“Even though I’m not Native American , I have a tremendous amount of respect for the varied indigenous cultures of this land. Their understanding of the world of nature and of God, their emphasis on being caretakers rather than exploiters of the land-all that is wonderfully consonant with the best of Christian thought and tradition. In my work I try to celebrate a union of a common spiritual understanding to show how a single mystery can be approached through diverse cultures”.
Father John B. Giuliani: a Life Well-Lived, a Legacy for Generations to Come
John B. Giuliani 1932 – 2021
Today we remember, celebrate and honor the life and legacy of an ordinary yet extraordinary human being. Father John B. Giuliani (Giovanni Battista) was born in the D’Elia house on Steamboat Road in Greenwich, CT, on January 4, 1932, to Amalia and Nicola Giuliani, immigrants from Castelgrande, a small hill town in the province of Potenza in Italy. His father was a shoemaker, and his mother hosted family, friends and strangers around her table.
John and Vin, his brother, attended Greenwich Public Schools, where both excelled in the art of drawing and design at a very early age. At eight years of age, he won first prize in the Greenwich-wide Halloween soap-drawing contest for his depiction of two life-sized women on the window of his father’s shoe repair shop, the White Star, on Greenwich Avenue. John became recognized as “class artist” and also enthusiastically took to the stage in which he excelled in acting, production design and as an associate director.
Upon graduating from high school, he won the Vesper George National Scholarship, but chose instead to attend Pratt Institute of Art in NYC, along with Vin. After three years there he abandoned his art studies, having received the call to the Roman Catholic priesthood, and entered St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, CT. He concluded his studies for the priesthood at St. John Seminary in Brighton, MA, where he earned a Master of Arts in Theology. On February 2, 1960, Father Giuliani was ordained by Bishop Lawrence Sheehan, the first Bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, at the church of St. John in Stamford, CT.
Father Giuliani’s first assignment was to the parish of St. Mary in Norwalk, CT. Within a year he was assigned to teach Latin and religion at Norwalk Catholic High School. The following year he was assigned to Christ the King Preparatory Seminary in Southport, CT, where he taught Latin, religious studies and the humanities. In 1963, upon the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council’s document on the liturgy, the Diocese of Bridgeport established a liturgical commission with Father Giuliani acting as Secretary.
For the following two years he enrolled in the graduate school at Fordham University, studying the classics. In 1968 Father Giuliani was assigned to the chaplaincy at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT, during which time he earned a Master of Arts in American Studies from Fairfield University and became an adjunct professor there of American literature and film. As chaplain at Sacred Heart University, he and a small number of students established the Thomas Merton House of Hospitality, a soup kitchen in Bridgeport, CT, in 1975. The following year they opened a second soup kitchen, Good Shepherd House of Hospitality, in South Norwalk, CT.
In 1977 Bishop Walter Curtis of the Diocese of Bridgeport gave Father Giuliani permission to establish the Benedictine Grange (Grange) in Redding, CT, a small monastic community of brothers who lived and worshipped together and ministered to a growing number of laypeople who were attracted to a more contemplative style of worship and the call to missionary works of social justice. His homilies and prayers captivated the hearts and minds of people near and far. The music ministry at the Grange, begun by musicians from Sacred Heart University, was an essential component of the contemplative liturgy from the very beginning.
Although begun as a monastic community of brothers, the Grange evolved into a dynamic missionary workshop for laypeople. The brothers’ early commitment to feeding the hungry at Good Shepherd House of Hospitality grew to encompass the poor of Nicaragua, through its ministry of CT Quest for Peace, and to the poor of Appalachia. For both ministries, the Grange community in diaspora continues to collect furniture, clothing, medical supplies, school supplies, sports equipment, Christmas gifts and financial assistance.
Other missions inspired by the Grange through many decades have included Bread and Roses, a hospice for people with HIV-AIDS, a prison ministry to the inmates of the Women’s Correctional Facility and volunteerism at Dorothy Day House of Hospitality, both in Danbury, CT. In more recent years, with an ever-increasing influx of Hispanic families to the community, the Grange extended its concerns to assisting the undocumented through support to individuals and to the Office of Immigration Services at Catholic Charities.
After 9/11 Father John served as an American Red Cross Chaplain at Ground Zero, blessing body parts that were unearthed for the nine months that followed.
Returning to the gift of his youth, in 1990 Father John began painting icons, holy faces of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the Saints, but in a new and innovative way. The starting point was no longer across the ocean in Europe, but right here in the Americas. His icons are contextualized in the rich and varied cultural traditions of Native Americans throughout North, Central and South America. His icons and paintings, stories of the great mysteries of our sacred and spiritual tradition, bear witness today throughout Fairfield County – Sacred Heart University, Sacred Heart Academy, along with dozens of private homes and collections. His artwork has been exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria Del Popolo in Rome, Good Hands and Zuger Galleries in Santa Fe, New Britain Museum of Art, Aldrich Museum, St. John the Divine and St. Peter’s in NYC, Dallas Museum of Biblical Art, with a permanent collection of 15 paintings, and a permanent installation of panels on the Crow Reservation in Montana depicting the Mysteries of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as well as the Stations of the Cross.
He has been the recipient of many awards and recognitions, including, among others, “Artist in Residence” at the American Academy in Rome and the prestigious Mother Theresa Award as American Artist. In 2001, Father John was invited by the City of Siena, Italy, to paint the Palio banner, the winning prize in the annual horse race and festival held by that city every July since the 16th Century. One of Father John’s deepest joys was when Archbishop Charles Chaput conferred upon him the moniker of “visual missionary.” In 2002 Father John presented in person to Pope Benedict XVI a painting of the then Blessed Kateri Tekawitha, now a canonized saint. His painting of Nicholas Black Elk recently appeared in the documentary, “Walking the Good Red Road.”
Father John passed away on Saturday, January 2nd. He is survived by his beloved community, the Grange in Diaspora, Sophia (Wisdom) and her sisters who provided loving and attentive care in the last year of his life and the hundreds of individuals whose lives were forever changed by his faithful commitment to Jesus, the Gospels, the Word, Beauty and to works of peace and justice. Safety permitting, an in-person Memorial Mass will be celebrated later in 2021. In lieu of flowers, please consider a gift to his family’s legacy, the Giuliani Fund at the Fairfield County Community Foundation in Norwalk, CT.