CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
A Capuchin bishop with Wisconsin ties died suddenly earlier this month in Central America, where he had been serving as a missionary for more than 40 years.
Most Rev. David Albin Zywiec Sidor, OFM Cap., died Jan. 5 at the age of 72 at the Military Hospital in Managua, Nicaragua, about 200 miles southwest of the seat of his diocese of Siuna.
Bishop Zywiec was a Chicago native who attended St. Lawrence Seminary High School in Mt. Calvary, graduating in 1965, when he was invested with the Capuchins. He received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the Capuchin Seminary of Saint Mary in Crown Point, Indiana, in 1970 and was perpetually professed as a Capuchin in 1971. In 1974, he received a bachelor’s degree in theology from Saint Francis School of Pastoral Ministry. Bishop Emeritus Richard Sklba, who was then on the seminary faculty, said he remembered the young Zywiec as “a very gentle fellow, exceptionally kind.”
“I subsequently thought that he made a perfect priest for the missions because of his respectful attention to the needs of others,” said Bishop Sklba.
Bishop Zywiec was ordained a priest at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Milwaukee in 1974, and the following January traveled to Nicaragua. He would serve there the rest of his life, except for short stints serving in Costa Rica and Chicago.
Fr. Niles Kauffman, OFM Cap., recalled Bishop Zywiec as a committed and collaborative priest when he knew him early on in the latter’s career as a missionary.
Fr. Kauffman, who now lives in Milwaukee, served in Nicaragua from 1962-79 and became acquainted with then-Fr. Zywiec after the latter arrived in the country in 1975. Fr. Zywiec at the time was traveling around assisting at various parishes, said Fr. Kauffman.
“He was a very prayerful man, a man who was always appreciative of everyone and of all the people who worked with him, and of his parishioners. He was very kind, very friendly,” he said. “He was very much a collaborative person, working with others to build up the laity in Nicaragua.”
Bishop Zywiec was named auxiliary bishop of the Vicariate Apostolic of Bluefields, Nicaragua, on Sept. 13, 2002, serving under fellow Capuchin, the Wisconsin-born Bishop Paul Schmitz. Bishop Schmitz told the Catholic Herald that he and Bishop Zywiec “made a good team, (Bishop Zywiec) in human relations and I more in administration.”
“He always said that he would sooner burn in hell than be known and remembered as a good administrator,” said Bishop Schmitz.
After the creation of the Diocese of Siuna, Nicaragua, in 2017, Bishop Zywiec was appointed as its first ordinary, overseeing roughly 25,000 miles of country that included the indigenous Miskito people, who are economically and culturally much different than their Spanish-speaking counterparts of Siuna. Bishop Zywiec was adept at dialoguing with the different cultural groups, said Bishop Schmitz.
“Bishop David was very talented. He spoke the Miskito Indian language fluently and adapted very well to their culture,” he said.
Bishop Schmitz said in late December, Bishop Zywiec experienced convulsions in his legs and took a 12-seater plane from Siuna to Managua to consult with the doctors that work with the diocese. He was transferred to the emergency room at the Military Hospital, where they discovered a brain tumor. “After a whole lot of tests, (they discovered) he also had skin cancer which started to become very active, leaving large red blotches,” said Bishop Schmitz.
The cause of death nine days later was “complications due to kidney failure, dermal lesions caused by skin cancer, which caused staphylococcal germs to develop septicemia and a heart attack,” according to a statement from the Diocese of Siuna.
His body was flown by helicopter from Managua to Mulukuku, Nicaragua, where he had first served as a missionary priest. A caravan then escorted the body to Siuna, where he was buried in the as-yet unfinished cathedral on Jan. 9.
“People in buses, pickups, cars from all over the country” participated in the caravan, said Bishop Schmitz. Photographs and videos of the large masses of mourners carrying flowers and photographs of Bishop Zywiec can be seen on the Diocese of Siuna’s Facebook page. The funeral was presided over by Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, Archbishop of Managua.
Bishop Zywiec is survived by his brother, Bruce, and his sister, Dr. Diara Zywiec, M.D. and a niece who is carrying on her uncle’s missionary spirit by serving in the Peace Corps in Nepal, according to Bishop Schmitz.
Bishop Zywiec was recently awarded the Brindisi Award by his alma mater, St. Lawrence Seminary, for his work in Nicaragua. During his 50th jubilee, he wrote: “These 50 years of Capuchin life have been a journey of faith. I am grateful to God and to the brothers for the experiences of fraternity and service to the poor.”