fr joe bragotti

Fr. Joe Bragotti, mccj

Womens group blessing absent loved ones_0

Father Joe Bragotti with the “artists” who helped make a Nativity scene from mud in a dry Ugandan winter.

Fr Joe Bragotti and Mother

Fr. Joe and his mother Anita.

In 2016, Fr. Joe returned to Guatemala for a visit to his old mission. He always adored spending time with the families there.

Visitation is 10-11 a.m., Thursday, June 22, 2023 at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, 7820 Beechmont Ave. Cincinnati, Ohio 45255. Mass begins at 11 a.m. and will be livestreamed here.
A reception will immediately follow at the parish.

September 13, 1937 – June 14, 2023

Fr. Joseph Bragotti was never one to shy away from challenges or trouble.

His life was one of adventure — traveling from one continent to another, learning several languages and local customs, surviving wars; all while sharing the Gospel and the love of Jesus Christ.

Fr. Joe came into the world during a time of great conflict, growing up in Milan, Italy during World War II. He remembered intimately times of fear and hunger as soldiers and rebels controlled the city for many years. But he also had many happy memories of life in Milan – fútbol games in the street, school lessons with his mother Anita, helping his father Francis, playing with his three sisters, and many hours spent with the youth program at his local parish.

In 1954, Fr. Joe entered the seminary.

“I owe my basic formation to the archdiocesan seminary of Milan, that was well ahead of its time and where I spent my teen years. Our educators there wanted us to be fully human, besides being Christian, and I am grateful for that,” wrote Fr. Joe.

He came to the United States in 1957, the day after his twentieth birthday, aboard the Italian ocean liner the Giulio Cesare.

“I was stepping into a world I knew nothing about, except for what I had seen in movies while growing up in Italy. I did not know English, I did not know the culture, the customs, the patchwork of Christian beliefs, differing church buildings, and traditions,” Fr. Joe wrote in 2019.

Joe quickly adapted to life in the United States. While living at the Comboni Sacred Heart Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio, he studied theology at St. Mary of the West. He finished his studies in San Diego, California, and was ordained there on March 17, 1962.

His first five years as a missionary were spent in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Montclair, New Jersey, as a vocation promoter. During this time he was also pre-med at Seton Hall University. But God had other plans for Fr. Joe.

In 1967, the Comboni Missionaries sent Fr. Joe to Gulu, Uganda, where he remained for seven years. One of his fondest memories from that time took place at Christmas. It was his first Christmas in Africa, and the celebration was vastly different from the traditions he grew up with.

“Pajule in December, 200 miles north of the equator and at the height of the dry season, was one of the hottest places on earth and there were only 15 days left till Christmas,” he wrote.

In order to bring a little bit of home to the mission, Fr. Joe enlisted the help of the local children who were his “self-appointed language teachers” and “masters at fashioning figurines out of the mud.” Under his supervision, the children created a nativity scene complete with the Holy Family, shepherds, animals, and angels.

“On that Christmas day, for the first time I did not have the winter scene, the snow, the lights, the carols, the tree, Santa, the reindeer, the shopping, the gifts and all the other trappings we associate with Christmas. Yet it was a ‘Very, Very Merry Christmas,’” wrote Fr. Joe in one of his many articles for Comboni Missions magazine.

Another Christmas, many years later, would feature rebels and a kidnapping. But if you asked Fr. Joe, he would simply say that he celebrated that Christmas in Kalongo, Uganda, at the invitation of LRA soldiers.

By 1972, Fr. Joe was back in the United States editing various Comboni publications and working in Mission Promotion. During this time he also helped out at St. Michael Parish in Cincinnati’s Lower Price Hill.

From 1978 to 1983, Fr. Joe was in Kampala, Uganda, as Editor-in-Chief of Leadership magazine. This was during Idi Amin’s reign of terror. Many nights would be spent taking shelter from the violence happening outside the window.

The rest of the 1980s were, once again, spent in the United States.

Fr. Joe’s success as a writer and editor followed him to each mission area he served. That’s why in 1990 he founded and directed the Comboni Press Network, a job he would hold for five years. This work required extensive travel around the world to share the stories of his fellow Comboni Missionaries.

Throughout the rest of the 1990s through 2006, Fr. Joe kept up his writing and editing.

In 2008 he was assigned to the mission of San Luis Petén, Guatemala, an experience that would leave an indelible mark on his life. He adored the time he spent in Guatemala among the Mayan people.

In 2016, Fr. Joe wrote about a return visit to his community in San Luis. “From a physical standpoint, you have to LOVE a place like this to tough it out. A spirit of adventure and stubborn streak also help,” he wrote. “But what more than makes up for the physical difficulties is the love that the people shower on you. It’s overwhelming, warm, all-embracing and it comes from men, women and children alike. Coming for a visit now, after having worked here, is like returning to the warmth of a very large extended family.”

The rest of Fr. Joe’s years would be spent in Cincinnati, assisting with local ministries and continuing his writing.

Fr. Joe passed away peacefully in his sleep on the evening of June 14, 2023.

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