Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Bro. John Zito, SDB (1922-2010)

Bro. John Zito, SDB, returned to his Maker on June 8, 2010, from St. Philip the Apostle Residence, the Salesian retirement home in Tampa. He was 88.

Bro. John, born on April 29, 1922, in Niagara Falls, was the son of immigrants from Sicily, Joseph and Catherine Zito. He was baptized in the family’s parish church of St. Joseph on May 7 of that year and was also confirmed there 12 years later.

When John decided to become a Salesian brother, he was following in the steps of an aunt and a sister, who had become Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (Salesian Sisters). He went to the Salesian seminary at Newton, N.J., in August 1938 and entered the novitiate there in 1942. He made his first profession of vows on Sept. 8, 1943.

As a young brother he was trained as a printer and practiced that trade for 13 years at Don Bosco Seminary in Newton (1943-1948), Mary Help of Christians School in Tampa (1948-1951), and Don Bosco Tech in Paterson, N.J. (1951-1956).
Few Salesians of my generation, if any, ever dreamed that Bro. John might have been a basketball coach. This undated photo seems to come from Don Bosco Tech in Paterson in the early 1950s.

In 1956 he was called back to Newton to assist in the training of the novices for three years. Then he moved to the provincial house in New Rochelle, where he teamed up with Bro. Michael Frazette in running the St. Dominic Savio Classroom Club, a national organization that at its peak enrolled some 70,000 students (1959-1972). This apostolate, he said, “attractively presented Dominic Savio to many youngsters as a role model and friend.”

Bro. John worked in the province vocation office for another 15 years (1972-1987) from Salesian Junior Seminary in Goshen, N.Y., and the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw-Stony Point, N.Y., and then in youth ministry at the Salesian retreat center in Goshen (1987-1991). This shot from 1974 shows Bro. John surrounded by young people at a vocation fair in Philadelphia.

From 1991 to 1999 he was treasurer of the house of formation in South Orange, N.J., and in 1999 he returned to the provincial house to help in the development office and then the mission office.

In 2007 Bro. John retired to the St. Philip the Apostle Residence in Tampa, where he maintained an apostleship of prayer, counsel, and cheering for the Notre Dame football team.

Former provincial Fr. James Heuser said of Bro. John: “For me, John lived a life clearly centered on God, a Salesian who made himself a brother to many, and who encouraged others to live in joyful trust. ‘Smile, God loves you!’ was his favorite motto ... a conviction which he lived.”

Bro. John was loved far and wide for his cheerful spirit, capacity for friendship, and witness of prayer. He lived out what the Salesian rule of life asks in Constitution 17: “Because he is a herald of the Good News [the Salesian] is always cheerful. He radiates this joy and is able to educate to a Christian and festive way of life: ‘Let us serve the Lord in holy joy.’”

The secret of persevering in religious life, Bro. John said, was frequent confession and Holy Communion, devotion to our Lady, and praying a Salve Regina every day.

He provided an outstanding example of piety, fidelity, and hard work to his younger confreres. Bro. Thomas Dion, SDB, the province’s treasurer, said, “Bro. John was a true Salesian brother—a faithful witness of Christ for the young.”

Fr. John Puntino, SDB, Bro. Zito’s superior for part of the time that he served in the house of formation in South Orange, said: “Bro. John excelled as member of the formation team during the mid-1990s. He gave excellent witness in his personal life of consecration; he cared with great energy and prudence for the material needs of the community; he remained active in apostolic works with Salesian Cooperators; he created a warm and welcoming community atmosphere.”
Maybe we didn't know about his coaching skills (see photo above), but we all knew that Bro. John played a hot harmonica at many a Salesian feast day or end-of-retreat entertainment.

Bro. John’s funeral will be doubly celebrated in Tampa and at the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw. He will be buried at the Salesian Cemetery in Goshen.

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