Rev. Girzone, author of ‘Joshua,’ recalled as ‘compassionate soul’

The Rev. Joseph F. Girzone, whose 1983 book “Joshua” struck a chord with readers worldwide, died Sun
The Rev. Joseph F. Girzone
The Rev. Joseph F. Girzone

The Rev. Joseph F. Girzone, whose 1983 book “Joshua” struck a chord with readers worldwide, died Sunday at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany. He was 85.

An Albany native and longtime Altamont resident, Girzone retired as an active Catholic priest in 1981 because of health problems.

“Joshua,” the story of Jesus coming back to earth as an itinerant carpenter named Joshua, was the first of a series of books by Girzone about that character. According to the National Catholic Reporter, the “Joshua” series, which included eight separate titles, sold more than 2 million copies.

“He was a very kind person who had a particular concern for the poor,” Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard said today. “I think that was all reflected in his ‘Joshua’ books. From my perspective, Joshua was a Jesus figure, very compassionate and merciful, and I think that was Father Girzone’s vision of what Jesus was like. He was trying to get people interested in the personal qualities of Jesus rather than the doctrinal teachings of the church.”

Scotia’s Gary Riggi, an ordained deacon with the Albany Diocese and a longtime friend, said Girzone was always welcoming and never turned away people seeking his counsel.

“He was a man who always had time for anybody who ever came to him for his help,” Riggi said. “His spirit just emanated from him the minute you got around him. He was an amazing individual. I liked to say, ‘If you met Joe, you met Jesus.’”

Barbara Garro, an author and artist from Saratoga Springs, had known Girzone for more than 20 years.

“He was a very compassionate soul,” said Garro, who spoke with Girzone on the phone last week. “He emulated Jesus to such a point that to me he was Jesus. He was always asking what (he could do) to make people’s lives better, more satisfying. He was always comforting people. He was a very gentle man.”

Along with his works of fiction, Girzone wrote several Christian-themed books for Doubleday, including “Jesus, His Life and Teachings: As Recorded by His Friends Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,” and “My Struggles With Faith.”

Girzone’s original “Joshua” book was turned into a Hollywood film in 2002 starring Tony Goldwyn and F. Murray Abraham.

Girzone’s last book, “Stories of Jesus: 40 Days of Prayer and Reflection,” was published in 2013 by Orbis Books, a Catholic publishing house in Maryknoll in the lower Hudson Valley.

In 1995 he established the Joshua Foundation, an organization dedicated to making Jesus better known throughout the world. Workshops were held the first and second Tuesday of every month at Girzone’s home on Joshua Lane in Altamont, and they will continue under the leadership of Riggi, who has been a part of the group since the beginning.

“He was at both talks in November and he told me, ‘Whatever happens, don’t stop the talks,’” said Riggi, who said he and his wife will move into Girzone’s home in Altamont. “When he asked me 13 years ago, after I was ordained, to join him it was such an honor. So it’s always been the plan that my wife and I would leave Scotia when the time came and move to his Altamont house. He was a great guy who spent more money than he made, and he spent it on other people.”

The money, Riggi said, always went to people who really needed it.

“He had a lawyer friend who had to evict people out of an apartment, and he felt bad about it and told Joe,” said Riggi, who works in the construction business. “So Joe goes and pays their rent. That’s the kind of person he was. If people needed food to eat or the money to heat their apartment, he would give it to them. I can remember seeing stacks of checks on his desk that he was mailing out to people because they needed desperate help.”

A funeral mass for Girzone will be Dec. 12 at St. John the Evangelist Church, 806 Union St., Schenectady. Reception of the Body will take place at 9 a.m., with visitation continuing until 10:45. The funeral liturgy will be at 11 a.m., with Bishop Edward Scharfenberger serving as the principal celebrant.

“Joe was a very friendly fellow, very personable,” said the Rev. Richard Carlino, pastor at St. John. “I saw him here and there over the years, and from what I could tell he was always beloved by the people whose parishes he served.”

Girzone was ordained a Carmelite priest on June 4, 1955, by Bishop William A. Scully. He served as an associate pastor at St. Clare’s in Colonie, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Schenectady, and St. Joseph’s in Scotia. He was appointed pastor at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Amsterdam in 1973, and he moved to St. Patrick’s in Ravena in 1979 before retiring in 1981.

“I saw him Friday night, and I took the opportunity to express my gratitude for all his years of service to the Albany Diocese and the wider church,” Hubbard said. “I told him that he touched many, many lives through his writings, and also through his preaching and his retreat ministry. I told him he should be very proud.”

Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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