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A little about Fred McCarthy 

Fred McCarthy was born on September 5, 1918 in Boston, Massachusetts.  At a very early age, Fred McCarthy became fascinated with cartooning. Every Sunday after church, his family purchased a newspaper.  McCarthy would “remove the funnies pages, spread ‘em out on our parlor rug, then fling myself down to enjoy them voraciously.” One of his favorite comics was Frank Gordon’s “Cops and Robbers.”  McCarthy started drawing his own cartoons and sent them to The New Yorker magazine. He had accumulated numerous rejection slips by age 12 (Irwin 164). His artistic talent and passion was even acknowledged in the classroom. In the fifth grade McCarthy almost failed because of his poor scores in math, but his art teacher recognized his artistic abilities and recommended that he be passed based on those talents.

After high school, Fred McCarthy attended Boston College.  He drew cartoons for  football programs and for the college newspaper.  After two years at Boston College, Fred felt called to become a Franciscan priest.  He earned a bachelor’s degree through St. Bonaventure's College and Seminary at St. Anthony’s Monastery in Butler, New Jersey.  After earning his degree, he moved to St. Bonaventure, N. Y. It was here ‘Mc’ created the beloved Brother Juniper. (See Brother Juniper His drawing ability made him a popular sign maker for campus events.  He put little friar cartoons in the margins of many of these signs, and called the character "Friar Sad Sack". As the little fellow developed into a recognizable character, Fr. Irenaeus Herscher saw Saint Francis' friend Brother Juniper in the pictures.  While at St. Bonaventure, Fred McCarthy went on to complete his master’s degree and a degree in humanities.  He was ordained as Father Justin McCarthy, O.F.M in 1944.


A visit to Friedsam Library's
Bishop Room and its journalism collections

 

One of McCarthy's most vivid memories of life at Saint Bonaventure was the Allegany River flood of 1942.  In those days the campus farm extended over what is now McGraw-Jennings field.  Included in the farm was a piggery of 150 or so swine.  As the Allegany's waters rose the pigs were in great danger of drowning, in fact that was the expectation.  McCarthy and a number of his fellow clerical students set up a rope and boat "ferry" to bring the pigs to higher ground.  Fr. Peter Biasiotto, one of the instructors, took to the water and hefted the several hundred pound animals up into the boat.  McCarthy recalled "him in those rapidly moving flood waters, grabbing 2 big hogs by the ears and dragging 'em to our wooden duck-pen raft."  And, since only four could go at a time, it took a lot of trips!  Fr. Biasiotto "was up to his chin all day!"  Most of the animals were saved.  The students' reward for their labor was plenty of pork chops for the rest of the year.

Read McCarthy's complete account of the Pig Rescue here.

After completing his degree, McCarthy continued drawing, with his "Friar Sad Sack" appearing in a newsletter sent to Franciscan chaplains.  A health scare after his ordination left him afraid he would never speak again.  He suffered for three years with a throat illness.  While he was ill, McCarthy spent time cartooning, returning to "Brother Juniper", “the chubby little friar with a big nose.”  During World War II, Fred McCarthy became an art director for Friar magazine, a national Franciscan magazine.  "Brother Juniper" was printed by the magazine and gained the attention of Doubleday publishers. The comic ran in newspapers around the world, including Mexico, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Japan. (See Brother Juniper) Each week he was required to draw twenty comics, six of which would be chosen for publication. Although the syndicated cartoon brought in thirty thousand dollars a year for McCarthy, he couldn't accept any of the money because he was sworn to poverty. He decided instead to donate the money to Franciscan seminary students.

At the same time, Doubleday approached McCarthy about producing Brother Juniper books. Doubleday asked McCarthy to draw rough sketches of Brother Juniper cartoons so the producers could evaluate them. He first sent Doubleday fifty rough drafts, but the producers only accepted eight. It wasn't until after Doubleday accepted sixty of his sketches that the company had McCarthy sign a book contract. While he worked on his cartoons, McCarthy had trouble pleasing both his producers and his brethren. Whatever his brethren liked, Doubleday denied, and whatever Doubleday liked, his brethren would ask, "Is that supposed to be funny?" (McCarthy 86-87). Eventually after six months of work, his first book entitled Brother Juniper was published. Immediately afterward McCarthy began working on other books to follow.

Having studied sculpture at Boston's Museum School for a semester, McCarthy entered this stone carving of Christ in the 1955 New England International Art Festival.  It was accepted for the show, but won no jury awards.  However, it did finish first or second among the visitors to the show in their "Popular" voting category, according to McCarthy.  "Boston's Catholics voted me right up there, close to the top," he recalled with a fond smile.

After his father’s death, Fred McCarthy petitioned to return to the state of layman and have permission to marry.  The petition was granted by the Vatican.

‘Mc’ traveled to Rome, Italy to sketch in the early 1960s, fulfilling his hope to sketch Michelangelo’s Pieta statue.  While drawing the statue, he met his future wife, Lilly.  They were married in 1966.  (See Fred and Lilly)  Fred and Lilly had an enthusiastic, and lifelong membership in the Secular Franciscan Order.

Doubleday booked ‘Mc’ to lecture on the history of comics and humor at different colleges in the United States.  He began at the University of Buffalo and continued to Penn State and Yale.  Because of throat problems, McCarthy drew more than he lectured.  His “Famous Funnies,” drawings of Mickey Mouse, Popeye, Little Orphan Annie, Brother Juniper, became popular with the students. This became the first of numerous lectures throughout his career.

After moving to Florida he taught a Jewish Humor class at the University of Miami (Suntan University) in the 1970s. After substituting for a lecturer at the Boca Raton Hotel, McCarthy gave a ride home to one of the audience members, a University of Miami CEO. During the car ride he told her how his wife Lilly was telling him that he should teach a course on Jewish humor because his Jewish agent was always telling jokes, and because McCarthy had a great appreciation for Jewish culture. Enthusiastic about the idea, she hired McCarthy to teach "Jewish Humor" at the University of Miami.

His work introduced him to many of the best known comic artists of the twentieth century, including Al Capp (L'il Abner), Charles Schultz (Peanuts), and Jerry Siegel & Joe Schuster (Superman).  He was known to join some of his fellow comic artists in playing street football in front of New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel during comic artists' conventions, and, at 84 (in 2003), could still punt a football 40 yards.  

Fred McCarthy’s talent  extended beyond Brother Juniper.  An avid sports fan, he was hired by the Miami Dolphins to draw football posters. He drew action portraits of players and coaches.  Joe Robbie, the team’s owner, took down a Picasso to hang ‘Mc’s’ portrait  of him on Robbie's parlor wall, earning his wife's disapproval. 

He created portraits of many religious figures and famous individuals, such as John and Jackie Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln.  'Mc' also had ideas for other religious cartoons including a couple of series' starring the Devil.  Another passion of 'Mc's' was the Holocaust.  He created many portraits of the victims of the Holocaust and worked on a manuscript entitled, “The Anatomy of the Holocaust.”

 miami dolphins   Jewish Holocaust  Native American
Draft of Miami Dolphins Poster  Portrait of a Jewish Woman  Crazy Horse 

In the 1970’s McCarthy worked as a professor of design and materials development at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in Boca Raton, Florida.  While teaching there he started an Art Exchange Program between FAU and Denmark. The program was meant to allow children’s art to be exchanged between Boca Raton, Florida, and Odense, Denmark in the hopes that the program would one day involve secondary schools and colleges.  By exchanging art between two cultures, McCarthy believed that the Art Exchange Program would enhance information on international cultures as well as children’s creativity. McCarthy had the help of his wife Lilly, a native of Denmark, who would help translate his letters into Danish so that he could contact teachers in Odense.    

In a report on his experience with the program, McCarthy recounted how he and his wife visited the Vestre Skole (school) in Odense to discuss the art program. They were shown around the school and met with the principal who said he enjoyed the program and wanted to expand it. During his visit, McCarthy was asked to draw sketches for first graders. He drew sketches of cowboys, Brother Juniper, Snoopy, and ads for Florida Atlantic University. Soon after, and to the delight of Fred McCarthy, the first graders volunteered themselves to draw their own pictures to show to the class. McCarthy saw this is an excellent sign for the future of the program. The promotion of the Art Exchange Program took Fred and Lily McCarthy to Germany, Austria, Hungary, and England, and McCarthy spent three years working on the program. But unfortunately the Art Exchange Program did not continue at Florida Atlantic University.

In a 2004 interview McCarthy described his philosophy of humor.  He "believes that everyone has a sense of humor, which is a gift from God, a heavenly help that keeps our souls in balance.

'Since it is God-given, we should strive to develop it because one day we'll be called to account for how we put God's gifts to use.  The highest form of humor is the ability to laugh at ourselves and at our efforts.  This is extremely difficult to do unless we're practitioners of the hard-won virtue of humility--a virtue little Juniper possessed in abundance.  I hope that my 'little sunbeam in burlap' will serve as an exemplar of Catholic good humor while providing us with a chuckle a week.'" (Hamel)

‘Mc’ and St. Bonaventure reconnected in 2002.  In 2003, St. Bonaventure asked Fred McCarthy to complete several projects for the university.  These included a cartoon strip for BonAlumnus, greeting cards featuring Brother Juniper and even a billboard, though not all saw the light of day.  Sister Margaret Carney, O.F.M. commissioned McCarthy in 2005 to draw portraits of the university’s twenty presidents. McCarthy enjoyed working on the project and made an effort to make each presidential picture unique. Instead of drawing each president's standard headshot, McCarthy wanted to incorporate items for the presidents to hold. Each item was meant to be significant to the president, highlighting some of their distinctive traits. Some of his early ideas included a president holding a diploma, a book, or a baseball glove. The portraits currently hang in the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts. St. Bonaventure held a special place in Fred McCarthy’s life.  He collaborated with the University Archives to create an exhibit of the highlights of his life, and generated many other ideas including using Brother Juniper as a tour guide for the campus (See St. Bonaventure and Fred McCarthy).

Before his death, Fred McCarthy was working on a collection of 100 Saints, containing 50 men and 50 women. He passed away before the project’s completion.

Fred McCarthy died at the age of 91 on October 26, 2009.  His artwork continues to live on in the archives.



References:

Hamel, Joanne. “Local Cartoonist Shares His Comics with a New Generation.” The Florida Catholic 8 Jan.
     2004: A5+
Hayes, Maria R. “Sunshine in Burlap: Fred McCarthy Spreads God’s Word Through an Unlikely Medium.”
     The BonaVintage 1, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 11-17.
Irwin, Theodore. “The Wistful World of ‘Brother Juniper’.” Coronet (Sept. 1960): 162-167.

McCarthy, Fr. Justin. "Is That Supposed to Be Funny?" The Provincial Annals: 86-87.

McCarthy, Fred.  My Mostly True Autobiography. ed. Richard Santana. Unpublished

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