of heart leads to giving
Fr. Joseph Ziliak has been influenced by Benedictines all of his
life. And after 53 years as a priest, perhaps it's no surprise that
he wants to give back in gratitude for their guidance.
His Catholic upbringing began at St. Benedict's Church in
Evansville, IN, which was founded and staffed by monks of Saint
Meinrad Archabbey. He was baptized there and attended the parish
school, where Benedictine sisters from Ferdinand were teachers.
Fr. Gabriel Verkamp, OSB, was the pastor at the time; he later
became the sixth abbot of Saint Meinrad. Another of the monk
priests first asked Fr. Joe if he had any interest in being a
priest. He agreed to visit Saint Meinrad and subsequently
At 13, he became a student at Saint Meinrad High School. Fr. Joe
was a Saint Meinrad student from 1950-58, completing high school
Fr. Joe recalls Saint Meinrad as a good place to get an
education. "I had good years there…. We played sports and studied.
It was just a good life." He was involved in directing music and
served as first prefect - the highest student position in those
days - as a sixth-year student.
Fr. Joe was then sent to Innsbruck, Austria, to complete his
seminary education. After he was ordained in 1962, he returned to
the Diocese of Evansville and helped to oversee and teach at a new
diocesan-run high school for boys interested in priesthood. He then
became involved in communications - first as director of radio and
television for the diocese and later as editor of the diocese's
newspaper, The Message.
On the weekends, he was serving in parishes around the diocese.
In 1987, he moved from newspaper editor to pastor of what would
become the most populous parish in the diocese, St. John the
Baptist Parish in Newburgh. He served there 25 years until he
retired in 2012.
Fr. Joe had made gifts to his alma mater, but it wasn't until he
was pastor and using that role to teach others about giving and
good stewardship that he had a change of heart. "It finally dawned
on me that that was something I needed to do as well," he
"OK, if I'm not able to give 10%, at least I start with
something," he remembers thinking. "And from there it went on to
where it's more than 10% today." He found numerous examples in
Scripture where the Lord is never outdone in generosity, and it
began to change his outlook on giving.
"It was a conversion of mind and heart, and that's where I think
the center of stewardship and philanthropic giving begins - it's a
conversion inside the person," says Fr. Joe. This epiphany offered
another advantage for him. "I could speak differently to the people
[in my parish]. Before, it was always a task." As a giver himself,
he could now speak from the heart about generosity.
One of his preferred ways to make charitable gifts is through an
Individual Retirement Account (IRA). At age 70½, you are required
to take a minimum distribution from your IRA. For those who don't
want or need to take a distribution from their IRAs, a new law
allows them to direct the distribution (up to $100,000) to a
charity - without paying federal income taxes.
This has allowed Fr. Joe to be generous to various institutions
that have been significant in his life, including Saint
His generosity also extends to a bequest to Saint Meinrad,
something that came about after he had reflected on his life. "God
has blessed me a whole lot," he says. "I could never have imagined
I could have all of this."
As he puts it, it's a way "to say thank you for what has been so
important in my life."