Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 10, 2003
Croatian priest, patriot dead at 59
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Franciscan Father Jerko (Jerry) Caleta, the first official pastor of the Edmonton Croatian Catholic community, will be remembered as a true spiritual and community leader.
"He was the kind of priest who loved his Church, his Franciscan order and the Croatian people," said Franciscan Father Drago Gveric, pastor of Nativity of Mary Croatian Parish for the past five years. "His love was very concrete, more in doing than in preaching."
Caleta, the pastor of Croatian Catholics on Vancouver Island for the past 10 years, died of heart complications in Victoria Feb. 17. He was 59.
Born in Trogir, Croatia, in 1944 and ordained in 1969, Caleta came to Edmonton in 1977 as the first priest for local Croatians. He had previously spent seven years in Winnipeg where he founded St. Nicholas Tavelich Parish.
During his stay in Edmonton from 1977 to 1985, Caleta organized the local Catholic community and led it in raising funds to build its own church, Nativity of Mary, in 1982. For the previous five years, the priest had celebrated Mass for Croatians at Sacred Heart Church.
He loved his culture
A lover of Croatian culture, Caleta planned and organized the first Western Canadian Croatian Folklore Festival in 1978. The festival continues to this day and brings together hundreds of Croatian youth throughout Canada annually to celebrate their heritage and Catholic faith.
"He was very dedicated to his Church and his community," Gveric said. "He was a good man and a good priest."
Edmonton parishioner Zvonco Zvonkovic, Caleta's friend since the early 1970s and one of his closest collaborators during the building of the church in the early 1980s, described the priest as "a happy man who made everyone feel happy."
A voice of power
Caleta enjoyed playing the piano, singing and speaking to his people. "He was a small guy, but he had a very, very heavy voice; the whole church would shake when he started talking," Zvonkovic recalled. "I will remember him as a good man who did a lot for the Croatian Catholic community."
After eight years in Edmonton, Caleta was transferred to Vancouver, where he led Immaculate Heart of Mary (Croatian) Parish for seven years.
The last 10 years of his life, Caleta spent as pastor of the Croatian Parish of St. Leopold Mandic in Victoria. Despite his poor health, the priest also travelled all over Vancouver Island serving Croatian Catholics in the communities of Nanaimo, Port Alberni and Campbell River.
"Even though he suffered greatly through his priestly life, Father Jerry radiated joy and cheerfulness," noted Gveric. "He never complained about his health."
Gveric celebrated a Mass in memory of Caleta Feb. 28 at the Nativity of Mary Church, 10560-98 St.
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