The prayers of the members of the Congregation of Holy Cross are requested for the repose of the soul of Brother Alexander Thomas Stroz, CSC, a member of the Moreau Province of Brothers and Priests. Born in Philadelphia, PA, Br. Alexander died in Albany, NY, on October 4, 2014. He was in his 58th year as a professed religious in the Congregation.
Brother Alexander Thomas Stroz, CSC, was born in Philadelphia, PA to Felix Stroz, a mechanic, and Veronica Szeliga. His father was from Poland, his mother was from Philadelphia, PA. Alex had an older sister, Jean, and a younger brother, Richard. He was baptized Alexander Thomas Stroz on October 5, 1929 in St. John Cantius Church in Philadelphia, PA and also received there the sacrament of Confirmation on August 30, 1943. He attended elementary and high school in local neighboring schools in Philadelphia, graduating from Northeast High School in June, 1947.
After working as a clerk for two years at Rittenbouse Candy Company as a “candy polisher,” he entered the U.S. Navy in 1949. He served in the Korean War and was honorably discharged in 1953 with the rank of Yeoman 2nd class. During his time in the military he visited Japan, Europe and Panama and served on the USS Missouri. These experiences shaped his teaching and hobbies later in life. During this time he contacted the Congregation of Holy Cross, and in 1954 entered the seminary at Stonehill College, North Easton, MA. He chose to leave the seminary, applied to the Brothers of Holy Cross and entered St. Joseph Juniorate in Valatie, NY on June 13, 1956.
He was received into the Congregation of Holy Cross on August 15, 1956, at St. Joseph Novitiate, Rolling Prairie, IN, professed First Vows on August 16, 1957, and Final Vows on August 23, 1960. From 1957 through 1960, Brother studied at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX, earning a BA degree. He received a Master’s in Education in 1968 from Siena College, Loudonville, NY.
Brother Alex began his ministerial life in Holy Cross as a teacher for one year at Holy Cross High School, Flushing, NY in 1961. The following two years Brother ministered in Uganda, Africa. This was in the early days of Holy Cross in Uganda, and Alex taught at St. Leo’s Secondary School in Butiti. For years after returning to the states, you knew where Alex lived by the big short-wave wire antenna strung outside his window or on the roof so he could faithfully listen to the BBC to keep up with world events, especially in Africa. The world news of the day was sometimes announced by Alex in the form of prayer attentions at morning Mass or prayer.
After his time in Uganda, he returned to teaching at Holy Cross, Flushing, NY for almost five years and then at Bishop McNamara from 1969 through 1975. In his file is copy of a letter in 1972 from the Smithsonian thanking him for a donation of a bow harp from the Congo. Somewhere in the vast Smithsonian archives is that bow harp with his name attached to it as the donor.
He taught at Cardinal Mooney High School in Rochester, NY from 1977 through 1981, returning to Bishop McNamara in 1981. During these years in the secondary classroom he taught Modern European history, World Cultural Studies and Social Studies with stories of what he saw in the Navy and experienced in Uganda.
During his time in Rochester, NY, Alex spent much of his time after hours cutting the extensive areas of grass and sports fields and also worked on the landscape development at the school. However, this also sometimes occurred during the day. You would see all the classroom windows closing as Alex roared by with the mower. Later, in Maryland, he continued this activity and was appointed a member of the Advisory Council in Horticulture for Prince George’s County.
For one year Alex was an ESL teacher in Brooklyn, NY, primarily ministering to Haitian immigrants. He retired from the classroom in 1989, but returned to Holy Cross High School, Flushing, NY serving various needs of the teaching staff, mostly overseeing the use of audio-visual equipment, until his retirement from school ministry in 2002.
In 2006 Alex moved to St. Joseph Center. He enjoyed taking pictures and regularly signed up for any and all day trips in the area. He continued to keep up to date on world events, though now through the Internet. He recently was admitted to St. Peter’s Hospital, Albany, NY for pneumonia and congestive heart failure. He entered into his eternal reward the afternoon of October 4, 2014, with brothers at his bedside.
Omwoyo gwe guhumurre mubusinge (Ugandan Rutooro)
May his soul rest in peace!
In Holy Cross,
Bill Zaydak, CSC, Provincial
Talking to the staff here regarding Brother Alex, the common refrain is how Brother was easy going, full of laughter, a kidder and a joker, and very pleasant to have around. I would frequently hear him greet others with, “How are you, you old horse thief?!”
Many of us have stories of how he was interested in our children. He would photograph pieces of art on his outings and bring them in for Christine’s daughter because she likes art. He photographed his yearly visits to the Giants’ training camp in Albany for Kathleen Jonas’ daughter because she loves football. He printed out pictures and information on architectural wonders for Kathleen Walker’s daughter.
He loved to foray out into the world and was always bringing information home to the staff, filling their mailboxes. He loved to take pictures and share what he had seen, with an eye for the unusual, such as phone booths (because they were disappearing) and graffiti.
He was very proud of his time served on the USS Missouri, most recently going to a reunion last fall. A few of us, in sharing memories of him right after his death, wished that we had asked him more about that experience, so I looked up information on the USS Missouri. The ship served an important part of our U.S. history. It was built during WWII and was the ship on which the Japanese signed the Instrument of Surrender. General MacArthur concluded the ceremony with the words: “Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world, and that God will preserve it always.”
Peace was not preserved for always, and Brother Alex served on the ship in the Korean War. The ship finished out its active days during Operation Desert Storm.
Brother Alex was eager to learn till the last, always keeping up with the latest technology. He recently bought both an iPad and a small laptop computer. We had to go over the same lesson many times, and I have to confess that I doubted he could ever adequately master the two machines. But in the end, despite knuckles that were permanently bent, he had stopped asking me for help and was expertly surfing the web.
In the time that I have known Brother Alex, he has been primarily in the nursing home. Through visiting him regularly and sharing communion, I have had the honor of witnessing his growing in patience as he had to come to terms with his diminishing physical abilities and the limitations that were put on his life. When I visited Brother Alex, we always read a Gospel reading, and he always had something to say about it which reflected years of thought. “I’ve never understood that,” he would say, or “I’ve always liked that.” And then he might expand into how that passage helped him to understand his life or to continue to exercise his patience, and to stay focused on what is most important. Jesus’ message of love was never lost on him.
He was a man with a thirst for life and who had a big heart, always trying to find a way to express it.
I will miss him.
Head of Pastoral Care -SJC
Unless someone lives in this world utterly unconnected – and who does that? – even solitudes in a Carthusian monastery are very aware of each other – in our world the act of dying is never fully private. “A dying person is also a performer in a communal drama.”(Joan Halifax, Being With Dying). Alex met his illness in community, first in Flushing and then here at St. Joseph’s. We saw him fight what he could, make the changes he could, and cope with what he didn’t like as best he could. Last week, Alex’s body began to shut down, and he entered the dying process, and then he died this past Saturday afternoon. If we think about what we saw, we might be able to understand, a little bit, how Alex was able to be with his own decline, and dying.
All of us will age, meet illness of some sort, and eventually pass away from this life in a public way. In a way, it will be our last will and testament. People who watch how we “do” our final stage are left with a legacy. It is our legacy.
Alex left quite a legacy!
In spite of every challenge, he kept his dreams, but they were not dreams of staying still. He wanted a future at Teresian House – but not to rest. He liked it immediately because on his visit there he saw some buses pull up for outings. He realized that he was near two shopping malls. He looked out the windows and saw the Polish Community Center, and at that point decided Teresian House was the place for him! He wanted to be able to return to St. Joseph Center one day when the new rooms were built, but not to lie still and have a quiet life. He didn’t want to just sit here. No – he wanted a base of operations, a place from which to travel and take in the sights. He began to narrow it down as he got more disabled, but even several days before he died, he told me he still wanted to see the redwoods, the Grand Canyon, and the Hobo Museum in Iowa. He was talking about these as late as last week. Bro. Joe Zutelis, who lived with Alex as I did in Flushing, mused the other day at breakfast, “Well, I wonder if heaven is going to have enough attractions for Alex to visit?” He was “irrepressible,” Joe said.
I remember in his later years in New York City, he would leave the house with his coat and camera after mass in the morning, and return before supper. During the meal, we would get the full travelogue about the Brooklyn Firefighter’s museum, or the newest addition to the High Line in Manhattan, or the bargain he had found in the Strand bookstore on Broadway that day. The thing about Alex was that we would get this travelogue whether or not we wanted to hear it! He was irrepressible and enthusiastic to the end of his life.
But as much as he loved to see new things, he wasn’t only interested in travel. Alex was interested in everything new or different! This past week, visiting him in the ICU at St. Peter’s, we had had a conversation about the very comfortable – and unique – hospital visitor’s chair in the room. We tried to figure out how much it cost, and how we could get a couple of them for ourselves. I told him I’d try to look it up.
Well, several hours before he died, I was with him at his bedside. He was pale and incredibly weak. He had already told me, by spelling out the words on a sheet of paper, he didn’t think he was going to make it, and he wasn’t afraid. He told me all the people he had already called. Then, he motioned me to come closer. I held his hand, and put my face very close to his, so I could read his lips. I thought this would be a very solemn communication, a very solemn moment. He whispered, “Did you find out about the chair?” Even at the very end of his life, he was curious! That was his concern, even at the very end! Then, he wanted me to open a booklet on river cruises he had just ordered, and go through them, describing them to him one at a time. Now, he could no longer speak, and he was too weak to hold the book or even turn the pages himself, but he wanted me to read him each river cruise package. If he thought they sounded good, he’d give a thumbs up and smile. If not, he’d make a dismissive motion with his hand, and we’d go on to the next one.
How did Alex cope so well with his decline? Alex was showing me, as he showed all of us, where he found the strength to cope: He loved this place – our country. He loved history and was curious about so many things. He was very devout, and especially drew strength from daily mass and Eucharist. He loved being alive. He loved to laugh, to connect with others.
On the day we say goodbye to Alex, I want to express thanks to all the people who showed him love and care these past years.
Last but not least, we want to thank YOU, Alex, for your ministry, and your enthusiastic presence in our lives. We all know you’re already enjoying the attractions of heaven, and we’ll ready ourselves for the stories when we meet again.
Alex, our brother, rest in peace!
Br. Mark Knightly