Fra Robert Zivkovic, OSM
Our Fr. Bob was born in Chicago in 1933, son of James and Eleanor (Judecki). He was therefore of Polish and Croatian extraction. He grew up in the proverbial South Side of Chicago where he was a member of the St. Agnes Parish. Bob’s secondary education was at St. Rita’s High School, conducted by the Augustinian friars. Too young to be drafted during the Second World War, he did serve in the USA army some years later. By that time, his military service was pretty well limited to office work. He entered the Servite Order after this and began his novitiate at Mount St. Philip in Granville, Wisconsin. Ordained to the priesthood on 15 January 1966, he assisted for a short time in various parishes.
In preparation for the transformation of the Our Lady of Sorrows province and the St. Joseph (Italian) province into Eastern and Western, Fr. Robert was asked, along with a few other young friars, to minister in the opposite province in Denver, Colorado. It was from here that he took the leap to the growing Australian foundation. He had been ordained barely one year.
Bob’s long ministry in Australia was spent almost entirely at Servite College, originally known as St. Philip’s Regional School for Boys. It was there that he witnessed the transfer of the role of principal from a friar to a layperson; its change from a boys’ to a co-ed school, (one of the first to take this step in the Perth archdiocese); as well as the change of the name to Servite College. He was always affectionately known there as Father Zee.
Besides his ministry in the classroom, teaching various subjects as required of him, Fra Robert also made a reputation for himself among students, staff and parents as an avid devotee of sports. Students quickly learned how to distract him from a prepared lesson on a Monday morning by asking about the outcome of some weekend game. Years later, when he felt he could no longer respond to the requirements of a classroom teacher because of his age, he served for many more years as college chaplain.
In 1985, Fr. Bob’s mother was terminally ill and he spent a year in Chicago to be with her until her death. During this time, he served as an assistant priest in St. Domitilla’s parish. He returned to Australia and in 1991 was the first American Servite to take out Australian citizenship, in a day when this required relinquishing his USA passport.
Father Zee was part of The Tuart Hill community when it spent almost a full year with the Norbertine Canons (2005-2006) while a new wing was added to the Priory to accommodate ageing or ill friars. After a few years, his health began to deteriorate. His fight with Parkinson’s disease gradually worsened and he was moved to assisted living with the Little Sisters of the Poor. Slowly, over several years, he lost recognition of visitors and power of speech. He returned to the Lord to whom he had dedicated his life on 27th February 2017. His funeral Mass at St. Denis church was packed with people and with memories. Some college staff members saw to it that his favourite hymn: “They’ll know we are Christians by our Love” escorted his remains from the church. A fitting tribute.