Faithful SVD brother fulfilled job, spread joy

Brother John (Joseph) Hornek, 1917-2013

Hornek,_Br_Joseph_for_webThroughout his life, joyfulness characterized Brother John (Joseph) Hornek, SVD, 96, who passed away on Wednesday, Dec. 4, at Techny, Ill.

"May this kindly man who had vision problems in this life now delight in the beatific vision of eternity," said Father Thomas Ascheman SVD, provincial superior of the Society of the Divine Word-Chicago Province. "No matter what challenges he faced, Joe met them with a joyful heart."

Brother Mat Zemel, SVD, recalled Brother Joe’s remarkable calmness. "We brothers were in chapel [at Conesus, N.Y.] on a Thursday, the regular day for our weekly confessions, when the back door of the chapel opened. Joe came in and genuflected very slowly and in a soft voice, said, ‘The pig barn is on fire, and I called the fire department.’ Then, he proceeded to genuflect very slowly again and went out the same door he came in."

Perhaps that calm demeanor came from having grown up in a town that knew daily dangers and great tragedy. The young John Edward Hornjak (later changed to Hornek) came to the United States as a child with his parents.

Born in Hlboké, Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia), in 1917 and raised in West Virginia, he was the second of John and Suzanna (nee Ganzel) Hornjak’s six children. The future brother grew up in Benwood, W. Vir., a coal-mining town on the Ohio River. Benwood is known in West Virginia for two mining disasters: one in 1924 that killed 119 men and another in 1942 in which five men perished.

After graduating from Center Benwood Public School and attending Union High School for two years, young John Hornek went to work for Wheeling Steel Corporation.

For nine years, he worked in the steel factory. In November 1942, he enlisted in the U.S. Army to fight in World War II. The following August, his unit was sent to the European front.

At one stage in France, his commanding officer sent him to another camp, but en route he became lost. He was missing for 114 days and believed to have gone absent without leave. However, he eventually found his way back to base, and in March 1946 received an honorable discharge.

He once told a reporter that the return home by sea gave him time to think about his future—a future that would not include the frenetic pace of factory life. In 1947, he moved to Conesus, to enter the Society of the Divine Word and was given the name Joseph. In 1950, a few days shy of his 33rd birthday, he professed religious vows.

In his 60-plus years as a brother, he excelled in dairy farming. Brother Joe worked in Conesus; Granby, Canada; and Girard, Penn. In 1986, he moved to Divine Word Residence at Bordentown, N.J. before making Techny his final residence.

Brother Joe’s wake and funeral took place in the chapel of Divine Word Residence at Techny. He is buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Techny.

He is survived by two sisters—Christine Pyle of Colorado and Margaret Kull of West Virginia—and many nieces and nephews.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations for the care of retired missionaries may be sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, 1901 Waukegan Road, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.

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