The Catholic News Service of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops announced on Tuesday the death of the retired Roman Catholic priest, Father Joseph F. Girzone, who became known both here and abroad, as the author of the series of books popularly referred to as the “Joshua” series of novels.
Father Girzone had entered St. Peter’s Hospice Inn at Altamont, New York, and died on 29 November from complications relating to the same heart condition that had made it necessary for him to leave a very active and fast-paced urban ministry for the contemplative life of a writer.
As a condition of his retirement, Father Girzone offered to relieve the Diocese of any obligation to sustain him with a pension or medical coverage, and to live by modest means and make his way in the world as a writer, sharing his observations after his years as a parish priest and administrator. The Mass of Christian Burial will take place at St. John the Evangelist Church, in Schenectady on 12 December. Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger will be the principal celebrant.
“Father Girzone was determined to offer readers a sense of the humanity shared through dwelling amongst us — through a Jesus-centered approach to the practice of Christianity — which seemed to have been missing in an exceptionally unfortunate way in the crisis in the Catholic Church following the period of the “Reformation,” when the focus became fixed perhaps more on form than on content; and less attention may have been paid consequently, to what Jesus conveys in words and deed, as the essential message of both the mind and the heart of Jesus.
Father Girzone’s first attempt at writing was the novel, “Joshua: A Parable for Today,” which was self-published in 1983, motivated merely by a desire to share the experience with others, that he had found to have been the key to a life of meaning for himself. There was no distribution effort and no marketing plan involved, but word-of-mouth alone began to generate enormous interest, he was surprised to discover, and eventually the book attracted the attention of a formal publisher – initially, Doubleday, and many years thereafter, then Simon & Shuster – who could provide a significant advance and a proper public-relations effort, so tens of thousands of copies were then made available in hardcover, until the paperback edition was issued, and it became a New York Times best-seller. The publisher, at the time, described the book this way:
Rooted in a scrupulously accurate reading of scripture, Joshua is a profoundly moving, deeply inspiring book that no reader will ever forget. … When Joshua moves to a small cabin on the edge of town, the local people are mystified by his presence.
A quiet and simple man, Joshua appears to seek nothing for himself. He supports himself by working as a carpenter. He charges very little for his services, yet his craftsmanship is exquisite.
In an earlier interview with the Catholic News Service, Father Girzone explained that he set out to tell the story of a man who might come as close as possible to demonstrating the characteristics of faith that those who understood the message that the words and deeds of Jesus can convey, even in today’s world; and it was important to him to try to raise an awareness that the modern Church had become less focused on love and compassion, and more focused on other things:
“We’re going to lose more of our people if we don’t show more gentleness. Christ was the good shepherd; he used to bring people home, not drive them away.”
Since Joshua, himself, seems to question some of the administrative policies of the Church, the book drew some criticism; although others were quick to point out that a careful reading of the book will show that those questions are not critical of the Church itself, but questioning whether those current policies are the best way to achieve mutually-accepted goals that extend to the best and highest interests of serving this world as Christians and preaching the Gospel by showing patience and forbearance of the faults of others, and by setting examples with others, of the love and compassion of Jesus.. Father Girzone did live long enough to see the present Vicar of Christ in the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, who is someone whose ministry, also, has been characterized by rigorous discipline combined with a very “Jesus-centered” approach.
A movie based on the original book was made in 2002, with Tony Goldwyn” as Joshua, and co-staring F. Murray Abraham, and Colleen Camp. The Joshua series includes the following books: Joshua: A Parable for Today (1983); Joshua and the Children (1989); Joshua and the Shepherd (1990); Joshua in the Holy Land (1993); Joshua and the City (1995); Joshua : The Homecoming (1999); The Parables of Joshua (2001); Joshua in a Troubled World: A Story for Our Time (2005); and Joshua’s Family (2007). He also wrote an introduction to Colors of the Spirit by Dorothy K. Ederer, as well, in 1998; and there are 10 additional works of both fiction and non-fiction that have been published, including at least one children’s book, Kara : The Lonely Falcon, published in the same year as the first book, and The Homeless Bishop, in 2011, which is very close to the story of Pope Francis, in many ways, written several years prior to his being elected by the College of Cardinals in 2013. That book and his most recent book were published by Orbis Books, an American imprint of the Maryknoll of Roman Catholic order of missionaries. The very last book to have been published during in Father Joe’s lifetime, was “Stories of Jesus: 40 Days of Prayer and Reflection,” which was released in late 2013.
Using the royalties from his books, Fr. Grizone founded Joshua Mountain Ministries in Altamont, as a retreat center with a focus on learning more about the life and teachings of Jesus, as an example for the individual lives we lead, as we interact with the world each day, with “ tremendous love and compassion for others.”