance to Regina Health Center last year. During the lockdown of the nursing home during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, he continued to provide spiritual direction through phone conversations.
From 1997-2001 Fr. Clement was assigned as associate pastor of Assumption Parish in Broadview Heights, Ohio, a parish administered by the abbey. During his years at the parish, Fr. Clement was involved with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, scripture study, religious education, evangelization, retreats, and established a parish partnership program with a struggling parish in Haiti which he visited personally. At Assumption he also inaugurated continuous Eucharistic adoration which continues to this day.
He was elected the fifth abbot of Saint Andrew Abbey on June 8, 2001, succeeding Abbot Roger Gries, OSB upon Abbot Roger’s nomination as auxiliary bishop of Cleveland. During his 7 years as spiritual father of the abbey, Abbot Clement emphasized in his weekly conferences the need for each monk to have and to deepen a living, personal relationship to Jesus so that the repetitive, external religious practices of monastic life do not become sterile and ineffective in leading the monk to greater union with God.
Abbot Clement proposed new structures for administration in the school and devised a successful method for addressing financial obligations. He oversaw a successful $4 million Capital Campaign (2001- 2005) to renovate all the classrooms of the 1940 high school building and increase its endowment. He endorsed a closer and more effective relationship between the abbey and a new Benedictine community in Slovakia which he visited personally in 2004.
Abbot Clement resigned as superior of the abbey in 2008 at the age of 76. In 2011, he accepted an assignment as chaplain-in-residence for Loyola Retreat House in Clinton, Ohio, which came under sponsorship the the abbey the previous year. During the next seven years, Abbot Clement gave numerous retreats and Days of Recollection there and offered personal spiritual direction. He returned to the abbey for health reasons in 2018.
Abbot Clement lived a life in anxious anticipation of meeting Jesus through every means available in this life and in joyful hope of the life to come. He was constantly reading new theology books and investigating new programs of evangelization and shared them with the monastic community. Yet, he always made time for anyone who sought his counsel or to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He guided many souls to Jesus and was recognized in the diocese as an authentic, yet demanding spiritual director. May this fervent disciple of the Lord be embraced by the Divine Mercy that he so often sought for others.
Please remember Abbot Clement in the customary Masses and prayers. His funeral Mass was celebrated at the Abbey on Friday, May 7, 2021 at 7:00 p.m.
Abbot Gary Hoover, OSB and the monks of St. Andrew Abbey