Brother Juniper

The Brother Juniper Collection


St. Bonaventure University



Brother Juniper Index Page  Books  Background Fred McCarthy Biography  Collection List  Examples

The Life of Brother Juniper

According to creator Fred McCarthy:  

"It was the summer of '42: Yankee slugger Joe DiMaggio was belting hits in 52 consecutive games.  This record of DiMag's still stands.  No one has come close to tying it.

In war-torn France, General Guderian's Nazi panzer units were blitzing cross-country toward Paris, virtually unopposed.

At Bona's Friedsam Library Fr. Boniface McConville was pressing a young cleric name of McCarthy to finish some campus signs.  To add zip to his signs, McCarthy, who always signs his stuff "Mc", squiggled little friar cartoons along their borders.

Observing these over his shoulder, librarian Father Irenaeus remarked, "The cartoons reminded me of Brother Juniper, our Order's clown prince."

From that day on, McCarthy began reading up on Franciscan Brother Juniper, soon learning that he and Saint Francis were close buddies.  Having grown up in Assisi, the two were 'townies'."

Father Irenaeus Herscher with Brother Juniper in the Reading Room of Friedsam Memorial Library

'Mc's' "Brother Juniper" was first published in a collection entitled Brother Juniper in 1957. It appeared in newspapers via the Publisher's Syndicate of Chicago the following year, eventually seeing print in over 100 papers, with 15,000,000 readers, in the United States and abroad. There was some initial resistance from the Protestant newspaper community to an explicitly Franciscan character, but that dissipated over time as the little fellow's charm won out. In 1959 the comic won "The Brotherhood of the Year" award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews.

Commenting on the attraction of Brother Juniper, his little sunbeam in burlap, McCarthy noted, "Take someone from the Middle Ages, put him in a modern setting and you have something funny right there.  He's catholic with a small 'c'.  He's always trying to help people but always slipping on a banana peel.  Characters like Brother Juniper, and Charlie Brown, lose the battle but win the war."  Brother Juniper

Brother Juniper also appeared in three dimensions. McCarthy modeled a score of figurines in Japan for a US company to market. He stayed in Seto, a Japanese town filled with ceramics factories belching black smoke. He vouched for the truth of the Japanese saying that "There is not one white cat in Seto."

“Brother Juniper is a man of parts. But mostly he’s himself: optimistic, bustling (never lets any grass grow under his flagstones), hardworking, helpful, honest ( with himself, his fellow man, and his God), genial, mischievous, long on good example if a trifle short on dignity, holy (without ever suspecting it), occasionally wistful, frequently a fall guy, and forever hilarious.” (Father 'Mc' in Brother Juniper) Juniper 

For Fred McCarthy, Brother Juniper was not just a cartoon; he was a close friend. He grew extremely close to Brother Juniper throughout the years, often writing as Brother Juniper. Through Brother Juniper, 'Mc' feels he is doing God’s work in a humanistic way. “I try,” he says, “to get in a gentle message, and as long as he is making people happy, Brother Juniper is fulfilling his destiny and mine, too.” “Juniper,” he admits, “is an extension of myself - or vice versa.” Many fans of the cartoon actually believe McCarthy was Brother Juniper.

When lecturing at Yale, one student asked why a little bird shows up frequently in the Brother Juniper cartoon. ‘Mc’ replied, “I draw a little bird because a little bird is easy to draw.” Juniper_Bird

While Brother Juniper's press run ended in 1989, McCarthy didn't forget him and he's experienced a resurrection at Saint Bonaventure where he is regularly seen in the library (See Brother Juniper and St. Bonaventure). Fred McCarthy also resurrected Brother Juniper at his parish in Delray Beach, Florida.

For information about the historical Brother Juniper try:

Benedict, Rex.  Oh...Brother Juniper!  New York: Pantheon, 1963.  Franciscan Institute BX4705.J98 B4

Bodo, Murray, OFM,  Juniper: Friend of Francis, Fool of God. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1983. Franciscan

     Institute BX4705.J98 B62 1983

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, Father Justin. Brother Juniper.  Garden City: Hanover House, 1957.

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Page created 01 Dec. 2003 by Dennis Frank
Irenaeus/Juniper pic added 22 March 2004 by D. Frank
Last updated: 04 April 2012