Brother Richard Jonathan Cardarelli, SSF, was born in Connecticut. At an early age he knew two things about himself: that he was attracted to members of his own sex and that he was called to be a priest. While studying at a Catholic high school, he was impressed by the religious commitment of the teaching brothers and upon graduation in 1969, he entered their order. However, changes of Vatican II were overwhelming for Richard and he left community to study French literature at a Catholic college.
It was during college that Richard became involved in the blossoming gay activist movement, marching in his first Christopher Street Liberation Day parade in New York City in 1971. He had recently joined the Kalos Society in Hartford, Connecticut, and longed for an activist community of like-minded Catholics. It was during these same years that he fell in love with a man: St. Francis of Assisi. The saint's commitment to peace-making, the poor and the lepers touched Richard deeply and he wanted to follow in St. Francis' path to embrace those whom were treated as if they were lepers: gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons.
Most importantly, he wished to embrace his own homosexuality which still seemed to conflict with his faith and desire to become a priest. He joined the Capuchin Franciscan order to try a second time to fulfill his wish to live religious life; however, unable to reconcile his sexuality and faith, he took the advice of a Franciscan spiritual director who suggested that he check out Dignity/USA. On Palm Sunday 1974, he attended his first Dignity Mass in Boston and knew that he needed to be ministered to by this organization of g/l/b/t Roman Catholics and their families and friends.
He left the Order shortly thereafter, and after spending a long-distance relationship with the Boston Chapter, he help to found a chapter in the Springfield/Hartford area. This community led him back to the Capuchins and after taking his first vows in 1977, he completed his Master of Divinity and Master of Theology degrees, studying liberation theology and writing his own thesis on "gay theology of liberation" for a Roman Catholic seminary in 1985. Meanwhile, he had returned to his home chapter of Dignity after being ordained a priest in 1982 and served the chapter as chaplain and the greater l/g/b/t community by lobbying for a gay civil rights bill in the State of Connecticut.
In the late 1980s, Richard found himself first in the midst of a dialogue between church authorities and the Dignity chapter and later, following the release of a document from Rome and Dignity/USA's response, found himself in the middle of a conflict between those same two parties. In the end, he was forced to remove himself from Dignity and was forbidden to minister to that community. In his attempts to remain faithful to his conscience, he publicly shared the importance of Dignity in the life of the Church and in society and he came out in the press. Subsequently, he was silenced, banned from Catholic institutions, including his beloved alma mater, and after standing with the gay Irish community in NYC which had been excluded from marching in the city's St. Patrick's Day Parade, Richard was forced on a leave of absence from his order. He later found himself excommunicated despite attempts to dialogue with Church authorities. From his place of exile, he continued his ministry to the l/g/b/t community, working with Dignity, celebrating same-sex marriages which he had begun in 1982, and for civil rights across the board.
In 2000, after one last attempt to be reconciled with the Church, he was turned away by a bishop friend who refused to help him. He then joined the Episcopal Church, having been worshipping in an Anglo-Catholic parish in Hartford. Three years later, he joined the Anglican Society of St. Francis where, steeped in the Catholic tradition, he continues to minister with Dignity and offers his gifts to the Episcopal Church, to the movement for same-sex marriage, and for reconciliation between the g/l/b/t community and those who prefer to treat us as lepers.
Richard died on June 22, 2012, following a long struggle with lung cancer.
(This biographical statement provided by Richard Cardarelli with info on death provided by friends.)