MONTCLAIR, NJ - Charles Brady stopped by for a bit of chat and chew at the Do Drop In located in the Wally Choice Recreational Center at Glenfield Park, on Thursday July 13.
Do Drop In is a weekly recreational gathering of many Montclair seniors.
Reuniting with his lifelong friend Clinton Taylor, the duo shared memories of how their relationship evolved dating back to 1966.
Both Taylor and Brady explained that their meeting was not by chance, but by design.
When Brady became ordained in 1966, he came to St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church, founded in 1931 as an African American Mission in the township of Montclair.
St. Peter Claver is one of three churches in the United States that has the "hand of welcome" symbol, which serves as a sign that all were welcome to worship together in God's house regardless of race, during an era in our country where that was not the case in most churches. Brady embodied those tenets and made a positive impact on many lives. So it came as no surprise with his arrival to this church sitting on Elmwood Avenue, that Brady would make a lasting impact on the community.
Now living in South Jersey, Brady only visits Montclair every so often to catch up with old pals. His last visit was in 2014 during the Soul Stompers reunion, in which Brady brought with him video and pictures to share. This vist was not so formal as before, instead Brady came just to catch up with old friends.
Sharing moments and reflection from his association with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and adopting King's philosophy of non-violence, the former priest, Father Brady, made it his mission to serve and welcome all.
He and Taylor set out to make changes, and in doing so, he left a great mark on the youth in Montclair, especially the Fourth Ward, where Saint Peter Claver still operates to this day.
While at St. Peter Claver, Brady established and ran the Montclair Track Club using the tar paths and walkways as a track to train and encourage hundreds of youth at Glenfield Park. They were trained in the art of sportsmanship, leadership and being a team player.
Brady encouraged the youth to look beyond what odds may be against them.
During the 60s and early 70s, the country was going through a great shift. This was the height of racism and the Civil Rights Movement in the country and Montclair was not above the fray.
Many believe that it was Father Brady and individuals such as Taylor, Audrey and Wally Choice, Audrey Fletcher, DeForest 'Buster' Soaries, Lonnie Brandon and countless others that made sure that the children of the Fourth Ward were introduced to activities that kept them safe and built character.
The legacy that Brady built while a priest in Montclair, still resonates in the longtime Montclair families to this day.
In addition to the Track Club, Brady also coordinated a step team for girls called the Soul Stompers.
Merna Hinton recalled the countless hours spent working and traveling with the legendary Soul Stompers of Montclair. During a previous visit back in June 2014, Brady reunited with members of the drill team and track team. Hinton continued to share, "During the late 60s, there were very few programs for youth in the Fourth Ward." This was prior to Montclair Grass Roots starting.
St. Peter Claver provided a safe haven for children, providing activities that included being out in the sun and in the park and trips for FREE with parental permission. While Catholicism was the practice of the church, Father Brady never pushed his religious belief onto others, instead he taught by example of living a fulfilled life spiritually and doing for others as his mission directed.
Hinton's fondest memory was when the Soul Stompers marched at the Indianapolis 500 in the 1970s. She described that she can still feel the pavement under her feet. Hinton went along as a parent chaperone during the travel to many parades and contests that the Soul Stompers participated in around the country.
In addressing the crowd, many whom Brady knew, he shared his life after the priesthood. Brady explained that after retiring from the ministry, he fell in love, married Carmie Brady and raised a family.
For years he lived a life of family and community service, that was until his wife was diagnosed with cancer. With that diagnosis, his whole life changed.
The title of his book, "I Will Live, My Children Need Me: The Love and Life of Carmie Brady", is a wonderfully put together paper back chronicling their story of life, death and what to do after. In this case, Brady chose the words "I Will Live."
He explained that to choose those words as his title, he reflects back to a time where his life was threatened on more than one occasion due to his relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. He and King were personal friends. Brady also advocated for the poor and disenfranchised, which wasn't always the popular position.
Though he was heartbroken by the death of his soul mate, Brady said that he had to really rely on his faith, family and friends to once again feel purposeful.
Brady and his children began the Carmie Brady Foundation dedicated to improving the lives for children and adults facing and living with cancer. To date, the organization has raised thousands of dollars to aide those in need of assistance.
While Brady no longer wears the collar of a priest, those who knew him when..., continue to fondly call him 'Father Brady.' His dedication to children, giving nature and love for all mankind regardless of race, creed, color, or wealth, is what many speak of when they reminisce about the impact Father Brady had on Montclair.
For information on his book or foundation go to www.carmiebradyfoundation.org All proceeds from the book go to the Carmie Brady Foundation.
Natalie Heard Hackett contributed to this article.