Brother Joseph Radice, FSC
Looking back at 50 years of ministry, Brother Joseph Radice, FSC, has found being a part of the religious life has opened up a world of experiences for him. From entering high school to meeting the president of the United States, his faith and relationship with the Christian Brothers proved to be door openers. In his autobiography, “Ticket to Heaven,” Brother Joseph recalls some of the ups and downs he has experienced in his 68 years.
Born into a tight-knit Buffalo family on Dec. 2, 1942, Joseph and his twin brother, John, grew up with a strong Catholic faith. The family would often take trips to Our Lady of the Genesee Monastery in Piffard, where the monks who ran the place would remark on the warmth between their parents.
The family moved a bit and their children, which included a younger daughter named Sharon, changed schools often, switching from public school to St. Anthony of Padua and Immaculate Conception in Buffalo, and later to St. Benedict School in Eggertsville. This resulted in Joseph receiving poor marks in class, grades that should have kept him out of St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute. Only after revealing his interest in joining the Christian Brothers’ order, which ran the Kenmore school, was he accepted and four years later, named valedictorian. His interest in the brothers came from an advertisement he found in Catholic Digest offering a one-way ticket to heaven for those who joined the religious order.
His slim book (89 pages) details a life common among vowed religious with teaching and being educated taking up much space, but Brother Joseph’s life has taken a few Forrest Gump twists. In 1964 he came face to face with President Lyndon Johnson.
After writing to many famous people for autographed pictures to sell as part of a Catholic Charities fundraiser, Brother Joseph became fascinated with big-named celebrities. While attending DeLaSalle College in Washington, D.C., during the summer of 1964 he discovered Johnson would make a rare public appearance at the National City Christian Church.
“There was a huge crowd outside the building, huge crowd, and there were speakers, and there were men with rifles on top of buildings. I said to my friend (Brother Edward), ‘You know, I don’t like this situation. I think we should either go inside or go home,’” he recalled during an interview from his New Jersey retirement home. Because they wore their religious collars the two men were allowed into the church sacristy under the pretense of inviting the Rev. Billy Graham to speak at their campus. During the service they sat next to the podium, while Johnson and his family sat in the front row. “We had better seats than the president and his family,” Brother Joseph said.
After the service, Brother Joseph and Brother Edward moved into the basement where a receiving line with Johnson and Graham stood between Brother Joseph and a banquet.
“I said to Ed, ‘We have to pass by this receiving line to go to the banquet hall.’ He said, ‘What are we going to say?’ I said, ‘I don’t know what we’re going to say. We can’t make a fool of ourselves. Just introduce yourself and it will go from there.’ So I went up to Lyndon Johnson, who was so tall, I think my face reached his belt. I looked up to him and said, ‘I am a Christian Brother from Buffalo, New York.’ And he goes, ‘Oh, where’s that?’ I chuckled and said, ‘Only the city that went in the Democratic column for you, Mister President.’ He shook my hand very graciously because he got the message.”
Brother Joseph recounts medical issues that he has struggled with throughout his life, such as diabetes, losing an eye, an upcoming kidney transplant, but doesn’t dwell on them. In fact, much of the book just breezes through some interesting and amusing tales, such as his days in radio and his 30-year teaching career at his alma mater.
Now retired for nine years, Brother Joseph lives in a retirement home –DeLaSalle Hall in Middletown, N.J. He finds time to mentor one of the students from the neighboring high school.
He plans to return to Buffalo and to St. Joe’s this July to celebrate 50 years of ministry. When he looks back Brother Joseph has no regrets, “I did things lay people don’t have the opportunity to do, because they don’t have the drive perhaps, or something else. I don’t have any regrets. I wake up every morning and feel joyful about my life. Even though I have these problems with the medical things, I feel that God’s not going to let me down, because I never let Him down.”
He recalls a quote that he feels sums up his life. “Lovers never stop promising. They promise more than they can produce.”
“I think that’s true in religious life. Lovers of God never stop promising the people who come into their life, but they do more of it and sometime they don’t do enough.”
“Ticket to Heaven” by Brother Joseph Radice, FSC, is available from Amazon.com. Proceeds will support the various San Miguel schools educating the poor.