Brother James Joseph Rio, CSC

September 16, 1939 – December 5, 2016

The prayers of the members of the Congregation of Holy Cross are requested for the repose of the soul of Brother James Joseph Rio, CSC, a member of the Moreau Province of Brothers and Priests. Born in New Britain, CT, Br. James died in Valatie, NY, on December 5, 2016. He was in his 57th year of religious life in the Congregation.

James Rio was born on September 16, 1939, in New Britain, CT.  Thirty-six days later, his parents, Domenic Rio and Josephine Mortelliti, brought the first of their three sons to St. Ann’s, where he was baptized by the founding pastor of the newly-established church serving the Italian Catholic community of New Britain.

Before entering Holy Cross, Jim received his education and religious formation in his home town. He received his first communion at St. John the Evangelist Church and received the sacrament of confirmation (and the name Joseph) at St. Andrew’s Church. After completing primary and middle grades in the public school system, he attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School, run by the Sisters of Notre Dame. During his last two years of high school, Jim was employed part time as a clerk and then assistant manager of the produce department of the First National Store.

The seed of his religious vocation was planted in catechism class by a Sister who passed out booklets on Brothers. Jim wrote that he was intrigued by this vocation. A few years later, in high school, he read an article featuring the works of the Brothers of Holy Cross. With additional contact and support from Brother Hyacinth, and with the encouragement of his parents, he applied and was accepted as a candidate.  Sister Jane Marie, SND, teacher of seniors at St. Thomas Aquinas, noted his steady, careful work, his quiet patience and dependability, and his good-humored disposition. Twice a week, James helped her in catechism class. Well-known at St. Andrew’s Church, Jim was recommended to the Brothers by the assistant pastor, who wrote: “we have tried to have him consider studying for the priesthood.”  Jim wrote on his application to the novitiate that “for one year” he had considered becoming a priest, but had definitely changed his mind.

In June of 1958, following graduation from high school, James traveled to Valatie, NY, and entered the candidacy program for the Brothers of Holy Cross.  On August 22, 1958, he was received into St. Joseph Novitiate in Valatie. There, a year and a day later, Brother James made his first profession of vows.  On August 23, 1962, he professed to live the vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience for the rest of his life.

After completing his novitiate formation in 1959, Br. James was assigned to the Vincent Hall Scholasticate at St. Edward’s University, Austin, TX, to begin his college studies.  By the spring of 1962, he was practice teaching world history and, by the fall of that year, he was on his first apostolic assignment, teaching at St. Thomas Aquinas Elementary School in Brooklyn, NY. After two years there, he was assigned to teach at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in the Bronx.  During the summers, he continued to take undergraduate courses at Fordham University.  Years later he was to return to the Bronx.

When he made his perpetual profession, Brother James also took a fourth vow, making himself available to serve in the foreign missions of the Congregation of Holy Cross. In the summer of 1965, he was sent to Fort Portal, Uganda, to teach at St. Leo’s College. Three years later, he was assigned to teach at St. Mary’s Seminary, Fort Portal, and to serve as the superior of the Brothers community. He was appointed headmaster of St. Mary’s in 1970.  For years later, he would enjoy talking about his time in East Africa and having known Servant of God, Bishop Vincent McCauley.

Returning to the States in the summer of 1973, Brother James was finally able to complete his B.A. in Social Studies at St. Edward’s University.  Then, in 1974, he was assigned to Flushing, NY, where he taught at Holy Cross High School for eight years. Brother James’ next assignment, 1982-1997, was his longest – he taught for 15 years at Notre Dame High School in West Haven, CT.  Along the way, he received an Outstanding Teacher Award (1989-90) as the school’s Tandy Technology Scholar because of his computer expertise.  His years of ministry were recognized in 1994 when he received the Knight of Honor award.

A change from high school ministry came in the fall of 1997 when Brother James returned to New York and joined the faculty of the Marie Smith Urban Street Academy in the Bronx which was under the direction of Pius XII Youth and Family Services.  The Academy focused on helping the unemployed become job-ready. Clients, including school dropouts, single mothers, and homeless persons, were offered basic skills in math, English and computer use, and training in how to present themselves, succeed in interviews, and manage conflicts. Brother James enjoyed responding to these special needs in the Academy’s less-structured environment. He taught computer skills, but his kind, easy manner made him an approachable favorite of students who opened their lives to him and sought his advice.

While engaged in this ministry, Brother James was a member of the community of Brothers living at Lorillard Place in the Bronx. From 2004-2011, he lived at the Provincial Residence in New Rochelle, NY, and commuted to work. In 2006, when Pius XII ended their sponsorship of MSUSA, Brother James continued similar work with Catholic Charities in Harlem, NY.

In 2011, Brother James finally gave up his full work schedule and moved to Flushing, NY, to live with the Brothers at Holy Cross High School and to assist in the school’s service learning program. In 2013, he was assigned to St. Joseph Center, Valatie, NY, where he helped with the needs of the Brothers.

His health began to decline and at times James dealt with severe pain.  However, he kept a positive attitude and his sense of humor.

Our beloved Brother James passed into the Lord’s loving presence in the evening of December 5, 2016 in his room at St. Joseph Center, Valatie, NY.  At the time of his death, Br. Mark Knightly was with him.  The community along with some kitchen staff and medical aides, were gathered for prayer in his room two nights before and Jim was anointed by all.  We pray for the repose of Brother James’ soul and give thanks for his openness to respond to the call of the Lord to commit himself to the Congregation of Holy Cross in community life and ministry.

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

High Standards

We, the Pioneers, first met James in June of 1958 as a member of the first group, the Pioneers of those aspiring to become Brothers of Holy Cross at the working farm on Route 9. There weren’t enough beds in the Juniorate building, so Jim was assigned to bed down in the then under construction novitiate building with three others. Those four were told not to use any of the plumbing there until the building was finished and would have to use the facilities in the farm house I wonder what they did if they had to use the facilities in the middle of the night. But I digress.

Jim was always smiling. He often made me think of the famous saying: “Keep smiling, it makes people wonder what you’ve been up to.” He loved Italian food; especially spaghetti and meatballs.

You could see his leadership abilities when he was made assistant manager of the produce department of the First National Store during his senior year at Saint Thomas High School. The call to be a Brother was strong even then. At Saint Edward’s University in Austin, TX, Brother James studied hard and was well liked.

In Africa, Brother James was assigned to St. Mary’s Minor Seminary, being appointed as Headmaster and Religious Superior of the resident brothers. He was loved by the students that he taught. He upheld high academic standards as he prepared them for national examinations at the end of senior four. Along with the Father Rector, James guided the spiritual growth of the seminarians. While at the seminary, Jim organized weekly movies, which in those days were obtained from the American Embassy in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. Normally the films would arrive by post…but often he would make a round trip (5 ½ hours – one-way drive) on very bad and winding dirt roads filled with pot holes – to obtain the reel to reel film. He and Bro. Fred Cosgrove would leave early in the dark mornings with Jim driving about 100 kph (about 62 mph), keeping watch for the headlights of the taxis and buses coming in the opposite direction. It was an adventure. One day, Jim cornered Fred so they could drive down to Kampala to buy a replacement spring for the movie projector to show the Friday night movies. What a ride!

As Religious Superior of the Brothers at St. Mary’s, Jim would often take the community of Brothers to Lake Saka (now our novitiate) for prayers, supper and the 0 Hell card games. As Headmaster of St. Mary’s Minor Seminary, Jim would take the students to Lake Saka and teach them boating and how to swim. It was during this time that Jim developed the “Rio Look.” When students would ask him a question to which he didn’t want to say “no” he would give them a certain stare so they would walk away knowing the answer was no.

Students looked forward to the end of their senior year at St. Mary’s. Jim would have a cookout for them at Lake Saka; often joined by the senior students from nearby St. Leo’s College. As there were Muslim students at St. Leo’s, James would arrange for a sheik to kill the cow so the Muslim students would then be able to cook and eat the meat.

Jim returned to the States to help take care of his mom. He had a strong family commitment. He even worked on his family genealogy. Once back in the States, Jim taught at Holy Cross High School in Flushing, NY, and as Dean of Discipline, the “Rio Look” was again put to good use.

There was a comical side to Jim, also. Here in retirement, according to Bro. Ed Boyer, both he and Jim were watching episodes of the Carol Burnett show, where they sat side by side in the two seater couch. Ed would start singing “cuddle up a little closer ….” in response Jim would throw a pillow between them. After a while, Jim would start singing or humming the song, also. This got to be the usual greeting between the two Pioneers. When teaching at Marie Smith Academy in the South Bronx, for adult students wishing to complete their high school education, Jim had a one-hour drive each way. Demanding high standards in computer usage, he would also instruct the students how to go for job interviews; with attention to dress, hygiene, office management, organization, and letter writing.

The morning following Jim’s death, we prayed these words of Isaiah that I paraphrase here:

“No longer shall I behold my friends among those who dwell in the world.
My dwelling, like a shepherd’s tent,
Is struck down and borne away from me;
You my God have folded up my life, like a weaver who severs the last thread.”

In his final days, Jim lived the following verses:

Day and night you gave me over to torment;
I cried out until the dawn.
Like a lion you broke all my bones:
Like a swallow I uttered shrill cries;
I moaned like a dove.
My eyes grew weak, gazing heaven-ward;
Lord, I was in straits; but you were my surety!
And now you have preserved my life from the pit of destruction,
When you cast behind your back all my sins.
You are my savior,
I shall sing to stringed instruments in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.

And now, Jim, may God cuddle you in the palms of His hands.

Reflections by Br. Thomas Meany, CSC
St. Joseph Center, Valatie, NY
December 10, 2016

Brother James Joseph Rio, CSC served the Lord faithfully in the following ministries:

  • 1962-1964 Teacher / Student, St. Thomas Aquinas, Brooklyn, NY
  • 1964-1965 Teacher / Student, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Bronx, NY
  • 1965-1968 Teacher, St. Leo’s College, Fort Portal, Uganda
  • 1968-1969 Teacher / Asst. Superior, St. Mary’s Seminary, Fort Portal, Uganda
  • 1969-1972 Headmaster / Superior, St. Mary’s Seminary, Fort Portal, Uganda
  • 1972-1973 Headmaster, St. Mary’s Seminary, Fort Portal, Uganda
  • 1973-1974 Student, St. Edward’s University, Austin, TX
  • 1974-1982 Teacher, Holy Cross High Sschool, Flushing, NY
  • 1982-1997 Teacher, Notre Dame High School, West Haven, CT
  • 1997-2006 Faculty, Marie Smith Urban Street Academy, Bronx, NY
  • 2006-2011 Instructor, Catholic Charities, Harlem, NYC
  • 2011-2013 Service Program, Holy Cross High School, Flushing, NY
  • 2013-2014 Transportation, St. Joseph Center, Valatie, NY
  • 2014-2016 Retired, St. Joseph Center, Valatie, NY