Brother Gilbert John Pretto, CSC

February 4, 1934 – May 11, 2018

Brother Gilbert John PrettoThe prayers of the members of the Congregation of Holy Cross are requested for the repose of the soul of Brother Gilbert John Pretto, CSC, a member of the Moreau Province of Brothers and Priests. Born in Castelgomberto, Italy, Br. Gilbert died in Albany, New York, on May 11, 2018. He was in his 60th year of religious life in the Congregation.

Gilbert’s early life, from birth up to junior high school, took place in Castelgomberto, Venezia Euganea, Italy, the hometown of his mother, Margherita Bongiolo. His father, Ernest Pretto, was born in Crystal Falls, Michigan. Gilberto Giovanni Pretto, the first of their two sons, was baptized at the church of Castelgomberto on the same day he was born, February 4, 1934.

In 1946, the family moved to East 197th Street, Brooklyn, New York, and Ernest found employment as an elevator operator. Gilbert continued his education in Brooklyn, first at Public School #172, and then at Benjamin Franklin High School, graduating in 1953. Photography captured Gilbert’s imagination early on and became a life-long passion. During the spring of 1953, he took a course in Illustrative Photography at the Institute of Applied Arts and Sciences. Then over the next four years, he worked his way up from delivery boy to commercial photographer at Franklin Photos.

In 1957, two years after becoming an American citizen, Gilbert responded to a persistent interior call and applied for admission to the Congregation of Holy Cross as a teaching Brother. He entered St. Joseph Juniorate, in Valatie, New York in June and was received into St. Joseph Novitiate, Rolling Prairie, Indiana in August. After his first profession of vows on August 16, 1958, he was assigned to study at St. Edward’s University, Austin, Texas as a scholastic in the Vincent Hall community.

In 1961, Brother Gilbert professed final vows, graduated from St. Edward’s University with a bachelor’s degree in education and was assigned to Hillsdale, New Jersey to teach at St. John the Baptist, an elementary school. The following year, he was assigned to Bronx, New York to teach at the parochial school of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, home parish to many Italian immigrant families. There he taught until 1972. Studying over five summers, Brother Gilbert earned a master’s degree in religious education (1969) from St. Michael’s College, Winooski Park, Vermont. During his time in the Bronx, he also developed a new interest, bonsai, the art of exposing the essence of a tree in a miniature form.

Brother Gilbert spent 1972 through 1974 in Brooklyn, his beloved home in New York, teaching at St. Thomas Aquinas elementary school in the Flatlands area.

He then returned to Mt. Carmel in the Bronx and taught there another 15 years, becoming an indispensable part of the parish and school community. He made further explorations into Chinese and Japanese art forms, and became skilled in Japanese watercolor painting. Many Brothers and friends became the delighted beneficiaries of his beautiful creations.

When Brother Gilbert left the classroom in 1989, he continued ministry at the parish office of Our Lady of Mount Carmel for another 13 years, offering his generous service on the staff and as bookkeeper. He also served as the local director for his Holy Cross Brothers in the Hughes Avenue community from 1995 to 2002, when he retired to St. Joseph Center in Valatie, New York.

During retirement, Brother Gilbert continued to pursue photography, his first love, as well as bonsai, and Japanese-style painting. Keeping his camera at the ready on community outings or on treks into the woods, he contributed professional-looking photos to the seasonal publications of St. Joseph Center. He won various awards for his photos, especially of flowers and insects. After studying computer graphics and webpage design, he created a webpage where many of his photographs were on display.

Faithful to private and communal prayer, Brother Gilbert was very much at home around the altar, serving as sacristan and acolyte. As much as Brother Gilbert encountered God in chapel, he also felt God’s presence in the natural world. A real botanist, he marveled at the design and beauty of herbs and plants and their usefulness in alternative medicine.

Brother Gilbert’s last project took him years of work: he identified nearly every species of tree on the 400 acres of St. Joseph Center, writing about and photographing each tree in each season of the year. This work, stored electronically, was almost at the point of completion at the time of his last illness. Even the week before his death, he could be spied walking about the property, toting a small oxygen generator and his camera, delighting in the beauty of early spring.

On Sunday, April 29, 2018, participating in the community’s annual Jubilee celebration at St. Joseph Center, Brother Gilbert celebrated his 60th Anniversary of Religious Profession.

About a year ago, Brother Gilbert was diagnosed with lung cancer, and he responded well to treatment. Last week, however, he contracted double pneumonia and was admitted to St. Peter’s Hospital, Albany, New York, where he passed to eternal life on May 11, 2018. May our Brother Gilbert rejoice for eternity, beholding in the face of God the source of all beauty.

– Br. William Zaydak, C.S.C. Provincial Superior

Thanks to Brothers Harold Hathaway and Richard Critz for their assistance with this memorial.


Uncle Gil: A Life of Faith

My name is Debbie Sudol, Brother Gilbert’s niece. Although we didn’t see Uncle Gil as often as we would have liked, his presence in my childhood memories is strong and constant. Two things stand out to me most about Uncle Gil, his faith and his positive attitude.

When I was young, every time I saw Uncle Gil, he would ask, “Where is God?” I quickly learned the answer is “everywhere.” This simple lesson has stayed with me and is something I have tried to share with my children. Uncle Gil has been a role model for me, showing me what a life of faith should be.

Uncle Gil grew up in northern Italy during World War II. It was a difficult time for him, my dad, and their parents. Despite this, Uncle Gil always had a deep faith in God and seemed at peace with himself and the world. I remember him always smiling and laughing, even when my dad and uncle were having spirited discussions.

In 2009, I was fortunate to be with Uncle Gil when he returned to his hometown in Italy for the first time since leaving more than 60 years before. During that trip, my dad and uncle shared many stories and laughter about their time growing up in Italy, which was something they rarely talked about prior to the trip. This was an amazing gift that I will cherish forever.

It was a great joy to attend Uncle Gil’s 60th anniversary three weeks ago. I’m grateful we had that time with him to celebrate him and honor his life of faith and service. We will miss him, but our memories of him are a blessing.

Eulogy by Debbie Sudol
St. Joseph Center Chapel, Valatie, NY
May 18, 2018


Taking In the Glory of God

What do I want to share with you all about our Brother Gilbert?

Br. Gilbert’s deep faith in God was the bedrock of our friendship. In fact, all his interests, photography, botany, art, and technology were rooted in and flourished through his love of God. He was not afraid to evangelize. In fact, he felt compelled to share the precious gift of faith. The intensity with which he shared this love sometimes got him into trouble for, as many of you know, subtlety was not his strong suit. This wasn’t done out of ego, rather, out of love. Br. Gilbert just wanted everyone to have what he knew to be the best thing ever. As an example, Kathleen Walker noted that she was a recipient of prayers he sent her via text message.

Not content to just evangelize to those he came into personal contact with, he created his personal website: brogilbert.org. His site was featured in the most recent edition of the St. Joseph Center Newsletter. Please check it out. He would love that.

A common narrative of remembrance is how Brother Gilbert would go out of his way to lend a helping hand with whatever one needed. Whether it was with electronics, photographic issues or for something as simple as doing in-store or online shopping, he was happy to oblige.

From the day I started here at St. Joseph Center, Brother Gilbert was there to assist me in any way he could. He, the late Br. Alex Stroz and I would regularly get together to discuss when and where we should go on the next excursion. He was always full of suggestions and up for something new.

He was one of a kind, with a wry sense of humor, but, he could also be blunt to a fault. Here’s a perfect example from about 5 months ago: While eating his favorite lunch, pepperoni pizza, at his favorite eaterie, La Bellas, out of the blue he stared at me and deadpanned; “You know, you’re aging.” I laughed, and I truly wasn’t offended. If it was anyone else, though…

Tina Ackerman recounted how he would, with camera in hand, show her the result of one of his many hours-long hikes. When asked to share her memories, Donna Dachenhausen gave me a glimpse of the early rising Brother Gilbert. He would enter the kitchen and when he spied her he would say, “May I?” Which meant he would like some scrambled eggs. Because he was sweet and polite, Donna said she is going to miss those early morning get-togethers.

It was a joy for us to have Brother Gilbert share his latest discoveries. And he shared with everyone who would listen. At times it was a newly discovered plant, flower or tree. More recently, because his illness kept him closer to home, it was a new book. His enthusiasm was a real pleasure to witness.

He Leadeth Me, a book by Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J., was a recent favorite. Ciszek details in the epilogue the process of his complete abandonment to the will of God. (Accomplished, I might add, under added burden of Ciszek’s own stubbornness).

That message of abandoning one’s self to Divine Providence was a balm for Brother Gilbert during his illness. As an aside, Father Ciszek’s book had a huge impact on my continual conversion. I recognized that discussing it with Gilbert was a gift. Another book that he was still in the process of reading is entitled: The Heavenly Man, by Liu Zhenying, now called Brother Yun. He highly recommended it.

Brother Gilbert was stubborn – and as Frank Sinatra sang: “he did it his way.” This was something he worked on his whole life.

How apt that John 21:18 is from the Gospel passage for today. “Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

Brother Gilbert didn’t want to be in bed, nor, did he want to be in the hospital. He wanted to be out walking with his camera around his neck, taking in the glory of God.

Now he gets to experience that glory up close and personal. The sad part for us is that we don’t get to hear his first person account of it all.

Eulogy by Linda Hallenbeck
St. Joseph Center Chapel, Valatie, NY
May 18, 2018


Keeping to the Main Road

I would like to express appreciation for our speakers Debbie Sudol, who helped us see Bro. Gilbert from the family’s side, and Ms. Linda Hallenbeck, who shared a staff member’s perspective. Also, for all those who worked to put the prayers together today, for our food service persons who put the luncheon out, and most especially of all, for those nurses and aides who helped Bro. Gilbert in these last weeks.

Bro. Gilbert was – for many years of his life – a student of the philosophies of the Far East, particularly China. This book on the Tao Te Ching was really beloved of Bro. Gilbert. I don’t know if you can see it from where you are sitting, but it is so worn and well-used. There are personal notes and translations of some of the Chinese characters in the margin. He must have read it for inspiration, for decades.

Underlined, inside, I found these words:

“If I have just a little sense,
I will walk on the main road
and my only fear will be
of straying from it.
Keeping to the main road is easy,
But people love to be sidetracked.”

How like Gilbert these words are!

“I will walk on the main road, and my only fear will be of straying from it.” Those of us who heard his thoughts at the table for these past years, know just how important it was to him to “…walk on the main road, and not stray from it.” There were days and topics when you were made very aware you were not on what Brother Gilbert saw as the right road!

He never failed to rise to a challenge, to defend orthodoxy, usually at dinner. Even when he was not feeling well, Gil would find the energy to debate us on moral issues using natural law theory. Not all dinners with him were calm ones! There’s a lot of his thinking on his website. Although, be warned – many modern ideas were seen by Brother Gilbert as dangers!

If you didn’t tangle with him, though, it was easy to find things about him that were lovable.

For me, it wasn’t exactly WHAT Gilbert believed about God, but THAT his belief was so passionate, that moved me so much. He pursued God in prayer and study with tremendous devotion.

He loved Thomastic philosophy, especially the premise that “grace builds on nature.” He wondered about the whole nature of God as expressed through the Church, and through Creation. Painting, photographing, walking the Bronx and watching young people grow in their education, Gilbert understood that he belonged to a sacred world. In websites and photo essays, he did his best to communicate its infinite worth, and our dignity.
He understood the need to keep life simple in order to see beauty. Going into his room after his death, apart from his computer, I found one shelf of books, 4 shirts, and 3 pair of pants, which he hemmed by hand, himself.

It will be hard to forget you, Gilbert. Now, in your new state, you know the truth, and the rest of us have to stumble along in dim light for some more time. Thank you for all you’ve given. Rest well, and enjoy the beauty.

Reflections by Br. Mark Knightly, CSC
St. Joseph Center Chapel, Valatie, NY
May 18, 2018


‘God Calls You’

Posted on April 26, 2018 at holycrossbrothers.org:

More than 70 years have passed since Bro. Gilbert Pretto, CSC, lived under German occupation during World War II, but he still has vivid recollections of growing up in Castelgomberto, a small town in the province of Vicenza, Italy. His father, Ernest, left Italy years prior in search of work and served in the U.S. Army during the war. Bro. Gilbert, his younger brother and mother remained in Italy.

At the age of 12, Bro. Gilbert attended seminary for six months and then immigrated to the U.S. in 1946. How did he become interested in religious life so young? “God calls you,” he stated. “You only respond.” Bro. Gilbert attended public schools in Manhattan and the Bronx and briefly worked as a commercial photographer. He had a friend interested in a religious vocation and tagged along on a visit to see the vocation director, Bro. Maurus O’Malley, CSC. “I saw Bro. Maurus one or two times and that was it,” Bro. Gilbert recalled. “I was accepted.”

An educator in the faith, Bro. Gilbert taught grammar school in New Jersey, New York and for many years at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel elementary school in the Bronx. He continued to pursue photography and developed new talents in Eastern art and computer programming. In fact, while he was still teaching at Mt. Carmel, Bro. Gilbert began a new ministry, a website devoted to educating people on Catholic faith and teachings, that has continued well into retirement.

“Seeing is believing,” for Bro. Gilbert, so the site includes a multitude of themes ranging from “Basic Truths” to “Miracles of Christ” accompanied by his own photography and other imagery. A work in process for more than 15 years, he estimates there are more than 40,000 images loaded on to the website. “It keeps me spiritually alive,” he explained. “If somebody reads it, they may be inspired by God to do something with their lives or see a truth they didn’t see before. It keeps me going.”


Brother Gilbert John Pretto, CSC served the Lord faithfully in the following ministries:

  • 1958-1961 Student, Vincent Hall, Austin, TX
  • 1961-1962 Teacher, St. John the Baptist School, Hillsdale, NJ
  • 1962-1972 Teacher, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Bronx, NY
  • 1972-1974 Teacher, St. Thomas Aquinas, Brooklyn, NY
  • 1974-1989 Teacher, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Bronx, NY
  • 1989-2002 Parish Office Staff, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Bronx, NY
  • 1995-2002 Local Director, Hughes Ave. Community, Bronx, NY
  • 2002-2018 Retired, Sacristan, St. Joseph Center, Valatie, NY