By Father Michael Mendl, S.D.B.
Brother 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.
Brother Zito, born on April 29, 1922, in Niagara Falls, N.Y., 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 12 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. (1951-1955).
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 Brother 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.”
Brother Zito 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). 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 2006 Brother Zito 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 Father James Heuser said of Brother Zito: “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.”
Brother Zito 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, Brother Zito 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. Brother Thomas Dion, S.D.B., the province’s treasurer, said, “Brother John was a true Salesian brother—a faithful witness of Christ for the young.”
Father John Puntino, Brother Zito’s superior for part of the time that he served in the house of formation in South Orange, said: “Brother 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.”
The wake will be at Mary Help of Christians Church, 6400 East Chelsea Street, Tampa, Fla. 33610 on Wednesday, June 9, from 5:00 to 7:10 p.m. The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 7:30 p.m.
Brother Zito’s body will be transported to the Marian Shrine at 174 Filors Lane, Stony Point, N.Y. 10980 on Friday, June 11, where the wake will be from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. that evening, and the Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 7:30 p.m.
Burial will take place on Saturday morning, June 12, at 10:30 a.m. at the Salesian Cemetery, 3 Craigville Road, Goshen, N.Y. 10924.