Centenarian too busy living life to worry about growing old

Active 102-year-old parishioner converted to Catholicism at age 69

Kathleen Kozlowski Okray | Special to The Michigan Catholic

Edna Julian, an active volunteer at St. Richard Parish in Westland, blows out the candles on her 102nd birthday celebration at the parish. Julian, who converted to Catholicism at age 69, has spent the last three decades living her faith vibrantly.

Edna Julian, an active volunteer at St. Richard Parish in Westland, blows out the candles on her 102nd birthday celebration at the parish. Julian, who converted to Catholicism at age 69, has spent the last three decades living her faith vibrantly.

Westland — In life, the road we take to our destination might be direct, or might it take some time to travel. For one dedicated parishioner at St. Richard in Westland, her road to Catholicism took seven decades.

But Edna Victoria Ilene Barchard Zima Julian made up for lost time; the centenarian has spent the last three decades serving her church community in a variety of ways. And she has no plans to slow down, as Julian credits her busy volunteer schedule as one of the keys to her long life.

“It gives me someplace to go,” she said.

Julian, who turned 102 on May 21, grew up in the shadows of St. Boniface Church in Detroit.

“I used to go into the church and sit there. I was scared of the priests and the nuns and I would see them coming and want to run. The doors were always open; and all of the kids in the neighborhood were Catholic, so I wanted to be there. And I was really impressed with the beauty of the church.”

Moving to Wayne as a child, she lived there during her brief first marriage. Following her first husband’s death, she moved to Inkster, where she lived for more than 50 years. Widowed a second time in 1991 after a 45-year marriage to John Paul Julian, she eventually moved to Westland to live with her daughter, where she still resides today. She is the mother of three: Robert Zima (with her first husband), and two with her second spouse, Patricia Clancy and John Michael Julian. She has five grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.

Road to Catholicism

Although her son Robert’s career took him out of state, Clancy, Julian’s daughter, remained in the area. Marrying a Catholic, Clancy converted. By the time Clancy’s son, Michael, was preparing for his first Communion, Clancy was a single mother.

Julian, who had retired to help with Michael, found herself back in the pews at a Catholic church, this time at St. Richard Parish. Encouraged by her daughter and grandson, she talked to the pastor, who welcomed her.

“He did not mind that I was participating in the Mass while still undergoing instruction. He said ‘Watch everyone else and do what they are doing; you will figure it out.’ And I did,” she said.

Julian completed RCIA in 1983, and was baptized at the age of 69.

Julian not only embraced her faith; she also embraced the St. Richard community. At an age when most people are slowing down, she quickly added a variety of responsibilities to her already busy schedule.

Her youthful experience washing hospital linens helped when she joined the sacristan team. And although she was busy with her grandson most weekdays, she welcomed the opportunity to help with the church nursery. And she also has served as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, both at Mass and for shut-ins. During the 1980s, she became a Third Order Franciscan and was active for several years, has supported the Goodfellows and other charities, and participates in the 50-plus club at St. Richard.

Not only can she keep up with the members sometimes half her age, she keeps up with technology as well, something she credits to her grandson Michael, an IT manager in Florida. Although she doesn’t claim to be an expert, Julian is up to date with the latest trends.

“I know what he has taught me,” she said. “We talk to each other through FaceTime all the time. And I can do many things on my iPad.”

Always on the move

With family across the country, Julian and her daughter are avid travelers; while some trips are to catch up with relatives, they have taken tours across the country and through Canada, looking at old churches.

“No sooner do we get home than she is asking ‘where are we going next?’ She is always ready to go,” Clancy said of her mother.

Julian’s willingness to hit the road served the family well; when Clancy was a single, working mother, she would schedule her out-of-state travel for the summer months.

“Mom, Mike and I would pack up the car and head to wherever I had to go, spending the summer in hotels, at the swimming pools while I worked,” she said. Because Julian’s husband, John Michael, was working as a trucker, he was on the road anyway, “and he didn’t mind; rather he would help by keeping an eye on my house and taking care of my dogs.”

He was also supportive of his daughter’s, then his wife’s, decision to convert to Catholicism.

“His family was Catholic, but he lost touch with it when his parents died when he was young,” Clancy explained. But when he was dying of cancer in 1991, “He asked me to pray for him,” Julian remembered, who retired from working in hospice to care for him.

“It gave him some comfort, knowing that I did, and that his daughter and I had our faith to sustain us,” she said.

Living a busy life with her daughter for the last quarter century has left Julian too busy to worry about her mortality.

“When people ask me ‘What do you do?’ and ‘What do you eat?’ I tell them that I eat what I want, and do what I want to do. I think God put me here for a purpose, and when my purpose is done, I will go.”