Brother Richard Jonathan Cardarelli, SSF, was born in Connecticut. At an early age he knew two things about himself: that he was attracted to members of his own sex and that he was called to be a priest. While studying at a Catholic high school, he was impressed by the religious commitment of the teaching brothers and upon graduation in 1969, he entered their order. However, changes of Vatican II were overwhelming for Richard and he left community to study French literature at a Catholic college.
It was during college that Richard became involved in the blossoming gay activist movement, marching in his first Christopher Street Liberation Day parade in New York City in 1971. He had recently joined the Kalos Society in Hartford, Connecticut, and longed for an activist community of like-minded Catholics. It was during these same years that he fell in love with a man: St. Francis of Assisi. The saint's commitment to peace-making, the poor and the lepers touched Richard deeply and he wanted to follow in St. Francis' path to embrace those whom were treated as if they were lepers: gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons.
Most importantly, he wished to embrace his own homosexuality which still seemed to conflict with his faith and desire to become a priest. He joined the Capuchin Franciscan order to try a second time to fulfill his wish to live religious life; however, unable to reconcile his sexuality and faith, he took the advice of a Franciscan spiritual director who suggested that he check out Dignity/USA. On Palm Sunday 1974, he attended his first Dignity Mass in Boston and knew that he needed to be ministered to by this organization of g/l/b/t Roman Catholics and their families and friends.
He left the Order shortly thereafter, and after spending a long-distance relationship with the Boston Chapter, he help to found a chapter in the Springfield/Hartford area. This community led him back to the Capuchins and after taking his first vows in 1977, he completed his Master of Divinity and Master of Theology degrees, studying liberation theology and writing his own thesis on "gay theology of liberation" for a Roman Catholic seminary in 1985. Meanwhile, he had returned to his home chapter of Dignity after being ordained a priest in 1982 and served the chapter as chaplain and the greater l/g/b/t community by lobbying for a gay civil rights bill in the State of Connecticut.
In the late 1980s, Richard found himself first in the midst of a dialogue between church authorities and the Dignity chapter and later, following the release of a document from Rome and Dignity/USA's response, found himself in the middle of a conflict between those same two parties. In the end, he was forced to remove himself from Dignity and was forbidden to minister to that community. In his attempts to remain faithful to his conscience, he publicly shared the importance of Dignity in the life of the Church and in society and he came out in the press. Subsequently, he was silenced, banned from Catholic institutions, including his beloved alma mater, and after standing with the gay Irish community in NYC which had been excluded from marching in the city's St. Patrick's Day Parade, Richard was forced on a leave of absence from his order. He later found himself excommunicated despite attempts to dialogue with Church authorities. From his place of exile, he continued his ministry to the l/g/b/t community, working with Dignity, celebrating same-sex marriages which he had begun in 1982, and for civil rights across the board.
In 2000, after one last attempt to be reconciled with the Church, he was turned away by a bishop friend who refused to help him. He then joined the Episcopal Church, having been worshipping in an Anglo-Catholic parish in Hartford. Three years later, he joined the Anglican Society of St. Francis where, steeped in the Catholic tradition, he continues to minister with Dignity and offers his gifts to the Episcopal Church, to the movement for same-sex marriage, and for reconciliation between the g/l/b/t community and those who prefer to treat us as lepers.
Richard died on June 22, 2012, following a long struggle with lung cancer.
(This biographical statement provided by Richard Cardarelli with info on death provided by friends.)
Biography Date: March, 2005
Catholic (Roman) | Dignity | Activist (religious institutions) | Church Trials | Marriage Equality | Cardarelli, Richard
“Brother Richard Jonathan Cardarelli | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed January 29, 2023, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/richard-jonathan-cardarelli.
“Richard and I graduated from Xavier High in 1969. He was known by the nickname Shark. He was bright, articulate and exceptionally committed to his faith. His combat with the Catholic Church made him sort of a hero. He believed in gay marriage, that priests should be able to marry, and that loving homosexual relationships should be recognized as just that. Since he was a vocal opponent of the anti gay policies of the Church, he was a frequent target of condemnation by the bishops and even Rome. He and I talked several times over the years, mostly recounting memories of the friends we lost to AIDS. I had followed his political travels over the years. He certainly was persecuted. While the Church bosses eventually banned him from Xavier, they ought to instead place a plaque in his memory at the school. He was everything the school stands for: intellect, scholarship, integrity, honesty, faith. It’s strange that in retrospect that the Church was revealed as so corrupt and he led a life that forced the corrupt to try to ban the honesty in him.”
– as remembered by Peter Rinaldi on March 17, 2022
“Richard and I were in the same Capuchin novitiate class in 1976 in Milton, Massachusetts and studied theology together at Maryknoll School of Theology while living at Mary Immaculate Friary, Garrison, New York. Richard was very inspirational for me, and because of his mentoring, I was able to come out and work for LGBTQ folks along with him. Together we launched a “dinner program” for friars who were gay so that the gay friars had a forum in which to meet and could support one another in their vowed life rather than use alcohol, drugs and even sex in ways which were neither helpful nor admirable. Because of Richard’s fraternal love and support, I was able to become more involved in programs and ministries which would be of help to sexual minorities. In addition, I went on for further studies in human sexuality which has assisted me both personally and professionally. Richard always holds a special place in my heart and I hope he continues to pray for me as I continue the journey.”
– as remembered by Rev. Francis Stephen Rocco on January 8, 2016
“Remembering Father/Brother Richard Jonathan Cardarelli, on the first anniversary of his passing on June 22, 2012. I can't believe Richard is gone...his spirit must linger on. Richard really did "make a difference" in so many ways and affected so many people's lives. I first knew Richard through Dignity Hartford after I joined in the late 1980's. But I came to know him through several other avenues also.
I went to New York City with him on that fateful date when he stepped before the cameras in his priestly robes at the alternative St. Patrick's Day parade. There were six of us, out on a lark for once, rather than more serious protest work. We must have looked like tourists, searching our maps and seeking out the location of the alternative GLBT Irish parade. We found our goal and seconds later, everything changed. The reporters descended like locusts when they saw Richard's priestly robes. It was like being with a rock star, as they ignored the rest of us and plied him with questions left and right, all media including Irish television. It was that "simple" step that led eventually to his most painful excommunication. He had a simple naiveté even in the midst of his ardent protest work. He said to me once with seeming puzzlement: "Why is it that I always get in trouble for speaking out for love and peace and justice?" He was helpful to me many times, including once when I was going through a painful separation: "You have to be true to yourself. It isn't really worth it if you have to make yourself someone you are not, in order to please someone else."
I loved the man, and with his passing, more and more vivid memories of time spent with him come rising into my consciousness from the past. His support when my mother passed away was "priceless"! Amongst many other facets of our relationship, we supported each other in our struggles with OCD. One of the things I am proudest of in my life was being able to find help for Richard when the professionals were not really understanding the problem, treatments for OCD being still in their infancy. He eventually vanquished the OCD demon, amongst others. I am most proud of having been able to help him in that journey, as he helped me in return. My sympathies go out to all who knew him and especially his family and friends. Love to you always, Richard. I wish I could hug you and say "Good-bye" one more time.
From my "memory book" of times with Richard:
*Walking stations of the cross down Farmington Avenue.
*Holding a mini faerie gathering with Richard and my roommate Michael in my small skylit West Hartford attic bedroom.
*Being with him in the gallery, the day the CT state legislature passed the LGBT Civil Rights Bill.
*Tenting together at a faerie gathering.
*Dining out with Richard and making a decision that night, never to eat lobster again, for ethical animal cruelty reasons.
*Making a rainbow skirt for him for NYC Gay Pride, and then liking the skirt so well that I made a duplicate for myself. I wore that skirt in celebration of my mother's life after she passed.
– as remembered by Janibeth Johnson on June 22, 2013
“I met Brother Richard shortly after my split with my ex-wife, back in 1997. I needed some spiritual comfort in my life at that time, and a friend from my transgender support group in Hartford invited me to attend a Dignity Mass (even though I was only baptized a Roman Catholic and not Confirmed). The local Dignity USA congregation happened to meet at the same Quaker meetinghouse as my support group. I was instantly welcomed and made to feel right at home. Richard celebrated some of the Masses and he was there for me in a difficult period in my life. I celebrate your life, Brother Richard!”
– as remembered by Sirena Rivera on July 8, 2012
“Where can I begin? I first met Richard at Dignity/Hartford in January, 1983. Through the years until his death, we shared deeply in each other's lives. I am an Independent Catholic priest in the historic Old Catholic tradition reaching out to the unchurched today because of Christ's call and Richard's encouragement and support. We attended numerous protests together, worked for the civil rights of gay & lesbian persons in Connecticut through the 1980's and 90's. Some red-letter events: meeting with Archbishop John Whealon in February, 1985 with dialogue for ministry to gay Roman Catholics in the archdiocese; the church shift with the Halloween Letter of October, 1987; his chapter in Grammick's book on homosexuality and the priesthood; sharing his heartbreak over censure and excommincation; the struggle to decide to be RC and not a priest or a priest and not be RC; discovery of Independent catholicism; his discovery of Jonathan Daniels, Episcopal saint and our pilgrimage to his grave; our joining the Order of Jonathan Daniels and his taking the name of Jonathan; his entry into the Episcopal Church; Hartford memorial to Matthew Shepard. I have a number of his photo albums--he always took lots of pictures. Richard was thoughtful, patient, kind, generous to a fault, totally selfless, Traditional, Progressive, a Christ-figure in our midst. He was the best that any of us could possibly be. I cannot imagine him not here with us--and could only suggest that he might be another Therese of Lusieux--spending his heaven time aiding us here on earth. He once told me that he would like the word, "BE CREATIVE" on his headstone. He laughed deeply, smiled widely, offered his heart to another living life to its fullest! Everyone was family and friend. We shared a love of Dark Shadows (television soap opera) and attended fan club festivals in New York City--meeting the actors and reminiscing. (Special note here to Marie Wallace for her personal touch.) He as shining star will illumine our life experience of this long and blessed night of holy darkness. I don't know if he ever had a sense of how many lives he touched or even of how much people loved him--he was that humble. I am at a loss, except for that loss which I share now with so many, many people who also knew and loved him.”
– as remembered by Rev. Fr. Mickey Danyluk on June 25, 2012
“I met Richard through Dignity Hartford sometime in the early l980's. What he didn't mention here in this profile was that after a period of being silenced and banned from Dignity, Richard came back and continued to minister as one of the chaplains of Dignity, and in so doing risked being excommunicated, which eventually did happen. He felt the loss deeply being a Roman Catholic to his core, but also an out gay man who felt called to serve the LGBT community. For a time he worked as a caregiver to a developmentally delayed middle-aged man and became friends with him as well as his professional caretaker. Richard had a vibrant ministry with the Society of St. Francis, first as a brother and then as a priest when he was incardinated in the Episcopal Church. He became Novice Master for the Order and travelled extensively. His warm personality, devout religious practice, his delightful sense of humor combined with his liberal social values were attractive additions to his teaching and preaching responsibilities in the Society of St. Francis. Richard developed lung cancer about a year ago and died of the disease June 22, 2012, two days after attending his mother's funeral mass. He touched the lives of many hurting people and made his life work serving the LGBT community, following the example of St. Francis and Jesus his Lord and Savior. I am proud to have been his friend and co-worker in many of his endeavors. Deo Gratia for the gift of Richard to the LGBT community and to the Church.”
– as remembered by Rev. Sarah Flynn on June 25, 2012
Know Richard Jonathan Cardarelli? Tell us your experience.
(All entries are reviewed by the LGBT-RAN office before posting.)