Joseph Fradet

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Joseph Fradet sits among the many relics of saints he has accumulated over the years. The second-floor great room in the former Daughters of Charity Convent he purchased in 1998 is the showcase for hundreds of first-, second- and third-class relics and other artifacts. The room was formerly a recreation area for the sisters.

(photo by Frank J. Methe)

Joseph Fradet has always felt he was close to God and that he had been intended to achieve something special.

At first, Fradet thought it would be the priesthood, but his brief studies at Notre Dame Seminary went for naught. He realized this was not going to be his mission.

Instead, Fradet became a teacher and has spent more than 30 years educating young people from the Dakotas to New Orleans. It has been a gratifying career, but Fradet knew there was still a void in his life; his mission was yet unfulfilled.

The void was filled in 1984.

"The Lord came to me in a dream and said, ‘I will bless you with a relic,’" Fradet said. "Then I received a relic from a nun (Daughter of Charity Sister Ignatia O’Rourke). It was a relic of the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified."

It was the first of nearly 1,100 relics and artifacts Fradet would receive. As the collection grew, through donations from every continent, the school teacher had to find a suitable place to display what he considered his gifts from God.

Fradet bought the Daughters of Charity’s convent at 912 Napoleon Ave., a stately 10,157-square foot, 38-room, three-story mansion from the order’s provincial headquarters in St. Louis for the modest price of $185,000.

"In 1987 three ladies from Toronto told me I would be receiving everything from the church," he said. "I really didn’t realize I would end up with a home with my own chapel in it. I thought maybe I’d have to build one."

Amazingly it is the same chapel in which Sister Ignatia, now in her 80s, took her vows. The altar, holy water fonts, back drop and crucifix are part of the chapel’s original items, but Fradet purchased the stations of the cross and art work. He also purchased pews from the former St. Elizabeth’s home owned by novelist Anne Rice.

"I was told this place was up for sale and I could buy it, and it was perfect because I wanted a place where I could leave my collection then maybe pass it down one day," Fradet said.

But the transaction was not without difficulty. In order to purchase the building, Fradet had to sell two homes in Loreauville and his main dwelling on Willow Street, and cash in his retirement.

"When I was trying to buy this place, I lost the buyer for my home and I wondered if God really wanted me to do this. Everything seemed to be going wrong," Fradet said. "Then I had two dreams. In the first a saint (St. Antony Mary Claret) came to me. I did not recognize him, but in the dream he handed me his relic. The very same relic came in the mail the next day from Pittsburgh from someone I do not know. On it was written St. Antony Mary Claret. Then I knew who had spoken to me because I had read about his life and recognized his face and he had very little hair. It was like that in the dream."

In the second dream, I was in the Superdome in the last seat at the very top and a lady came out onto a stage and said, ‘We have people with a message from Jesus,’" Fradet continued. "I said to myself in this dream, ‘This is going to be interesting.’

"It so happened a lady sitting next to me was going to speak. She got up and looked into my eyes and I looked into hers. ‘What do you see?’ I asked. She said,’ You’re going to buy something; a convent.’

"Father James Ward (Vincentian pastor of St. Stephen Church across the street from the convent), who was overseeing the sale, told me there were two other people interested in buying the place. I thought I was going to have to pull out, but I kept wondering what did the Lord mean by these two dreams?" Fradet said. "I finally found a buyer, and Father Ward said I had just two days to get the loan approved."

The purchaser, a doctor, had no trouble with the quick transaction, and soon Fradet moved into his 76-year-old "dream" home. That was 26 months ago.

He invested the remainder of his money into renovating the palatial building, furnishing every room, purchasing pricey showcases for his collection, shelves for his library.

Most of the relics and artifacts occupy a large room on the second floor. It was a room used by the sisters as a recreation room. It houses relics from every continent, displayed by country, and includes relics of St. Katharine Drexel, Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Fradet made donations for many of the relics, but most were given to him.

"This area is for Italian saints, this for saints from Belgium, here Portugal, here Yugoslavian saints," he said as he moved from case to case. There are many more, pieces from the Philippines, Mexico, Australia, Spain, Venezuela, Egypt.

There are chalices, cloths, reliquaries containing fragments from saints and rosaries. Fradet teaches students at Arthur Ashe Alternative Education School on Nashville Avenue. Most of his students, sixth through eighth grades, are assigned by the juvenile court system because they are unable to function in a mainstream educational program.

His love of the emotionally troubled kids is obvious.

"You can see the improvement they’ve made," Fradet said. "I’ve had their parents tell me, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing, but keep it up.’ That is very gratifying."

Of all the relics on display, Fradet said the rarest is a piece of thread from a robe worn by Jesus, "Something sent to me by Vatican City," he said. "I wrote to the Vatican and asked if they had a relic from the True Cross. Instead, they sent me a piece of the thread of the purple vestment of the Divinity of Jesus Christ.

"I have collected 12 pieces of the True Cross, a piece of Mary’s hair, a piece of her veil, her tear. I really don’t know who sent them to me. Most of these pieces were in boxes. People just throw things into them like holy cards and rosaries. I sifted through nearly a hundred boxes and pulled out all of these rare, precious relics."

Asked how he authenticated the objects, Fradet said he belongs to an international organization of collectors.

"In the relic world, if you’re really interested in relics, people are going to find your name. I belong to a worldwide order in Portugal. They made me a member and my name has spread through word of mouth," he said.

"The Lord made this possible. I think he knew I would take care of these things; that I would not desecrate them," Fradet said.

Josephite Father Joseph Doyle, president of St. Augustine High School, has met Fradet and is amazed by what he has accomplished.

"He’s a good Catholic who loves relics," Father Doyle said.

Word of the local collection has slowly spread through the community, and since Jan. 1, Fradet has shown his collection to 254 visitors.

"I never asked for a donation because I got most of these things for free and I wouldn’t know what to ask for," Fradet said. "Only once did I accept money " from a bus load of people from Lafayette who toured the collection.

"But now I’m worried. I need more cases and I have little money left. I don’t know how long I can continue to live here on a teacher’s salary. I’ve invested all I have into this and I have no retirement.

"I’d hate to sell this house. God brought me to this dream. I don’t believe God gave me such holy ground lightly," he said.

by Ron Bracato

©2000 Clarion Herald Publishing Company of New Orleans, LA.

©2008 Saintly Relics, Inc. ● NP