Remembering ‘Brother Juniper’ Cartoonist

Roy Gasnick, OFM In the Headlines

The death last month of Fred McCarthy prompted friar Roy Gasnick, OFM, to compile some thoughts about the life and popularity of the man once called Fr. Justin, who from the age of four developed his talent for pencil drawings. 

The cartoon of Br. Juniper, a corpulent friar with a prominent, freckled nose, began appearing in newspapers in the Midwest in late 1957. McCarthy’s brother friars submitted ideas for the cartoon, according to Joseph White’s account in the Province’s history, Peace and Good in America (published 2004). Newspapers initially doubted the cartoon’s appeal beyond Catholic readership, but “the little friar eventually caught on,” said White. In the following years, Br. Juniper’s “escapades projected a positive image of Franciscans, with his combination of universal human foibles, innocence, idealism, and some bungled good deeds. The cartoon friar must have had an incalculable influence.” 

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — When artist Fred McCarthy was a member of Holy Name Province as Justin McCarthy, OFM, he created “Brother Juniper,” a loveable, optimistic friar cartoon character that went on to win the hearts of millions of people. 

“‘Brother Juniper’ is the only religious comic ever syndicated in daily newspapers internationally,” the Palm Beach Post Oct. 27 obituary reported. “Some 185 newspapers, including those from South America, Italy and Spain carried the cartoon series from 1958 to 1989. It reached 15 million newspaper readers worldwide,” the Post concluded. In New York City, if my memory serves me correctly, it was published in the now defunct tabloid newspaper, The Daily Mirror. 

Popular Cartoonist 
An Internet search reveals that Fr. Justin/Fred published a half dozen book collections of his cartoons includingBrother Juniper Strikes Again, Hanover House, 1959; Brother Juniper At Work and Play, Hanover House, 1960 andThe Whimsical World of Brother Juniper, Pocket Books, 1963.

It was common knowledge among some friars that he had used the late Wilfrid Hept, OFM, as his model for “Brother Juniper.”

Fred died Oct. 26 in Delray Beach, Fla., at the age of 91. Three of us friars at St. Anthony Friary in St. Petersburg had connections with Fred in his later Florida years: Emeric Szlezak, OFM, Thomas Murphy, OFM, and myself. Emeric and Tom concelebrated his funeral Mass on Oct. 29 together with two Conventual Franciscans and four other priests. 

Also present was a large contingent of Secular Franciscans from the local fraternity as well as three representatives from the Secular Franciscan Order’s Five Franciscan Martyrs Region (Florida and southern Georgia). The Secular Franciscans had also conducted a Franciscan wake service for Fred an hour before the funeral Mass.

As the Palm Beach Post obituary noted, Fred had been a Secular Franciscan for 71 years. His wife Lily also became a Secular Franciscan.

Tom, the regional spiritual assistant for the SFO, became acquainted with Fred through his annual visitations with Fred’s local fraternity. Over the past 18 years, they developed a friendly bond. In 1993, Fred contributed eight original “Brother Juniper” illustrations for Tom’s book, Sing to the Lord a New Song, Praying the Psalms in the light of the Lord’s Prayer.

BrJuniper2Fond Recollections 
Emeric, a Holy Name College classmate of Fred (as were Matthew Conlin, OFM, Daniel Hurley, OFM, and Leon Ristuccia, OFM), remembers Justin as a happy-go-lucky friend, a “cleric” in formation posting caricatures of daily formation events, Justin’s ordination in 1945, a last class picture including Fred taken in 1959, his leaving the Order and the priesthood in the early 1960s, and most recently, a 2004 60th ordination anniversary gift from Fred: a drawing of Emeric in his prime with an inscription noting that Emeric “zealously labored to strengthen and enrich the faith of his Hungarian Catholic countrymen. …”

I got to know Fred and his wife through his visits here in St. Petersburg with the late Cronan Kelly, OFM, and other senior friars in the early 1990s. Later, he asked me to collaborate with him on several ventures, most notably the portrait project of the presidents of St. Bonaventure University commissioned by Sr. Margaret Carney, OSF, president of St. Bonaventure. I recall his letter to me filled with awe and excitement as he described the Franciscan hospitality and V.I.P. treatment he received when he returned to St. Bonaventure for the formal presentation of the portraits to the university.

As a gesture of thanks, he gave me a duplicate portrait of Fr. Pamfilo da Magliano, OFM, Bonaventure’s first president. That portrait now adorns a wall in the St. Petersburg friary library.

Fred may have ceased being a Friar Minor, but he never ceased being a Franciscan. To cite the Palm Beach Postonce again, Fred had been a 71-year member of the Secular Franciscan Order. It seems that Francis, Franciscan optimism and Holy Name Province remained in his heart right to the very end. 

— Fr. Roy, a resident of St. Anthony Friary in St. Petersburg, is the author of The Francis Book. The “rear”illustration shown with this article was given to Dominic Monti, OFM, when he assumed the position of interim president of St. Bonaventure University in 2003.