Father Bradstreet, who signed himself with his middle name of Rea in letters to his sister Consuelo, was born in San Francisco, California on August 4, 1903, the son of J. Robie Bradstreet and his wife Natina Julia (Tena) Smith. His forebears, the Bradstreet and Barnes families, appear to have had roots in New England, as suggested by his attempt to ferret out traces of them while on a trip to Boston. He also seems to have been the nephew of popular radio actor J. Anthony Smythe, the "Tony" of the letters. Smythe portrayed Father Barbour on the long-running NBC series "One Man's Family," and was apparently Tena Smith Bradstreet's brother, since he refers to her as "dear sister Tena."
Bradstreet grew up in Los Angeles, spent three years at Loyola University in that city, and entered the Society of Jesus on August 6, 1924. He attended seminary at Los Gatos, California, Spokane, Washington, and Alma College in Alma, Michigan. After doing student teaching at Loyola High School he completed his theological studies. He was ordained a priest on June 21, 1937. He went on to do graduate work in English at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. and at Fordham in New York, and then taught English and theology at Loyola University in Los Angeles from 1941 to 1943.
During the early days of the war Bradstreet, like many Americans, took first aid training, endured blackouts and served as an air raid warden, helped raise funds for civil defense, and experienced food and gasoline shortages. In March of 1943 he was called to duty as the Catholic chaplain for Camp White, Oregon, a large base near Medford. In July of that year he was dispatched for several weeks of training at Harvard University's Chaplains' School. In the latter part of 1943, back at Camp White, he requested combat duty but was informed that his bad eyesight would at most permit his posting to a hospital unit overseas. In early 1944 Bradstreet found himself on his way to Great Britain with the 83rd General Hospital. In England he indulged in quite a bit of sightseeing, especially around Stratford and Cambridge, and lived through the dark days of a country whose own soil, threatened by pilotless plane bombings and severe shortages, had become a theater of war.
Bradstreet ministered to the wounded of D-Day and was himself briefly posted to France in 1945 before returning to the United States, where he was stationed first at Camp Chaffee, Arkansas, and then at Camp Beale, California. In November of 1945 he shipped out for a Honolulu still bustling with military personnel. He faced possible posting to the Pacific but remained at Fort Kamehameha in Honolulu until the latter part of 1946, when he left the Army and, in spite of his desire to continue his graduate education under the G.I. Bill, was assigned by his Jesuit superiors to mission work in San Francisco.
He then joined the Mission Band out of Los Altos, California. In both places he appears to have concentrated on conducting retreats. Along with his companions in the Mission Band, Bradstreet was responsible for reviving the once-thriving Los Altos ministry, and he became a familiar face among Catholics of the Pacific slope.
In 1949 and 1950 he ministered at the University of San Francisco before returning to Army life in Hawaii, Korea, and Japan between 1950 and 1959. While in Japan he shepherded to success the Kapaun Religious Retreat House at Oiso on Sagami Bay, a haven for all United Nations Armed Forces personnel in the Far East as well as civilian employees and dependents, who could enjoy both traditional Japanese and modern Western accommodations at a former resort hotel.
In January, 1959, Bradstreet resumed his assignment at the Los Altos Retreat House, which he retained until his death from a heart attack on December 31, 1970 in Daly City, California.
Bradstreet exhibited always a sturdy confidence in himself, his Jesuit training, and the conservative Catholic tradition. With many others of his generation he suffered disillusion with the changes in Catholicism that occurred later in his life, and he became somewhat alienated from the new Catholic world view. His consistency of tone, along with the easy writing style and richness of detail that mark his productions as that of a scholar of English literature, make his correspondence and journals valuable aids in recapturing the sense of specific moments in time. Above all, there is an engaging air about Bradstreet in spite of his apparently somewhat cool and lofty demeanor, as evidenced by several letters to him from soldiers with whom he had served, letters addressing him as Father Brad, passing on the latest news of their authors' private and professional lives, and wishing Father all the best.
Bradstreet's journals, daybooks, chaplain reports, and correspondence with California Province headquarters are available at the California Jesuit Archives in Los Gatos. There is also a small collection of photographs documenting his tours of duty in Hawaii and Japan, with images from the Kapaun Religious Retreat House making up a large part of this material.