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Joseph Zgombic, flanked by his parents, Ivan and Mare, in 1969.

The Feast of St. Joseph

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By Marc Massery (Mar 18, 2018)
In commemoration of the feast of St. Joseph on March 19, we turn to Croatian native Joseph Zgombic, who owes St. Joseph more than just his name. He is indebted to St. Joseph for saving his father's life.

The Zgombics come from a small farm in Malinska, a village located on the western side of the Island of Krk on the Adriatic Sea. Throughout World War II, Joseph's family would go to sleep listening to the sound of warplanes passing overhead.

On May 18, 1944, the Feast of the Ascension, German soldiers surrounded his family's Catholic church.

"[The soldiers] warned that if anyone tried to run away, they would shoot them," Joseph said. "They grabbed many of the men to send them to work. They needed [people] to clean up the streets of Germany after all the bombings."

German soldiers captured dozens of men from Malinska and sent them north, across the bay, to nearby Rijeka, Croatia. The Nazis imprisoned these men until they could transfer them across the German border and force them to work.

For the moment, Joseph's father, Ivan Zgombic, was spared from capture. "He had gone to a different Mass that day," Joseph said.

At the time, Ivan's wife, Mare, was nine months pregnant with their fourth child, Joseph. On that day, Ivan was taking his oldest son, also named Ivan, to see a dentist for his terrible toothache.

"When they came to the dentist's office, there were two German soldiers there ... and the dentist was not in," Joseph said. The soldiers allowed young Ivan, a boy of about 12, to return home.

"But they grabbed my father," Joseph said. "They sent him to prison in Rijeka with the rest of the [captives]."

When Joseph's mother, Mare, heard the news of her husband's capture, she panicked. The Zgombics already had enough difficulties. "We were so poor you wouldn't believe it," Joseph said. "We had no electricity, no running water. We made our own bread. We had no money coming in from anywhere. We had only what we produced from [my father's] farm."

Nine months pregnant with no money to her name, Mare was now in danger of losing her beloved husband and the provider for her growing family. So Mare relied on the only thing she had left: faith.

"She prayed to St. Joseph. [She had already been praying] to St. Joseph for an easy birth and to protect the family," Joseph said.

As soon as she could, Mare went to the local priest hoping that he could help. "He knew a little German so he wrote a note asking if they would release my father on account of her being pregnant," Joseph said. The next day, Mare boarded a boat and traveled across the bay to Rijeka, hoping to find her imprisoned husband.

"She had to go in front of the German soldiers with their guns," Joseph said. "[My family had known] two people in our village who protested against the Germans, and they were shot right in front of their houses."

But relying on the intercession of St. Joseph, protector of the family, Mare had hope that she could convince the German soldiers to release her husband.

"[When the soldiers] saw her coming, big with child, along with the note from the priest, they released my father and sent him home," Joseph said.

Many of the Zgombics' relatives and friends were not so fortunate. "[The others] never came back. They died of starvation," he said.
Less than two weeks after Ivan's return, Mare gave birth to her fourth child. "She named me after St. Joseph because he saved my father," Joseph said.

According to Joseph, it was common back then for parents to name their children after relatives from previous generations. "But I'm the only Joseph in my family," he said. "There are Peters and Johns, but no Josephs."

When Joseph was 15, he took a job as a bricklayer and brought home the first paycheck his family had ever seen. He moved to the United States in 1962 and went on to spend 50 years working in construction. His wife, Linda, boasts of his talent for carpentry.

"I'm so happy with my name," said Joseph, who lives in New Fairfield, Connecticut. "I've always had devotion to St. Joseph, especially in my work. Fifty years in construction, and I never got injured."

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Nenita L Barretto - Mar 19, 2018

St Joseph kiss Jesus for me and sent it back to me. I humbly ask for your intercession for mysons conviction for another Faith. Change his mind to know you how your prayes so effective in the family and in our Faith. May his confusement never overpower the Faith that I had been showing them everyday. In Jesus name Amen!