When Christian Brother Joseph Radice set out to tell the story of his life in his recently published memoir, “Ticket to Heaven,” he knew a major focus would be on growing up in a close knit family, bound together not only by love, but faith.
His aim was to share the journey of how these family ties blossomed into a larger love – the love of community – which Brother Joseph would come to embrace with a full and grateful heart throughout the 50 years of his vocation.
Those years, he said during a recent interview, have been more than kind, marked by God’s constant presence, rewarding in service and even rich in a sense of adventure that would lead him to become a pioneer in Catholic communications.
Though in retirement in De La Salle Hall on the campus of Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft, he’s still combining all these elements, forging ahead purposefully to call attention to the blessings of living in community with the brothers and the larger community of students he still seeks to serve.
The book, you see, was written to benefit the San Miguel School of Camden, an independent Catholic Lasallian middle school for young men whose educational needs are met regardless of their family’s financial status.
It is one of a network of 65 schools serving more than 4,500 students in 27 states which he sees as reflecting the Christian Brothers commitment to provide families struggling in impoverished neighborhoods with a higher quality of school choice for their children.
A Vocation Born of Love and Devotion
Reading Brother Joseph’s book makes crystal clear that he never forgets the Catholic education he received and what it made possible for him.
Though he’s the first to admit that he was no scholar, the support he received from his parents, Margaret and Pat Radice, and their determination to see him and his twin brother John and sister Sharon through a Catholic education, set his footsteps on a path toward religious life.
He credits his parents for creating a nurturing home and fostering a general environment in which “it seemed that everyone was connected to the idea of vocation.”
The family, he said, made visits to Catholic shrines in the region including the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Lewiston, N.Y. operated by the Barnabite Fathers where his parents regularly volunteered.
He remembered a particularly memorable visit there when, at age 14, he and John served as tour guides. It would not be long before all three siblings decided to pursue vocations.
John did begin studies in the diocesan seminary but would later embrace married life. His sister went on to become Franciscan Sister Sharon Radice.
Though many people encouraged Brother Joseph to pursue his own path to the priesthood, early on he’d decided to follow a different road to vocation.
As he tells it, it was a routine trip to the library as a seventh grader in St. Benedict Elementary School, Eggertsville, N.Y. that lit the spark which would become a steadily burning flame.
On that day, he came across an advertisement in an issue of Catholic Digest that read: “One Way Ticket to Heaven: Join the Christian Brothers.”
Daring to Dream
Though he had little knowledge of the community – “the group was unfamiliar to me,” he said – he couldn’t resist the message and responded immediately. “I sent my name to the address listed and soon, the mailman delivered to me a letter,” which did, he assures, include his one way ticket to heaven.
The ticket figured prominently in his determined appeal to be accepted by St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute, a college preparatory school operated by the Christian Brothers in Buffalo which initially rejected him because his 88 grade point average just missed the cut-off point.
In making his case to the principal, Brother Amian Elrick, he noted that he had obtained “my one-way ticket to heaven from the Christian Brothers’ advertisements…I hoped something positive would come from the approach.”
And indeed, that is what happened. When the brothers learned of his leaning toward a vocation, they devised a plan of study which, if successfully completed, would gain him admission to the school.
Though he never achieved a stellar academic rating, he credits the brothers for their steadfast support of his intention. It was the beginning of a lifetime of brotherhood and community.
That sense of community would see him through the challenging times of the ‘60s when, studying in DeLasalle College in Washington, D.C., he would be an eye-witness not only to Dr. Martin Luther King’s march on Washington but the funeral of President John F. Kennedy.
In the book, and during the interview, he recalled those events, putting a brotherly perspective on how they unfolded. “A letter was sent from the (U.S.) bishops announcing that on Aug. 28, 1963, there would be a March on Washington for the (civil rights) of blacks who were still sitting in the backs of buses, going to (segregated) schools and using (segregated) rest rooms and being barred from restaurants.
“The letter from the bishops said we were to open (Catholic) campuses and welcome busloads of black people from all over the nation.
“The brothers put into action a plan whereby the freedom riders would stay with us. They slept on our floors, had breakfast with us…all of us went to the assembly at the Lincoln Memorial” where Dr. King would deliver his memorable speech.
Even decades later, his voice was rich in emotion as he recalled being “in Washington when the world stopped because of John Kennedy’s having been shot.”
He recalled watching with the brothers in the TV room when the announcement came from newsman Walter Cronkite that the president had died, standing on the curb to watch the procession of the caisson from the White House to the U.S. Capitol.
“I reached a point where I could not absorb anymore of these heart rending scenes and I went home.”
The unrelenting pain he felt after the Kennedy assassination stayed with him for some time and became a roadblock to his studies.
But, he would find a new direction, one that would enable him to combine his love of vocation with his love of music and media.
A Challenging Turn of Events
At the seminary, he said, music was a key part of life. “We rose to music, we went to sleep with music. I loved the music of the day, popular, soul searching music – folk music. I had a blast with that music.”
The self-described “survivor” decided to take this love of music and turn it to the advantage of the Church and one day, he simply walked into a radio station in upstate New York and said he had in mind a show of religious rock called “Music that Speaks of Today.”
The station manager told him the idea would never work at that station but the nearby County-Western station might have a go with it.
The Country-Western station took him on and for the next six months he “struggled to find country music with a message. Then the station was sold and went soft rock! The show aired from 10 a.m. to noon every Sunday.”
From there on, he took short jobs with various FM stations, reading the news and weather to increase his experience.
Among those listening was Albany Bishop Edwin Broderick who invited him to become the assistant communications director for the diocese. Soon he was winging it – writing press releases and holding public relations events for the diocese and for Christian Brothers schools.
By 1974, he was back in the classroom, merging two years of previous credits with a newly created major in communications at Buffalo State College. “My aim,” he said, “was to have a strong academic background for my broadcasting career.”
With the support of the community, he managed to successfully combine communications with his vocation – serving a term as director of the brother’s community in 1980 and teaching – the main mission of the Christian Brothers. He taught religion, media and typing at St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute, Buffalo, for three decades, serving as its guidance counselor and handling public relations for the school to increase its enrollment. “I found this direction very fulfilling.”
Bonds that Last a Lifetime
When illness struck in the form of severe diabetes – which cost him an eye – some time back, he knew his life would change and he knew, just as always, that his brothers would be there to support him.
He moved to DeLaSalle Hall in 2002 and soon, instead of a quiet retirement, he was putting his skills to work once again, writing his book, serving as president of the resident’s council and scheduling various programs for the edification of the residents.
Ask Brother Joseph about the years he has spent in community and he smiles and replies with an easy grace that the preface to his book, written by Brother Augustine Loes, says it all.
In the preface, Brother Augustine writes that Brother Joseph’s vocation as a brother “underlies the title to this book, ‘Ticket to Heaven,’ and is a call to community, the deeply spiritual, yet profoundly human bonding of Brothers with Brothers that is essential to what a Brother is.
“It is a bonding with students that lasts a lifetime, a bonding too with the parents of the students and with the other teachers and staff in the school. It is, in fact, a bonding with everyone a Brother meets – all members of the human community with their various kinds of tickets to heaven.”
And indeed, Brother Joseph said he believes this speaks volumes on life with the Christian Brothers. Early on, he said, he followed the advice of an elder Brother to remember that “you are always in the presence of God. If you take that seriously, a lot (of wonderful) things can happen. I believe that people are as close to God as they want to be and I believe that I have found that closeness to God with the Brothers.”[[In-content Ad]]
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