Father John Catoir, Former Director of The Christophers, Passes Away at Age 90

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UPDATED: This episode of “Christopher Closeup” includes a tribute to Father Catoir beginning at 13:39.

1) Linsey Davis, 2) Tribute to Father John Catoir – Christopher Closeup


It is with sadness we report that Father John Catoir, who served as Director of The Christophers from 1978 to 1994, died yesterday – April 7th, 2022 – at age 90. For 17 years, Father Catoir was the face and voice of The Christophers, a job which included hosting our syndicated television talk show “Christopher Closeup,” on which he interviewed a diverse array of guests including Henri Nouwen, Ruby Dee, Cesar Chavez, Arthur Ashe, James Cagney, Milton  Berle, and Bob Newhart.

Father Catoir was born on Sept. 8, 1931. As reported by the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey, “He was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Paterson on May 28, 1960…He then studied at the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., and received his canon law degree. He then served the Diocese of Paterson in the Tribunal, and later, as pastor of Our Lady of Victories Parish in Paterson. He has authored numerous books, including ‘Enjoy Your Precious Life’ and ‘A Simple Guide to Happiness.'”

During his tenure with The Christophers, Father Catoir also served as president of the Catholic Press Association. And after leaving The Christophers, he worked as director of the drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility, Eva’s Village, in Paterson. He went on to create St. Jude Media Ministry, through which he shared radio spots, videos, and newspaper columns, focused on living with hope and joy. In particular, Father Catoir felt called to be a “messenger of joy” after meeting with Pope John Paul II in 1980 and hearing him use that term. Father Catoir continued to spread that message in recent years through his websites MessengerOfJoy.com and JohnCatoir.com.

Father Catoir appeared as a guest on the radio version of “Christopher Closeup” in 2016, and we took a short stroll down memory lane. He recalled being a fan of the Christopher message since he watched early Christopher films in grammar school. On his 18th birthday, his father gave him a copy of the book “You Can Change the World,” by The Christophers’ founder, Maryknoll Father James Keller, and that sealed the deal.

Father Catoir liked Father Keller’s message that it wasn’t good enough to simply find fault with the world; you had to work to make it better because that’s what God wants you – and all of us – to do. This idea was “empowering” and “supernatural” because it gave you “a sense that God put you on earth for a reason. You have a purpose.”

When Father Catoir initially heard that the job of leading The Christophers was available, he talked himself out of applying because he thought he’d never get it. Three weeks later, he felt an impulse, which he attributes to God’s grace, to apply anyway. The rest is history.

It’s ironic that someone as devoted to joy and positive thinking as Father Catoir almost got derailed by negative thinking. But he learned from his mistake.

Father Catoir noted that “doctors have lots of evidence to show that negative thinking will destroy your mental health.” Many hours of counseling ordinary people about their problems allowed him to see that evidence first hand.

He said, “If you have a belief that you’re not a good person, even though you’re trying to be good, that undermines your mental health—and it has to be rooted out. If you can’t say you’re a saint, you can say, ‘I’m a saint-in-training. I’m a good person, and I’m trying to get better.’ But there’s no way that you should say you’re a bad person because God made you, and everything God made is good.”

We also touched on Father Catoir’s belief that joy is an integral part of Christian living, grounded in the gospels. He explained, “Jesus said, ‘Be not afraid.’ And those words are repeated in the Bible 365 times from the beginning to the end, and Jesus made it a monumental point in His Sermon on the Mount: ‘Do not be afraid…Do not be anxious.’ The point was to trust the Lord, trust in His love. I found that if you didn’t express joy, there was something wrong with you. Dorothy Day called thanksgiving for God’s love ‘the duty of delight.’ We have so much going for us, God has given us so many gifts. What can you help do but be joyful and be grateful? And it changes your life, it takes you out of the blues!”

Towards the end of our interview, Father Catoir noted that he had learned that joy is a choice. And despite the health challenges he was facing at the time, he chose to approach life with joy anyway. He concluded, “In the past, when I would get into a dark mood, I would pray to the Lord to lift me out of it. And as a priest, I’d often go to the hospital and visit patients. Helping others is a big way to get rid of the blues. To tell you the truth, I don’t hit any real dark moments in life [anymore] because I live in the spirit of joy, so help me God. I’m an old man, I’m 84. I’ve had three knee replacements, I don’t walk too well. And from the neck up, I’m fantastic every other day! (laughs) But I’m at a point where I could die at any time. I have a heart condition, but I’m happy as a clam! I can’t tell you I’m ready to go, but I’m gonna do as much good as I can until I am taken.”

Father Catoir has now gone home to God. The messenger of joy has been reunited with the source of that joy. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed, rest in peace. Amen.