The Mass of the Resurrection was celebrated at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on October 18 and was attended by numerous local friends, admirers and colleagues, as well as Brothers from around the world. Music was provided by the Christian Brothers High School Band in honor of their former leader, member and clarinetist, and by a schola cantorum composed of local Christian Brothers who led the congregation in Gregorian choral chant.
The homily, drawn from Brother John’s own words, was delivered by Brother Vincent Malham, President of Christian Brothers University. Brother John was also fondly remembered by his brother, Edward Johnston of Nashville, and by Brother Álvaro Rodríguez Echeverría, current Superior General. The Mass was celebrated by another brother, Rev. Michael Johnston, also of Nashville. The Most Reverend J. Terry Steib, Bishop of Memphis, led the prayer of commendation.
Brother John was interred at Calvary Cemetery, in a section set aside for the Christian Brothers of Memphis.
Brother John had an illustrious career as a Christian Brother that spanned 56 years. He began his schooling at Little Flower School in Memphis, attended Christian Brothers College, now Christian Brothers High School (CBHS), and took his college course of study at St. Mary’s College, Winona, MN. He was a high school teacher, school administrator, and Director of the Order’s Student Brothers. In 1971, Brother John was appointed Provincial of the St. Louis District of the Christian Brothers (including Memphis); in 1976, he became Vicar General of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools Order in Rome, and in 1986, he became the Superior General of the De La Salle Christian Brothers throughout the world. As Superior General, Brother John oversaw the Christian Brothers who were working in the 81 countries in which the Brothers have educational institutions.
From his days at CBHS where he was valedictorian of his class of 1951, through his days at St. Mary’s College where he graduated cum laude, Brother John was an exceptional student and leader in the field of education. He received his M.A. from St. Mary’s and did post-graduate work at Loyola University in Chicago; Gregorian Institute in Toledo, OH; International Headquarters in Rome, Italy; and St. Louis University in St Louis. He held Honorary Doctorate degrees from CBU, Memphis; Lewis University, Romeoville, IL; St. Mary’s, Winona, MN; Manhattan College, NY; Universidad La Salle, Mexico; Bethlehem University, Palestinian Authority; and the College of Santa Fe, NM.
Brother John returned to Memphis in 2003 where he continued his involvement in education as Senior Consultant, Lasallian Association for Mission. He conducted retreats and was a presenter at many educational conferences in the United States, Haiti, Africa, and in Europe. He honored his listeners in France, Spain, and Mexico by speaking in their native languages. Brother John was diagnosed with cancer in 2006 but continued his intensive interest and participation in all Christian Brother activities until his final days.
Brother John became known and highly respected for his great competence and influential leadership style. Time and again, he was asked to address special religious conferences, and in each group rose to such positions as Vice President of the Union of Superiors General in Rome, Auditor for the Synod of Priestly Formation and Consultant for the Vatican Congregation for Consecrated Life.
For the past ten years, his special passion has been the evolving Lasallian Mission of the Christian Brothers Order, the transformation from Brothers’ schools to Lasallian schools. Brother John made it clear as he spoke to his listeners “that lay partners and the Brothers collaborate as members of an educational community that has responsibility for the life and mission of the school.” He was instrumental in developing leadership programs for the laity who was active in the Lasallian schools and was always one of their finest presenters.
Brother John is survived by three brothers, Ed Johnston (Sarah) of Nashville; M. Joseph Johnston (Rowena) of Woodbury, MN; and Rev. Michael Johnston of Nashville.
The Mass of the Resurrection will be celebrated at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Thursday, October 18, at 11:00 a.m. Visitation will be at the Cathedral on Wednesday, October 17, 5:00–9:00 p.m. In lieu of flowers, Brother John had requested that memorials be sent to the Lasallian International Children’s Fund (c/o Christian Brothers of the Midwest, 7650 S. County Line Road, Burr Ridge, IL 60527-4718).