Father Paul Zylla offered visionary pro-life witness

Categories: Around the Diocese

The Visitor

Father Paul Zylla, 93, died Aug. 26 at Presbyterian Homes, Founders Ridge, in Bloomington, Minnesota. Among his assignments were serving as the pro-life director of the St. Cloud Diocese for 22 years and writing as a columnist for the St. Cloud Visitor’s “Pro-Life Corner” for 16 years.

“Father Zylla was a visionary in organizing [for the St. Cloud Diocese] one of first pro-life offices in the United States — he started the office prior to Roe v. Wade,” said Father Tom Knoblach, the diocese’s consultant for health care ethics.

“He was a man of tremendous integrity and courage in speaking out to oppose abortion,” said Father Knoblach, who also serves as pastor of the parishes of Holy Spirit, St. Anthony and St. John Cantius in St. Cloud. “Father Zylla was involved with the pro-life movement through many different cycles over the last 45 years. He showed great consistency and courage in speaking his profound convictions, whether the issue was ‘in or out of season,’ as St. Paul says.”

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Father Paul Zylla

In establishing a pro-life office for the diocese as “an organized and consistent process of education and awareness,” Father Knoblach said, “Father Zylla recognized that the issue remains one of the great social questions of our age which needs important social involvement, that many current concerns are connected to protecting human life at its most vulnerable age.”

The Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated Sept. 3 at St. Mary’s Cathedral, St. Cloud with Bishop Donald Kettler presiding. Burial was in Assumption Cemetery, St. Cloud.

Father Zylla was born Sept. 12, 192l, in St. Cloud, the son of Peter and Theodosia (Gapinski) Zylla. He attended St. John Cantius Grade School and Cathedral High School, St. Cloud. He received his seminary training at Crosier Seminary, Onamia, and St. Paul Seminary, St. Paul.

He was ordained Sept. 2, 1945, at St. Mary’s Cathedral, St. Cloud, by Bishop Joseph Busch and celebrated his first Mass Sept. 3, 1945, at St. John Cantius Church, St. Cloud. Father Zylla attended The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and Angelicum University in Rome.

Father Zylla served in the following parish assignments: associate pastor, Assumption, Morris; Holy Angels, St. Cloud; administrator, St. Wendelin, Luxemburg; pastor, Mary of Immaculate Conception, Rockville; and Holy Trinity, Royalton.

He was an instructor for Cathedral High School and professor at St. John’s Seminary. Father Zylla served as vice chancellor and chancellor of the diocese. He also served as a member of the Diocesan Tribunal and was a Censor Librorum (censor of books) for the Diocese of St. Cloud. He served as a member of the Ecumenical Commission and as Officialis for the Matrimonial Tribunal. He was dean of the Cold Spring Deanery. Father Zylla retired July 10, 1996.

Focus on Christ

Rita Reker, member of St. John’s Cantius Parish and widow of Deacon Fred Reker, recalled hearing Father Zylla speak at many workshops and women’s conferences and reading his letters to the editor and articles in the St. Cloud Visitor.

“His message was always so clear and concise,” Reker said. “He was unafraid to preach exactly what the church teaches on abortion and contraception.”

“And he always had a smile for me,” said Reker, an active Birthline volunteer for 30 years. “We could always talk together.”

Though Father Zylla had retired, he helped at St. Anthony’s at Masses and confessions as long as he was able, Father Knoblach said. “Well into his late 80s, he wanted to offer priestly ministry, and many people looked forward to having him hear their confessions.

“He had a great deal of hope, trust and optimism,” Father Knoblach added. “Though he had been through so many changes in society and the church, he always kept his focus on Christ and the power and strength of the Gospel to touch people’s hearts.”

Father Zylla is survived by a brother, Sylvester. He was preceded in death by his parents; brothers: Alexander, Daniel and Peter; and sisters, Helen Kurr, Mary and Virginia.