A Final Resting Place for Bishop Anton Zerr

Wanner, Michael. "A Final Resting Place for Bishop Anton Zerr." Volk auf dem Weg, December 2012, 46.

Translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, CO.

The Gravestone for Bishop Anton Zerr.

Dear Countrymen,

In November of 2011 I addressed you on behalf of the family and friends of Bishop Anton Zerr, who died in Selz in 1932, asking for your financial support for the construction of a proper burial site for our Bishop.

Twenty-eight families responded with donations totaling 2,030 Euros, which were deposited in the HFDR account. However, the total cost for a gravestone and a surrounding metal fence was estimated by the current Odessa Bishop’s Ordinariate at 4,500 Euros. The same Bishop promised to donate part of this cost (ca. 500 Euros), and the Bonn Office for Spiritual Care for the German Russian Catholics (Inspector Alexander Hoffmann) participated by adding 1,000 Euros. The HFDR has accepted responsibility for raising the rest.

Meanwhile, officials in Odessa have rethought the plans for the site, now wishing to have the area surrounding the site paved instead of putting up a fence around it. For this they require additional financing.  For this purpose the HFDR will again make available its account for additional donations under the keyword “Bischoff Zerr.” That account number is: 3643653, BLZ 76050101, at the Sparkasse Nuremberg.

The following list comprises the names of those who have already donated to our campaign for support of the gravestone: 1. Josef Zerr, 2. Georg Zerr, 3. Johannes Wilhelm, 4. Johannes Derzapf, 5. Anton Bosch, 6. Adela Gensch, 7. Alexander Dietrich, 8. Henriette Goene (Götte), 9. Johannes Jung, 10. Lydia Thomas, 11. Eduard Häuser, 12. Ida Zich, 13. Katharina Frank, 14. Reinhold Schindler, 15. Anton Wilhelm, 16. Michael Wanner, 17. Johannes Kunz, 18. Rafael Kaiser, 19. Barbara Enz, 20. Nina Singer, 21. Erich Stopl, 22. Lilli Buchholz, 23. Reinhard Ullmann, 24. Albert Obholz, 25. Eduard Gekzenlichter, 26. Jakob Bastron, 27. Emma Malygin, and 28. Merv Weiss of Canada.  

Back to the bishop’s life story and establishing a memorial site for him. Bishop Antonius Zerr of Padua was the first bishop of the Tiraspol Diocese to come from a German colonist family. He was born on March 3, 1849 in Franzfeld near Odessa. His parents were Peter Zerr and Maria Zerr nee Braun. At the age of thirteen he entered the boys’ seminary in Saratov. In early 1872 he was ordained to the priesthood and was appointed administrator of the parish in Preuβ (Krasnopolye). Five years later he took on a similar position in Katharinenstadt on the Volga, concurrently being named the Dean of the Northern District on the meadow side. In March of 1883 Pope Leo XIII appointed him Auxiliary Bishop and, on December 18, 1889, Bishop of the Tiraspol Diocese. During his brief time as Bishop in Tiraspol, Zerr consecrated twenty churches and distributed Communion to 80,000 Catholics. He was a co-founder of the diocesan paper “Klemens,” which reported on life in his diocese. Thanks to his loyalty to the Tsarist Court he received several decorations from Tsar Alexander III.

In 1883 he traveled to the Vatican to stay for seven weeks, and he met several times with Pope Leo XIII and with the Vatican’s Secretary of State.

In 1917, following the transfer of the official seat of the Tiraspol Diocese from Saratov to Odessa, Bishop Zerr concentrated on training seminarians and on religious education for the youth.

In 1924 Bishop Zerr journeyed to Rome for a second time for discussions on the tragic state of the Church in Russia. Following his return the KGB prosecuted him for espionage and banned him from Odessa. Subsequently, and practically to the time of his death, he frequently had to change residences and keep them secret.

His last years he spent with several families in Kandel in the Kutschurgan area. Barbara Schmalz (nee Becker) cared for him until he died on December 15, 1932 (Cf. Schnurr: 1934, “The Churches and …,” p. 154). For this activity she and her husband were arrested in 1937 and shot to death. Eva Sander (1911-2004 in Selz) also cared for Bishop Zerr until his death.

Pursuant to his personal wish he was interred in a grotto in Selz. Two priests had already been buried in that grotto. One of them, according to a statement by Luzia Rissling, was a Georg Rissling. He had died in 1919 in Crimea, and his body was transferred to Selz by Luzia’s father.

Shortly after Bishop Zerr’s burial, the grotto was desecrated, and the bishop’s golden ring and the bishop’s cross were stolen. To avoid further desecration Bishop Zerr’s coffin was moved to another site, the location of which was kept secret and then completely forgotten.

When Luzia Rissling returned to Selz in 1992, she began to search for the grave site, and in 2009 some grave diggers chanced upon a metal plate depicting the image of an angel. Feeling that the plate was an unusual find, and having heard from Luzia Rissling about the bishop’s grave, they first informed Luzia about it, then the Catholic Bishop Bernatzki of Odessa, and later also the security officials. When the coffin was opened, Pastor Jann and Bishop Bernatzki found that it contained a corpse with bishop’s vestments and a wooden cross.

Bishop Bernatzki wanted to take the body to Odessa and rebury it there, but Luzia Rissling, the sole German resident and the director of the village museum of Selz (today known as Limanskoye) proposed that a grave site for the bishop and a memorial for him and for all former Germans of the village should be established in Selz.

Donated funds made it possible to erect a memorial there on September 25, 2012, and rgw Bishop of Odessa consecrated it. So after eighty years our first ever bishop from a farming family received his well-deserved place of rest.

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

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