Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Wood whittlers & Communists

Robert was born in 1938, four years before Vladimir’s family was slaughtered by the communists occupying Slovenia. Robert will be 70 years old in January. Vladimir is living as a retired priest in Pine Grove and is close to 90 years old. Vladimir came from a family of 12 children. He lives with and takes care of his sister Draga who is also in her later years of life. Vladimir and Draga were present when the communists broke into their home and killed their parents and handicapped brother, leaving their bodies brutalized in the basement of their home in Zapotok. One week prior to the house invasion, Vladimir’s brother Frank was killed because he was a Catholic lay leader and resisted joining the communist party. The story of Vladimir’s experience with communism is told in his book “Communism as I know it” by Vladimir Kozina. It’s currently in its eighth printing. It’s a book I’ve asked my children to read, after they read “Animal Farm.” His life’s sorrows and joys are carefully etched in his face. He is a beautiful soul.

Robert was born in New Jersey and ultimately settled in California raising a family. I am his oldest daughter. He always earned a living but was constantly crafting things with his hands. For my birthday this year, I received a wood carving of St. Francis with five birds. It’s prominently sitting at my front door. I love it. My Dad’s heart is in that wooden St. Francis. I will always treasure the labor of his knife, the paint, and sandpaper the softened the edges of the wood.

Piero is JD’s second cousin. He is in his 60’s and living in Como, Italy. He is known for making homemade nativity scenes out of something as small as a walnut, to as large as a hollowed out television set. His life hobby is working with his hands and honoring God at the time of His incarnation. Piero is a gentle soul. I just love him and am so honored to know him. Some of my heartiest laughs have been around his kitchen table.

Joseph was born in Germany and came to the United States speaking no English, he settled in Alabama as a Benedictine Monk. Joseph Zoettel spent 50 years crafting cement, stones and junk into a miniature city of the world's most important religious structures. Born in 1878 in Bavaria, he was maimed in an accident that gave him a hunchback, but miraculously did not impair his ability to bend over and build tiny things. Brother Joe died in 1961, and all 125 of his buildings still stand, protectively nestled on the campus of St. Bernard Abbey in a place called Ave Maria Grotto. You cannot visit that place without feeling the love of Brother Joe. Brother Joe feels like a member of my family. He created his wonderful grotto with 4 crude tools. He was a man constantly in pain but constantly expressing his joy with his art. His life of toiling and prayer are testament to his artwork. There wasn’t anything lovelier to me than walking amongst his creations in his grotto, where he left the pain of the world behind. He knew the horrors of communism such that he never saw his family again after his arrival in the United States. Below is a picture of his replica "Vatican City" in miniature. It was created from the junk he refused to throw away.

Today, Vladimir is a retired priest whose life was spared miraculously during the home invasion of 1942 because he parents and siblings refused to tell the communists where he was hiding. At the time of their murder, he was lying prostrate in the attic of his house, listening to the torture of his family beneath him. I’ve known Father Kozina for the last nine years. He is man who not only has a deep abiding faith, but he is a man who works with his hands, created beautiful wood sculptures and religious tributes. He uses common “junk” and makes creations that move and are gloriously lit up with common house bulbs, Christmas lights and thingamajigs.

Nothing is junk to these four men. They all have come from lives of hardship, pain and joy. Their creations speak volumes about their faith. I often imagine Father Kozina praying or whistling as he works, Brother Joseph doing the same. I often wonder what my Dad or Piero might be thinking as they assemble their creations. As long as the communists are far away, I guess it doesn’t really matter.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her by email at familyfare@sbcglobal.net or on the web at www.familyfare.blogspot.com


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing this article about this beautiful and holy priest living in California. I became aware of him through a family I met from St. Steven's parish in Sacramento. We met at the Forty Days for Life campaign during this past Lent. Hopefully, you will follow up this article with another piece on this priest.

God bless our retired priests who have suffered so much to bring us the faith!
Margie Reilly, Presentation Parish

Anonymous said...

I am thrilled to see that Father Kozina is still alive and well. He was our parish priest back in the early 1960's when I was a child attending St. Clements School, in Hayward, California. He used to visit our family almost every weekend to speak with my father. They had great fun speaking the "home" language! I have often wondered how to be able to write to Father Kozina. Would someone know? I am sure he would love to know that my father is also alive and still living in California...although, in Yuba City. It might be nice to get the two together again! Maybe Father Kozina remembers taking the owl down from the rafters of St. Clements and showing the children how the owl sat on his arm as he went from class room to class room to show us??

My email is: murphtnc@suddenlink.net
Iam now living in Texas, but do visit California to see my parents and other siblings.
If someone could get this note to Father Kozina, my fathers name is Herman Schmitt. Maybe he would remember?
Thank you for any help you are able to give.
Very sincerely,
Cheryl Murphy
St. Joseph the Worker Traditional Catholic Mission, Tyler, Texas

Family Fare said...

Cheryl: I will pass along your message to Fr. Kozina. Please email me privately at familyfare@sbcglobal.net with your phone number and address and I am sure he will be in touch.

Thanks for the comments ~ Tammy Maher

Mrs. C said...

We at St. Margaret Mary Church in Oakland had the great pleasure of seeing Fr. Kozina on Saturday and Sunday (yesterday, 5/4/08) when he came back to support our fundariser for our seminarian at the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (http://www.institute-christ-king.org/oaklandhome.htm). Fr. Kozina was full of spirit and his usual great sense of humour. God bless him! You may email me at Mrsciwen@yahoo.com if you would like me to pass along your message to Fr. Kozina.