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Sister Mary Zigo: Celebrating 105 years of life, faith and service to others

Manitowoc sister turns 105 years old
Posted at 5:42 PM, Oct 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-19 23:19:39-04

MANITOWOC (NBC 26) — Very few people live to be a centenarian, but one Franciscan sister living in Manitowoc recently reached a new milestone.

Sister Mary Zigo is a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity in Manitowoc. She turned 105 years old on Oct. 11 and was met with a special birthday celebration filled with song, cake, ice cream, friends and virtual visits with family.

Zigo said her faith is the key to her longevity.

"Our age, our life depends on God. We don't control it," Zigo said. "We live our life as we feel makes us happy."

Zigo has lived through two pandemics: Her mother died during the 1918 flu pandemic when Zigo was just two years old. Over a century later at the age of 104, Zigo contracted COVID-19. She fully recovered.

Mary Zigo's parents, Stephen and Katherine Zigo, are pictured with her two older siblings.

"Being a strong person maybe carries you," Zigo said.

Zigo was born in Pittsburgh and spent part of her early life in West Virginia. Her family moved just outside the city of Zanesville, Ohio a few years after her mother's death. Her father remarried and their family grew to include ten children total.

After graduating from eighth grade in 1930, Zigo started working as a maid for a local family. Zigo said she took the family's kids to a gym in Zanesville on Sundays to watch their school's ball games. On one of those afternoons, she first met members of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity. That's when she decided to dedicate her life to God and serving others.

"I suppose that's what made me join them," Zigo said.

She entered the Holy Family Convent in Manitowoc at the age of 15 in 1932. She took the train to Wisconsin and arrived to begin her postulant year. Zigo celebrated her final profession six years later.

Zigo spent most of her years as a teacher. She worked as an elementary school teacher and principal in Wisconsin, Ohio and West Virginia before retiring in 2002.

"She's been a woman who's totally emptied herself out for others her entire life," said Sister Elizabeth Benvie. "I believe that's part of the impetus for her living so long. She's not thinking of herself. She's thinking of others. Therefore, she's not so focused on the self. And when you think of others, it takes away that burden of, 'what am I going to do now.'

Sister Elizabeth Benvie (left) and Sister Mary Zigo (right) have known each other since 1993.

Benvie met Zigo in 1993 when she was missioned in Zanesville. Benvie accepted a music teaching position at St. Nicholas Catholic School and lived with Zigo at the convent. She got to know Zigo well over the next few years and fondly remembered the kind acts Zigo would do for the convent, like warming casseroles in the oven at night.

The two reconnected last August when Benvie was asked to serve as local director at St. Rita Health Center, where Zigo lives.

Benvie said watching Zigo give her life to God and others is inspiring.

"That gives me hope for myself and for all of us that if you dedicate yourself to the Lord, the Lord is going to give you the imputes to do what you need to do in your life," Benvie said.

And Zigo's advice on how to live a long life?

"God has been good to me all my life, how stuff always turned out." Zigo said. "Live a life that's not upsetting to you, but a common life. And enjoy it."