Fr. Joe Ziliak, who served as a priest in the Diocese of Evansville until his death earlier this year, was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Alumnus Award on August 2, during the annual Saint Meinrad Alumni Reunion.
Fr. Joe attended Saint Meinrad College, graduating in 1958 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. He went on to study theology at Collegium Canisianum Seminary and the University of Innsbruck, Austria. He was ordained to the priesthood on April 7, 1962, in Innsbruck.
His world travels began during his time in Austria, when he owned a motorcycle and traveled during the summers.
During his life, Fr. Joe led pilgrimages and tours to more than 50 countries on six continents. He visited Rome and Vatican City during the service of four popes, St. John XXIII, St. John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis.
Fr. Joe returned to the United States after his ordination and studied English literature at the University of Notre Dame. He graduated with a master’s degree in August 1966. He then taught English, German and history as a founding member of the faculty of Magister Noster Latin School in Evansville. He also served as vice rector and librarian of the school.
Fr. Joe’s career in communications began in 1964, when he was assigned to be the diocesan director of radio and television. In 1968, he became editor of the Evansville edition of The Criterion, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
After two years, he became the founding editor of The Message, the diocesan newspaper of Evansville. Under his direction, the paper made a profit in its first year.
In 1984, Fr. Joe was elected to a two-year term on the Catholic Press Association Board of Directors. He was reelected in 1986 to a three-year term. During that time, he served as treasurer and chaired two national conferences, bringing the conference to Evansville one year.
Fr. Joe’s parish work began by providing weekend help at Nativity Parish, Evansville, from 1963-1966. He then helped at St. Clement, Boonville (1966-68), and St. Wendel, Wadesville (1968-70). In 1970, he was assigned as administrator of St. Nicholas Church, Santa Claus, and served there until 1980.
He was pastor of Nativity Parish, Evansville, from 1980-87. In 1987, Fr. Joe was assigned as pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish, Newburgh.
He served at that parish until he retired from pastoral ministry in 2012. Over the 25 years Fr. Joe spent at St. John the Baptist, both the town and the parish grew. The parish built the church in 1993, added onto the school at least four times, and built a new rectory. When Fr. Joe retired, the parish had about 750 families and 5,300-5,400 parishioners.
After retirement, Fr. Joe continued to help at parishes around the diocese and was the vicar for retired priests until his death.
At Saint Meinrad, Fr. Joe enthusiastically shared his time and talents. He served as class chairman for the Saint Meinrad Alumni Annual Giving Program from 1970 until his passing. As class chairman, he helped keep his former classmates connected to their alma mater.
From 1994 until 2000, Fr. Joe shared his experience and expertise in the communications field by serving on the Saint Meinrad Communications Advisory Board. He also served on the Board of Overseers and its Resource Development Committee from 1999-2005.
Most recently Fr. Joe served two three-year terms on the Alumni Board of Directors.