It has been just one year since Justin-Siena celebrated its 50th anniversary, and woven through the stories and photos of those five decades is the solid presence of and the profound impact made by our dear Brother Conrad Kearney, FSC. So it is with a sense of sorrow and yet with a spirit of faith that we share the news of the passing of our dear Br. Conrad. He passed peacefully at his Mont La Salle home late Monday night, February 5, 2018.
Born William Edward Kearney in 1919 in New York, New York, Br. Conrad was first introduced to the Christian Brothers through his young schooling and service as an altar boy in St. Bernard’s parish in Greenwich Village. For his senior year of high school, he joined the Junior Novitiate in upstate New York as he felt called to the Brothers’ life. He pronounced his first vows in 1937 and began his teaching career at La Salle Academy in Manhattan—he taught Religion, English, speech, and typing, and was the moderator and coach of forensics and coach of freshman basketball.
In his early career he went on to earn a master’s degree in English from Manhattan College, led teams of student debaters and orators to victory at local competitions, tested gravity with rooftop handball tournaments and the occasional over-the-screen-shots, and enjoyed life in community with basketball and winter recreation on the frozen ponds and lakes in the area. By the time of his Silver Jubilee, he was teaching at Christian Brothers Academy in Albany, New York, and it was shortly thereafter he got the call to come to California.
What was meant to be a one-year exchange to allow a Brother from San Francisco to take some classes in New York that he couldn’t get in California, turned out to be a providential adventure that led him “new school” in Napa. After two years at Bishop Armstrong in Sacramento and a brief time at a school in Bakersfield, he was asked to go to Justin High School. It was fifty years ago, in 1968, Br. Conrad joined the faculty in Napa and never looked back. As the years went on and he worked with the faculty and administration through some challenging times, he realized that he felt at home in Napa and that he belonged, and so in 1971 he was officially transferred to the District of San Francisco.
In his early days at Justin he taught religion, English, and speech and also served as the moderators of the Forensic Society. Alums often recall fondly the English electives he introduced to the course catalog—Robert Louis Stevenson and Jack London. In 1974 some health complications affected his voice and so his classroom teaching days came to an end, but providence prevailed again as he took up his new post as the school librarian. Always a model learner himself, he completed Library School at Pacific Union College in Angwin, and fully immersed himself in his library tasks with students while also taking on the job of archiving news clippings and memorabilia in meticulously kept, large format scrapbooks which, to this day, are an absolute treasure to the entire community.
His relationships with students and faculty and staff alike were treasured, and the Justin-Siena community bestowed several honors on Brother Conrad. In 1999 he was awarded the Holy Spirit Educator Award and was also nominated and then received the Distinguished Lasallian Educator award from the District. He joyfully participated in the building and blessing of the “new” library—the Gasser Library and Information Center in 2001, and then in 2002 celebrated his retirement after thirty-four years on the faculty, but still remained in residence in the Brothers’ Community. The archives room in the Gasser Center was named the Brother Conrad Kearney Archives Room and the street sign on the north entrance to campus was named Br. Conrad Way. Even after his move to Mont La Salle in 2003 and when he wasn’t too busy working in the District Archives and Novitiate Library lending his talents there, Brother Conrad remained a steady presence not only on campus, but throughout the community at many gatherings and occasions. He attended Masses, reunions, sporting events, judged student speeches in speech class, and simply relished a visit. In 2004 Br. Conrad was inducted into the Justin-Siena Alumni Hall of Honor.
Br. Conrad Kearney was beloved by decades of Braves. Former Principal Greg Schmitz said recently “Br. Conrad = a living saint. He always sees the face of Christ in everyone he encounters.” He had these words to share about Br. Conrad upon announcing Brother’s retirement from full-time teaching in 2002, but that are just as true today:
“Br. Conrad has been a gift to us in many different ways. To our students he has been a dedicated worker preparing the library so that it can be a valuable learning center for all. He offers help and direction for those students pursuing their academic endeavors. He also regularly attends all school activities. To our faculty and staff, he has provided an example of a teacher who brings a passion and a vision to his work. He personifies dignity from his carriage to his sense of vocation. To our parents and alumni, he has been a constant presence. He regularly attends civic and church functions, weddings, baptisms, anniversaries, and funerals to continue his obligation to serve.”
Brother Conrad touched so many lives. Maria Turnage-Esse ’94 shares “Brother Conrad is the perfect example of the best human being—one of the kindest and most supportive I’ve ever come across! Always a laugh and a smile with words of encouragement, praise and respect. He always had such a quiet way with such patience and compassion. He has been remembered with love and fond memories in our family and will continue to be. His presence here on earth will be missed by all. Rest well dear Brother Conrad... and thank you.” Coleen Savage Giovannoni ’98 shares “Br. Conrad is truly the epitome of what Justin-Siena stands for. As an alumnus I know I can speak for us all personally thanking him for everything he did for us and the legacy he built. We will forever have the memories.” Michelle Strupp Weber ’73 recalls “Br. Conrad was such an "all-present" member of the staff to many of us in the early years of the two high schools before they were joined. Going to the library (on the Siena campus) was always special because we knew he would always be there to greet us, and a big smile was ever present. I will always remember with fondness his presence at my father's funeral - I know he attended many of them over the years in support of students and their families.”
Our alums have so many memories related to his teaching and library work. Mary Valentinsen ’85 shares “Br. Conrad was so helpful when I needed help studying. I remember making my way to the Library before school to catch up. Thank you for your help, your kindness and teaching me about integrity.” Ed Bustamante ’74 shared, “Thank you for enhancing my love of books!” Jim Collins ’77 comments, “Br. Conrad was true scholar. I still remember the lessons he taught in honors English forty five years ago. He lived an exemplary life and will be missed every day.” Ellen Toscano ’01 says, “He inspired so many of us and was such a gift to not only the Justin-Siena community but to the world, and was an example of all the qualities Justin-Siena wished to represent.” She expressed gratitude for his support of the school, students, community, theatre, and everyone. “We love and appreciate you! You’re in our hearts always.”
Diane Williamson ’80 shared, “Brother Conrad was such a truly compassionate person, who shared it freely with others. I know in my heart that the gates are wide open for him.” Mary K. Redmond ’82 commented, “Such an amazing man, teacher, and most importantly a special friend to our family. Many happy memories to look back on.” Debra Bawart-Daly ’81 remembers him fondly as a steady presence. “He went to every sporting event, he always made it a point to say hello and remembered everyone’s name.”
Colleen Shaughnessy Fretz ’79 shared this message “I hope you know the difference you made in my life from that very first speech and taking the time to stretch me, build my confidence and learn the value of hard work. You have always been a guardian angel to so many.” Mike Savage ’99 recalls “Br. Conrad was a pillar to the foundation of Justin-Siena. So many of us were blessed with your dedication to the school.” He expressed gratitude for Brother’s hard work and dedication. “Even though I didn't have any interactions with you in the library or class, but I always recognized your presence at the basketball games.”
Former colleagues remember him fondly for his friendship, example, and presence. Retired teacher Sally DiGiacomo commented, “You are one of the most inspiring and wonderful people that I worked with and have known. You are Mr. Justin-Siena to many of us. You truly are a gift to all of us that knew you.” And another recently retired veteran English teacher Thom McDermott is mindful of the inspiration he was for him and his family. “His fairness, kindness, generosity, and spiritual steadfastness have defined a right path for generations of students, faculty members, and parents. We feel honored to be among those whose lives you have touched in profound ways over your many years of teaching hearts, shaping minds, and guiding souls.
“A strong and kind man who never forgets you, your children, and your family. Quiet and wise. Always there for everyone. The best.” These words were shared by Caroline Bettencourt Gerlomes ’79, and she is not alone in her sentiments. Just a couple of months shy of his 99th birthday, Br. Conrad led a rich life of faith and indelibly touched the hearts of all who knew him. So now we ask for his guidance once more as Richard Blake Jensen ’79 posted upon hearing the news of his passing, “Br. Conrad guide us all with your angel wings.”
Funeral Arrangements at Mont La Salle
- Monday, February 12 at Mont La Salle
- Viewing (Rotunda): 10:15 AM
- Funeral Mass (Main Chapel): 11:00 AM
- Burial and Luncheon to follow.
Please note that carpooling is strongly encouraged.
A Celebration of Life at Justin-Siena
Community members are welcomed to gather in the Gasser Center (formerly and fittingly, the Library) to remember long-time faculty member and beloved Br. Conrad through prayer and storytelling. Light refreshments will be served.
- Wednesday, March 7, 2018
- Gasser Center (formerly and fittingly, the Library)
Honor Brother Conrad with a Memorial Gift:
The Brother Conrad Memorial Scholarship Fund was established in 2002 when Brother Conrad retired after 34 years of service at Justin-Siena. Gifts to this Scholarship Fund are used annually for students in need of tuition assistance.
If you are interested in being involved and/or would like more information, please contact Br. Kevin Slate, FSC