This story was completed immediately after Fr. Clarnce’s 103rd birthday for use in an upcoming newsletter to our donors. He met with us and gave us several photos to be included.

Unfortunately, as we were preparing to go to press with the story, we learned Fr. Clarence has passed from us. We decided Fr. Clarence’s story needed to be shared as planned.

Fr. Clarence was a great man. He was the oldest Missionary Oblate in the world at the age of 103 and lived his life as a dedicated servant of our Lord.

You can click here to read his obituary. A recording of his Mass of Christian Burial can be found below. The Mass took place at 9:30 a.m. on January 25 at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Illinois in the company of his friends, family and brother Oblates.

Please honor my brother Oblate by reading about his life and ministry below. You can also make a gift in his honor to support Missionary Oblates in the later stages of their lives.

Fr. Clarence Zachman, OMI, Mass of Christian Burial

The Life and Ministry of Fr. Clarence Zachman, OMI

Jesus Responded, “Be a Priest”

I was born on All Souls Day, 1920, in Rogers, Minnesota, which is near Minneapolis. My parents had eight children, three girls and five boys. I was the fourth oldest child.

My parents had a strong faith. My dad had a Marian devotion while my mother was devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. My vocation came first from God. Then it came from my parents who were a sign that God is love.

We children attended elementary school at an Oblate parish, St. Walburga, in nearby Fletcher, Minnesota. The school was run by the School Sisters of St. Francis who were founded in Milwaukee. The nuns had a tremendous influence on my family as all three of my sisters became St. Francis nuns. My brother Francis and I both became priests of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

Here I am on the Far left with my family. My parents are in the back row.

It was at First Communion that I asked Jesus what He wanted me to do when I got big. He responded, “Be a priest.” I didn’t think I was smart enough to do so. But Jesus answered me, “I will take care of you.” I think Jesus must have told my teachers to pass me so that they wouldn’t have to deal with me for another year.

I attended high school at Crosier Seminary in Onamia, Minnesota. While there I wrote to various religious orders, asking for more information about their communities. One of the orders I contacted was the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. On Assumption Day in 1940, Fr. Valentine Goetz, OMI, visited our home. We sat and talked for a while. I had already decided to become a priest, and after Fr. Goetz and I talked, I knew I wanted to join the Missionary Oblates. He signed me up for St. Henry’s Preparatory Seminary in Belleville, Illinois.

I completed two years there and then in 1942 I entered St. Peter’s Novitiate in Mission, Texas. This is along the border with Mexico near Brownsville.

I professed First Vows as a Missionary Oblate on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1943 in Mission, Texas. I did my Philosophical and Theological studies at St. Joseph Scholasticate in Ottawa, Canada. I was ordained a priest of the Missionary Oblates in the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota, on June 5, 1948.

My first assignment was teaching at Our Lady of the Ozarks College in Carthage, Missouri. I didn’t think I would pass from elementary school, and here I was—a teacher. I spent a year as Pastor of the Oblate parish, St. John the Baptist, in Onaka, South Dakota. Then I was reassigned to Our Lady of the Ozarks College until 1961.

Jesus Said, “I Will Take Care of You”

Because Jesus was always there saying He would help me and reminding me not worry, I felt I should do more to help the young servicemen who were risking their lives overseas.

I read there was a shortage of military chaplains. So, I enlisted in the Air Force as a chaplain. Even though it was dangerous and sometimes I was fearful, Jesus was always there with me. He would never let me down.

In 1961 I was 41 years old, two years past the maximum age limit. It took an Act of Congress for me to join. My ministry over the next 20 years was one of love—a love for the service men and women, and for their families. I enjoyed every day of my work.

In July I began six weeks of basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. I lived in a military barracks with twenty other chaplains who were Catholic, Protestant or Jewish. That was an experience in itself.

I had ten assignments during the twenty years of active duty. The main reason for the frequent changes is that many of our tours are what the military called a “controlled tour.” They wanted to rotate us chaplains and each place had a pre-set time we would be stationed there. For example, the time in Vietnam was one year, Europe was two years, and Turkey was fourteen months.

The Air Force, of course, would pack you and move you. Picking up and moving out was not always the easiest thing to do. Yet it was always most interesting to travel and see new faces in a new part of the world.

Getting settled was not that difficult after the first or second move. Most servicemen stayed with the same Air Force Command whereas the chaplains were assigned to different Commands for an all-around military experience. Each Command has its own peculiarities, its own mission, new regulations to learn and adaptions to make.

Catholic military chaplains have the usual priestly duties—celebrating Mass and the sacraments, as well as counseling. We minister to all soldiers, sailors and airmen, regardless of religious affiliation. This pluralism makes military service unique among priestly callings.

Another difference is we chaplains carry out our ministries where our ‘parishioners’ live. According to military guidelines, chaplains “share in the lives of their comrades” and participate in “carrying out the mission of the command.” That means working the front lines on some assignments and facing the dangers of combat duty. I met many people who needed counseling, especially during wartime. I was honored and privileged to serve people who were serving their country. As chaplains, we are assisted and protected by an enlisted serviceman.

My first overseas assignment was Samsun Air Force Base in Turkey. It was a remote and isolated tour with only about 500 servicemen stationed there. This was hard on the men and, being hard on them, it was hard on the chaplain. I was the only chaplain on the base and therefore I conducted Protestant services on Sundays. This was a new experience for me. Turkey did not have very many Christians. The Catholic Church had to function underground for the most part.

From Tachikawa Air Force Base we could clearly see Mt. Fuji in the distance. All servicemen stationed in the Far East passed through this base. (Photo courtesy of Charles E Skidmore, Jr., and Michael G. Skidmore)

In 1967 I was stationed at Tachikawa Air Force Base in Tokyo. The base was the processing terminal for the Far East, so all of the servicemen stationed for Japan, Korea and Vietnam passed through here. The base was also the Vietnam casualty receiving base.

 I prayed with a lot of people who were injured, many of them seriously. As chaplain I had the duty of death notification. I had to contact the families and tell them a loved one had died in service. It was also my duty to tell a military person when a loved one back home had died.

I was on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. People would come to me seeking help. I was an advocate for others. If a military person was having problems, I might ask if he or she could get some time off. A great deal of credibility and confidentiality went with the job.

I also served at Minot Air Force Base in Minot, North Dakota; at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska, including two one-month stints at Shemya Air Force Base, the second furthest Aleutian Island; and at Ramstein Air Force Base in Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany, which had the largest colony of Americans outside of the United States.

During my last assignment, I was stationed in San Antonio at Wilford Hall Medical Center, a 1,000-bed military hospital. We were never without a crisis. Sometimes two or three people would be dying at the same time. I watched open-heart surgeries, brain surgeries and others so that I would be better able to talk to the patient and understand what they and the medical staff were going through.

It took an Act of Congress to allow me to enlist in the Air Force. It took another Act of Congress to extend my time from the mandatory limit of 15 years to 20 years.

I entered at the rank of captain and retired 20 years later as a lieutenant colonel. While in the service, I received the Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal with four Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters, the National Defense Service Medal, the Air Force Outstanding Unit Citation with one Bronze Leaf Cluster, and the Meritorious Service Medal with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster.

I retired from the Air Force in 1981 at the age of 61.

I kept in touch with many people I met in the service, and they remember me. In 2007 I was named as an honorary crew member of the 126th Air Refueling Wing.

Jesus Said, “I Love You”—And So Do I

I served as chaplain at the Tekakwitha Nursing Home in Sisseton, South Dakota; as associate pastor in West End Parish in Duluth, Minnesota; and as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Mountain Grove, Missouri.

In 1989 I came to the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows where I was assigned chaplain to the Oblate Apartment Community for five years. There were 171 apartments and an additional 56-bed nursing care center for elderly Oblates.

I made my rounds, visiting with residents, offering a kind word or just listening. Everyone knew my office door was always open. I then worked two years on the Preaching Team at St. Henry’s in Belleville.

In 1996 I was appointed Superior of the Shrine Community. I helped out wherever I was needed. I heard confessions at King’s House Retreat and Renewal Center, I visited the sick, I celebrated Mass and led prayer services at the Shrine. I worked the Information Desk at the Shrine and I gave tours.

I would tell the pilgrims who visited the Shrine that God wants me to give them a message—that God loves you. That is the Good News. Eventually I developed the habit of telling people a simple message, “Jesus loves you and so do I.” My ministry is a service to others—but I’m the one rewarded with love. I minister because I receive so much love in return.

In 1998 I entered the St. Henry’s Oblate Residence for the retirement, and I now live at Benedictine Senior Living Community. I was still driving a car and walking without a cane until three years ago. Last year I celebrated 75 years as a Missionary Oblate priest, and last November I celebrated my 103rd birthday.

What keeps me young is that I am always looking to improve my personal relationship with God—even as a priest who is now the oldest Missionary Oblate in the world.

During my retirement God has always had a plan for me. And I know that He will continue to have a plan for me as long as I live. It’s simple, just let God be God, because God is love. I am always being reminded of His love. God has taken care of me every day, and He will do so for every day to come.

Sometimes I was fearful, but Jesus was always there reminding me not worry. He would help me. He would never let me down.

Honor Fr. Clarence’s Legacy

In the United States there are more than 110 elder and infirmed Oblates. Like the people they served in the missions for so many years, these men require medical care, food and shelter. Like Fr. Clarence, these courageous men lived lives of poverty and mission, these Oblates simply do not have the means to survive on their own.

Please click below to make a gift to support these Missionaries who have dedicated their lives to serving the world’s most poor and abandoned people.