Reviled and loved: Steve Zach perseveres in pro-life work after decades of involvement
October 26, 2021
In five decades of pro-life work, Steve Zach has been cursed at, spit at, scoffed at, laughed at, ridiculed and dismissed.
He’s been pelted with all manner of debris, including hot coffee and glass, from people driving by as he’s witnessed to the sanctity of life outside Omaha-area abortion clinics.
The 79-year-old has earned the title of “the most flipped off man in all of Omaha,” his friend, David Zebolsky says.
Yet Zach continues praying, counseling, demonstrating and distributing pro-life, pro-Catholic materials.
Saving a life is worth the abuse, Zach says, and at times people express their gratitude.
Once a couple with a baby in the car drove up to Zach and other pro-lifers outside an abortion clinic.
“This is our baby that you saved,” they told Zach and others. “We want to say thank you!”
Zach is there to “witness to the truth in defending innocent life, who have no voice,” said Zebolsky, chairman of Nebraskans Embracing Life.
Zach is reviled by some, but admired by others. He calls himself a fighter, and many of his pro-life friends consider him a saint.
“He’s a regular St. Francis,” said Ronnie Lee Jenkins, another pro-life volunteer and Zach’s longtime friend. “He makes the rest of us feel like we’re in slow motion.”
Several times a week Zach picks up leftover baked goods and other food from stores and distributes the food to shelters and food pantries. He visits and feeds a paralyzed friend, attends numerous funerals, helps neighbors with chores and repairs, and plants flowers for neighborhood businesses.
“As Jesus commanded, he feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, welcomes the stranger, visits the sick and infirm, and is an outstanding witness to the Gospel,” Zebolsky said.
THE REAL DEAL
In his pro-life work and other outreach efforts, Zach approaches strangers and engages with them. Some welcome his overtures, but others don’t. His friends acknowledge that Zach’s pro-life zeal can seem “over enthusiastic,” that sometimes he “comes on too strong.”
But his heart is unmistakably genuine, said Ann Marie Bowen, a longtime leader in the pro-life movement and former president of Nebraskans United for Life, which later became Nebraskans Embracing Life.
“I really consider him a very serious Catholic, very devout,” Bowen said of Zach. “He’s totally ingrained in the belief that life needs to be protected.”
“I’ve seen him talk to women,” she said. “I’ve seen him pray for women. I’ve seen him carry crucifixes to show the suffering Christ.”
“We all have our strengths and weaknesses,” Zebolsky said. “I’ve spent a lot of time with him over the years at different pro-life events and functions. And, you know, there’s not going to be a stranger in the room when Steve’s around. Some people don’t like to be approached by a stranger, but most people welcome that.”
“I’ve seen it over and over again,” he said. “When Steve arrives in a room it might seem cold, but by the time he leaves people are smiling and conversing.”
“He breaks ice everywhere he goes,” Zebolsky said. “Maybe if he tempered his outreach to people, then he’d be less effective as a Catholic Christian who takes his mission very seriously.”
FATHER AND GRANDFATHER
His pastor at St. Cecilia, Father Michael Grewe, said Zach shines most in his pro-life work.
“I respect so much what he does for pro-life, how he’s so willing to put himself out there and be very much involved.”
Every year at the parish’s Cathedralfest, Zach mans a display of pro-life materials and is available to answer any questions.
He’s a retired maintenance engineer, who once worked at Holy Cross Parish in Omaha. Since his marriage was annulled, he has lived as a bachelor and is a father to four adult children and grandfather to 10 grandchildren.
Zach was raised in the St. Augustine Indian Mission, where his father worked, also in maintenance. The elder Zach taught his son, the oldest of 12 children, to always stand up for the underdog.
Steve Zach said he got involved in pro-life work after an abortion clinic was established just blocks from the cathedral. “That’s what I thought was terrible,” he said.
He wears a pro-life button with an image of a baby in the womb that reads “Stop abortion; they’re forgetting someone.” He typically has two rosaries hooked to his belt, one for him and one to give away, he said. Outside abortion clinics, at pro-life events and elsewhere he carries a large crucifix.
The crucifix has been to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., where it was blessed by the late Cardinal John J. O’Connor of New York.
It’s also been in a police car and to jail with Zach, who’s been arrested at least twice during his pro-life activities. He was arrested for trespassing when he went to fetch a fallen pro-life sign, he said, and for assault when he sprinked holy water on a clinic’s security guard.
Zach said he hasn’t responded to aggressive passers-by with violence. “I would bless them,” he said.
Along with parish bulletins, Zach carries with him copies of a directory he compiled of pro-life resources. Those materials are used to evangelize and save lives, Zebolsky says.
“Steve Zach is a legend in the pro-life movement locally, but also as a servant to the church and archdiocese,” Zebolsky said. “I recall my family first attending Sunday Mass at St. Cecilia’s in 1974, and there was Steve Zach serving as an usher, as he has for some 50 years.”
Zach has been a member of St. Cecilia since 1965 and has been involved in multiple organizations.
He’s helped a Santo de Niño de Cebu chapter for almost 40 years, serving as a public relations director for the Filipino-American organization. Every year he helps at Lenten fish frys at Holy Name Parish in Omaha.
Zach collects iron for a man who turns it in for money. On holidays he serves meals at homeless shelters or churches for people who have nowhere else to go.
He remembers birthdays and collects phone numbers. He does what he calls “odds and ends for people.”
“He’s never home because he’s always out helping other people,” Jenkins said, including Jenkins himself, who is disabled and uses a wheelchair. “His heart is so big,” he said of his friend. “It’s always about everybody else. It’s just mind boggling.”
Over the years Zach has used whatever means he can to promote his pro-life message, including hosting public access television programs, as many as five shows at a time, he said.
His latest project is trying to get the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) and its daily Mass broadcasts among the cable offerings at Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
“It’s true people start thinking of their souls when under medical care,” Zach said. “It’s also true people need and deserve Christian care whether it’s from their bedside or from electronic devices such as television or radio.”
Care for the soul is important, he said. “I contend it’s part of healing.”
Zebolsky and Jenkins predict their friend will one day be honored throughout the archdiocese.
“If there is any justice, a bronze statue of Stephen Henry Zach will one day be placed in front of St. Cecilia’s, the cathedral church of the archdiocese, as he is the ideal servant, the model Catholic for the archdiocese,” Zebolsky said.
“He’s a living saint,” Jenkins said. “He helps so many people.”