Photo: Felix Carroll
Father Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, joins Eleanor Zablotney and her friends and family for a birthday celebration at the Marian Helpers Center.
Her Crowning Achievement: Faith and Family
By Felix Carroll (Nov 19, 2010)
The year is 1910. Neon lighting for advertising signs is invented. "Come, Josephine, in My Flying Machine," by Fred Fisher, is a hit song. World heavyweight champion Jack Johnson knocks out James Jeffries. Greenwich Mean Time is standardized. The Boy Scouts of America is founded. And the population in the United States reaches 92 million, in part due to the birth in Cleveland, Ohio, of a girl named Eleanor.
Fast-forward. The year 2010. The tallest man-made structure to date, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, officially opens. "Bad Romance," by Lady Gaga, tops the charts. A 7.0-magnitude earthquake devastates Haiti. The first 24-hour flight by a solar-powered plane is completed. And the population in the United States tops 307,000,000, still including that girl named Eleanor.
Joined by a veritable posse of family and friends, Eleanor Zablotny celebrated her 100th birthday on Eden Hill, at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, in Stockbridge, Mass. It was a crowning moment in her centennial year. Literally. Before she knew it, employees of Eden Hill placed a crown on her head in a reception following Holy Mass on Tuesday, Nov. 16.
The crown was only appropriate. To her family and friends and everyone who knows her, Eleanor is royalty.
"This is the happiest moment I've had in a long time," Eleanor said, after she was lead by Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, the Marians' director of Evangelization and Development, to a birthday cake at the Marian Helpers Center.
Eleanor gave a short speech that defined her long history. Then she blew out the candles in a single breath.
"I will pray for all of you," she said to all those gathered. "Prayer is powerful, and it only takes a few minutes. I started writing a diary, and you know, you don't realize how much you are growing, spiritually, each day, and a diary really helps you reflect on the wonderful gift you have from the people who love you.
"Here I am, Lord, your servant," she said. "I want to thank You for giving me all the wonderful people around me. I love them all. I am thankful."
Then she topped it off with a word of wisdom that filled the room with laughter: "I'll stop with that. If you say too much, you spoil it."
Eleanor and her family knew nothing of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy until earlier this year. Her daughter Carolyn, who recently moved to the area, took her mother to the Shrine for Holy Mass on Easter Sunday.
They loved Eden Hill so much that when Eleanor's birthday approached, Carolyn suggested they celebrate by having a Mass celebrated for her intentions at the Shrine. A few weeks back, they came to the Shrine to iron out the details. On the way back to their car, they met Fr. Kaz.
"There was some immediate connection there," Carolyn said. "We had never met him before. He came up to us and introduced himself. We told him our birthday plans. He hugged my mom. He was just so wonderful.
"We asked him if he would be at the Shrine on the day of the Mass, Monday, Nov. 15," Carolyn explained. "He said he couldn't make it because he was leading a retreat, but he invited us to come for a second Mass, on Tuesday, at the Marian Helpers Center."
They took him up on the offer.
Eleanor was a hit at the reception that followed. A woman that radiates love, laughter, confidence and trust in God, she brought a wave of excitement to the Marian Helpers Center.
"Divine Providence," is how Carolyn described the event.
And it's Divine Providence that has guided her mother throughout her life, a life that was difficult at the outset.
Born on Nov. 17, 1910, Eleanor was the child of immigrant Slovakian parents. Her parents, eldest brother and sister died in the flu epidemic of 1918, when she was only 8-years old. The parish priest became her guardian, and she was placed in the care of a Polish family whom she lived with until she got married. She and her husband, Stanley Zablotny, had four children. Stanley died of cancer in 1980. All her children were with her for her birthday.
"She inspired us in the Catholic tradition and faith that has nurtured us," Carolyn said. "That was one of her gifts to us that has really sustained us. She's a great model of resilience and enthusiasm.
"She could have grown up embittered or despairing because of all the difficulties early in her life," said Carolyn. "But she somehow always trusts in Divine Providence, that things happen for a purpose, that there's meaning, even if you don't know what it is at the moment."
Eleanor's advice to everyone is this:
"You don't always know the purpose behind what happens, but trust that there is one. You will find out. Divine Providence will intercede somehow."
After Eleanor blew out her candles at the Marian Helpers Center, Fr. Kaz presented her with a gift — a lifetime enrollment in the Association of Marian Helpers.
"Now you can share in the benefits of all the daily Masses, prayers, and good works of Marian priests and brothers all over the world," he said. "We'll be remembering you in a daily Mass; on special Masses on the First Friday and First Saturday of each month and each feast day of Our Savior and His Blessed Mother; and you'll be remembered in our continuous Novena to The Divine Mercy at the National Shrine and in the daily prayers offered by workers at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy and the Marian Helpers Center."
"This is just wonderful," said Eleanor, who lives with one of her daughters in Peekskill, N.Y.
As part of the centennial year celebration, Eleanor's children plan to take her back to Cleveland to visit her old Polish neighborhood.
As Eleanor was digging into her birthday cake, Fr. Kaz lead the group in a rendition of "Stolat," the Polish-language equivalent of "Happy Birthday."
The rough translation is this:
A hundred years, a hundred years
May she live for us.
A hundred years, a hundred years,
May she live for us.
Once again, once again, may she live, live for us,
May she live for us!
Yes, she may. She's been living for others her whole life.