By Father Frank Hull, SSJ
The Josephite community has its roots in Baltimore. Its call came from here. Its mission began here. Its work flowered here. Its headquarters opened here and remains here. The Josephites are happy to be a 143-year part of the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s 225-year history.
When the American Bishops met in Baltimore in 1866 during the Second Plenary Council, they sent a plea to Rome to send missionaries to the recently emancipated slaves. At the same time, the Catholic Church in England was forming a community to prepare priests to send
to the foreign missions. This was the St. Joseph Foreign Mission Society under the direction of Father Herbert Vaughan. In 1871, he offered the first four priests to Pope Pius IX who directed them to America where the archbishop of Baltimore, Martin John Spalding, welcomed them to St. Francis Xavier parish, the Jesuit-sponsored community of African Americans. This became the first fully staffed African-American parish in the country and still thrives at its third location in East Baltimore.
The Josephites extended their ministry to Prince George’s County in Maryland and south to Virginia and North Carolina and by 1888 had 15 priests. That same year, in an effort to attract American vocations, they purchased the old Western Maryland Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore, directly behind St. Mary’s Seminary, and named it St. Joseph’s Seminary. The students attended classes at St. Mary’s for 48 years and it was the first seminary in the country to admit black students. In 1891, Father Charles Uncles, one of the seminarians, was ordained in the Baltimore Cathedral by Cardinal Gibbons, the first black priest ordained in the United States. Father Uncles was a native Baltimorean and a member of St. Francis Xavier parish.
The Josephites established its second parish – St. Peter Claver on Fremont Avenue in Baltimore, which was served by priests from St. Joseph’s Seminary. The seminary that year produced the first printed copy of The Colored Harvest (now The Josephite Harvest), the oldest continually published mission magazine in the country.
Another sign of growth was the 1889 purchase of the Highland Park Hotel in the Walbrook section of Baltimore as a minor seminary. The building was renovated with the help of St. Katharine Drexel’s sister. The institution trained young seminarians until it moved from Baltimore to Newburgh, New York, in 1930.
In collaboration with Baltimore’s Cardinal James Gibbons and the approval of the parent English Society of St. Joseph, it was decided that a separate American community with a singular purpose of serving African Americans would attract more men and provide a more efficient administration. In 1893, five men chose to begin the new community with the name of St. Joseph’s Society of the Sacred Heart (Josephites). Cardinal Gibbons assumed local jurisdiction and the five men headquartered in Baltimore were now in charge of eight churches and two institutions.
The new community faced many challenges with a shortage of men and an excess of financial and social problems. But the Lord provided both men and means for expansion, especially into the southern dioceses. In Baltimore, St. Monica, St. Pius V, St. Veronica and Christ the King parishes were added. Through demographic changes, two of these were eventually eliminated. One of these, St. Monica Church, established in 1893, was eventually demolished to make way for the Orioles’ Baseball stadium. St. Pius V had its origins in St. Barnabas Church in 1907 and was recently joined with St. Peter Claver parish. St. Veronica’s has been in the Cherry Hill neighborhood since 1945.
When Washington was part of the Baltimore archdiocese, Josephites had served St. Augustine parish in the early 1880’s. Holy Redeemer parish was erected in 1922 and Incarnation and Good Shepherd parishes in 1924. Three years later, the Josephites assumed pastorship of St. Vincent de Paul when a vast urban re-construction leveled most of the Good Shepherd area. In 1932, the Josephites opened St. Joseph’s parish in Glenarden. Holy Family Church in Mitchellville had a Josephite pastor from 1938 to 1972. The Church of the Epiphany in Georgetown was built as a Josephite parish and continued for 35 years.
The Josephites rejoiced when one of its own, Josephite Father John Ricard, was appointed auxiliary bishop of Baltimore in 1984. Born into the Josephite parish of St. Francis Xavier in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he served Baltimore with special distinction as urban vicar for 13 years. He was appointed the Ordinary of the Pensacola-Tallahassee diocese in northern Florida where he served until his retirement in 2011. He is now rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary in Washington, a building dedicated by Baltimore’s Archbishop Michael Curley in 1929.
The Josephite presence in the Baltimore archdiocese has been greatly enhanced by several religious communities of Sisters. The community of Franciscan Sisters, founded in Glen Riddle, Pennsylvania, by the sainted Baltimorean Bishop John Neumann when he was Philadelphia’s archbishop, came to staff St. Peter Claver School in 1890 and served for 108 years. The Josephites had long been associated with the Sisters’ St. Joseph’s Hospital at both its old location on Eager Street in Baltimore and the new one in Towson, Maryland. The O’Dea Medical Building at the Towson site is named for a former Josephite superior general and long-time chaplain.
The Baltimore-based Oblate Sisters of Providence taught in the first Josephite parish school at St. Francis Xavier in 1878. In 1893, they taught in Baltimore’s archdiocesan schools in Washington – at St. Cyprian’s until 1986 and from 1923 to 1954 at Good Shepherd (St. Vincent). Josephites have long been chaplains at the Oblates’ century-plus-old St. Frances Academy on Chase Street in East Baltimore whose chapel was dedicated by Cardinal Gibbons in 1907.
The House of Good Shepherd for Colored Girls was established in Baltimore in 1892 with the help of the pastor at St. Peter Claver who had interested Mrs. Elizabeth Morrell, sister of St. Katharine Drexel, to finance a suitable building.
The Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart grew from a ladies’ St. Joseph Guild at the new Josephite parish of St. Peter Claver in 1890 specifically to teach religion to black children in public schools. The religious community was approved by Cardinal Gibbons who appointed a Josephite as their first superior. By 1895, they had four houses on West Biddle Street where they conducted an industrial school and did catechetical work in six parishes. They pioneered in working with the deaf while maintaining their special mission to catechetical teaching.
Their presence in Baltimore continues from their house in Towson.
In the early 1940s, the School Sisters of Notre Dame were prominent in community affairs in the Josephite parish of St. Veronica in the Cherry Hill area of Baltimore. The parish developed its Head Start Program into one of the country’s largest. The Sisters had been teaching at Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Washington 20 years before the Josephites were assigned the parish in 1943. Their ministry there covered 85 years.
The Josephites were instrumental in opening the first orphanage for black girls in Baltimore –
St. Elizabeth’s on St. Paul Street in 1881. The Sisters of St. Francis were originally an Anglican community working with the poor in London and Father Vaughan brought them into the Church in 1871 and appointed a Josephite as their first ecclesiastical superior. Ten years later, the now Bishop Vaughan asked them to come to Baltimore where they assumed operation of a home for African-American girls on St. Paul Street near the Josephite St. Francis Xavier Church. They opened an orphanage on the Josephite minor seminary property in Walbrook in 1889 and later moved to Maryland Avenue. Presently, they operate St. Francis School for Special Education and St. Elizabeth School.
The most recent Josephite house in Baltimore opened in 1961 as a retirement and nursing facility for its members. It had been the home of the Jenkins family who had built Corpus Christi Church on Mount Royal Avenue. Cardinal Gibbons was a visitor to this 1880’s-era house and offered Mass in its chapel. A new facility was built in 1999, dedicated by Cardinal William Keeler. The older building has been used as a Josephite novitiate.
For the last 84 years, the Josephite headquarters has been on North Calvert Street. The current Superior General is Father William Norvel, the first African American to head the Society. No stranger to Baltimore, he had served as Consultor General from 1983 to 1987 and was pastor of St. Francis Xavier parish from 1996 to 2000.
The Society continues to direct from Baltimore. There are Josephites in 14 dioceses and two seminary sites in Nigeria where 16 men are in study. Six others study in Washington.
May the nourishing by the Archdiocese of Baltimore in the past continue God’s work ad multos annos.
By David Andrews
2014 marks the 125th anniversary of the opening of St. Joseph seminary which is now located in Washington, D.C. The venerable red brick building capped with a copper green tower that overlooks northeast Washington is the third installment of buildings that have housed Josephite seminary activities.
The first Josephites were trained as foreign missionaries in England before taking up their ministry in African-American communities. When their training was complete, the Josephite missionaries were sent from London, England, to the United States.
Later, a Josephite seminary was located in Baltimore. Construction crews began work on renovating the Western Maryland Hotel on the corner of St. Mary’s Street and Pennsylvania Avenue when the infamous “Blizzard of ’88” turned Charm City into an icebox. The work crews welcomed the sweltering summer months during the renovation.
Father Charles R. Uncles, the first black seminarian to be educated and ordained in the United States, made the Baltimore seminary the first integrated house of formation in American history.
In 1893, a large brick building next door on Pennsylvania Avenue was dedicated and housed the second Josephite seminary until 1930. Today, this building, called the Father Charles R. Uncles Senior Plaza, is an affordable housing center for the elderly.
The student body grew to 56 in the late 1920’s, and the seminary moved 35 miles south where it relocated to Northeast Varnum Street in Washington, D.C. in 1930. The latest installment of St. Joseph’s seminary was a stark contrast to the original Western Maryland Hotel, as it was built rock-solid, prepared to hold the challenging task of training future Josephites.
A member of the very first group of Josephite seminarians was Father Joseph St. Laurent, SSJ. He spoke at the dedication of the new St. Joseph’s Seminary in Washington, D.C. in November 1930 about its importance.
“To those who have been witness from the beginning, it is clear and manifest that some power, above that of man, has protected this institution with a strong hand,” Father Laurent said. “It is not easy to explain, on any other grounds, its persistence through discouraging vexations, its survival amidst crushing trials. I recall, not without emotion, those early days when all but two seminarians failed to return. As may be imagined, the air was charged with misgivings. There was serious talk of closing the establishment. But times have changed.”
The current seminary rector, Bishop John Ricard, SSJ, said, “The current brick seminary was reinforced by steel and was state of the art. Many other communities of men and women were building around the same time in the area around Catholic University. They wanted to take advantage of the resources of the university, in terms of theology and philosophy, and they wanted to share the rich educational resources with each other.”
Apart from electrical and heating renovations in the late 1990’s, the building has remained structurally sound and has just needed general maintenance, as would any 84-year-old building, Bishop Ricard said.
Today, the Josephite seminarians attend the Dominican House of Studies, but the building on Varnum Street remains their home. The back field is used for recreational and organized sports within the community.
Although it has seen renovations and relocations, the Josephite Seminary continues to be the epicenter of young men discerning a life of service to God and to the African-American communities nationwide.
By John Powers
Parishes are valuable participants in their communities. They are places of worship and prayer. They are places for sacraments and celebrations. They are important landmarks in their community and rally sites for events and activities.
Josephite parishes stretch from Baltimore, Maryland to Los Angeles, California. Each of these parishes has an important impact on its parishioners and their communities.
In this issue of The Harvest, we surveyed the 40 Josephite parishes and asked how they were reaching out to the communities they serve. The answers are varied but each saw the Josephite charitable outreach as part and parcel of the gospel mission.
I was hungry and you gave me something to eat
All Josephite parishes operate regular activities to provide food and sustenance to those in need. Parishes operate on-going food pantries, serve meals and provide food baskets for holidays.
At St. Brigid church in Los Angeles, Father Michael Okechukwu, SSJ, said that every Wednesday for many years, parish volunteers serve hot meals in the church hall. “Although the program is scheduled to end at 2 p.m., the need is so great that it generally runs till 3:30 p.m.,” said Father Okechukwu.
He added, “We always try to meet the needs of the community. Charity is about giving away material objects and helping to bear one another’s burdens out of love. That is what makes us human.”
Holy Family parish in Natchez, Mississippi, runs a stew pot and collects food once a month. A special needs collection brings in $400 to $500 dollars a month for special needs. The pastor, Father James Fallon, SSJ, said many parishioners volunteer to participate.
At St. Luke parish in Washington, D.C., the food bank is a monthly activity that helps more than 50 families each month. According to Father Cornelius Ejiogu, SSJ, it is important that the distributed food lasts at least a week or two.
The parish outreach program welcomes corporate donors, including a bakery that donates bread. However, most of the donations come from parishioners who also donate money to buy food. Food is collected for three weeks and distributed in large baskets during the last week of the month.
The food bank was started by Josephite Father Joseph Del Vecchio when he was the pastor. Father Cornelius said, “Generosity is in our nature. When we are generous, we give a part of ourselves as well.”
At Church of the Incarnation in Washington, Father John Carroll, SSJ, said the most active charitable event at the parish is the food pantry. Started about 20 years ago, the food pantry is open on the third Friday of every month, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. To raise money for the pantry, a special envelope is collected every third Sunday of the month.
About 100 families are served. “Charity is an ordinary way of life,” Father Carroll said. “We are involved with it day in and day out.”
At St. Francis Xavier church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, feeding the hungry is an ecumenical and mobile activity, according to Josephite Father Edward Chiffriller, pastor. “On one Saturday each month, two large trucks from the Baton Rouge Food Bank pull into the parking lot and more than a hundred volunteers from the member churches and organizations of Together Baton Rouge unload large quantities of fresh vegetables, fruit, milk, eggs, bread and other perishables donated by area supermarkets,” Father Chiffriller reports.
The volunteers organize the food into bags and boxes for distribution to the people who arrive early to get a good place in line.
Members of the Louisiana National Guard Youth Challenge Program eagerly help the recipients by carrying the food to their cars. By 11 a.m. all the food has been distributed and the volunteers load up the trash on the trucks and clean up the parking lot. About 350 households receive food each month.
At St. David parish in New Orleans, parishioners help to make holidays better for mem-bers of the community. Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas baskets are put together a month ahead of time. Every basket always contains a gift certificate or a gift card, and the food is never expired. Some baskets also contain clothing.
More than 100 families are served at St. David’s, according to Josephite Father Oswald Pierre Pierre-Jules, pastor. “Of course, every basket is different depending on the holiday.”
The annual program is funded by donations from parishioners. The collection is usually taken every second Sunday.
“The most important thing about charity is that we have the scripture in mind,” said Father Pierre-Jules, “We always want to let people know that they are not alone, and we are their family.”
Parishioners at St. Joseph Church in Alexandria, Virginia also prepare holiday baskets that include canned goods and turkey and chicken. More than 80 families were assisted last Christmas, said Father Donald Fest, SSJ, pastor.
At St. Luke parish in Washington, according to parish staff member, Shirley Williams, more than 50 families benefit from the parish food bank each month. That number swells to more than 100 families during the Thanksgiving food drive.
Ms. Williams said the parish youth also lead a blanket drive during Christmas. Teenagers distribute the blankets to the homeless found on park benches in the downtown area.
Youth and education
Father Patrick Healy, SSJ, pastor at St. Augustine Church in New Roads, Louisiana, said the parish hosts a literature program for children on the first Sunday of every month. “Young adult volunteers present a short lesson for children based on the weekly scripture readings.
The classes are held in a former elementary school building,” he said.
At Our Mother of Mercy in Church Point, Louisiana, Father Francis Butler, SSJ, said the parish offers a Head Start program. They also host a retreat for teens each summer. He said the parish is planning for an after-school program.
Father Butler said, “We want to demonstrate God’s love for the children of our community, especially as they are challenged by the secular culture. We want to bless them and help them meet the challenges they face in life.”
At St. James Major parish in Prichard, Alabama, assisting families to pay for Catholic school is important. They assist families who cannot afford a Catholic education by subsidizing tuition. The parish funds a scholarship program for Catholic school students. Started 12 years ago, Josephite Father Leo Udeagu, pastor, said the program raises about $10,000 each year.
He said that a board of parishioners meets monthly to discuss how many children they can assist and how to raise money to support them. Outside organizations have given grants to the parish for tuition assistance and the parishioners make donations. “Many children of our parish do not have the privilege to receive good Catholic education, and we do our best to be there for them and helping those who are struggling.”
At St. Joseph parish in Alexandria, Virginia, Father Fest said the parish hosts an Advent Angel Tree, which solicits gifts for nursing homes, the Oblate Sisters of Providence and retired Josephites. The youth help in that effort.
“It’s a great way to get the children involved, because it demonstrates the real meaning of Christmas,” said Beverley Anderson, who is in charge of the Advent Angel Tree program.
“The Cross Will Flower” program, led by women in the Alexandria parish, provides gifts for newborn babies, which are requested by the Crisis Pregnancy Center.
Meeting unexpected needs
For more than 15 years, Shrine of Our Mother Mercy parish in, Rayne, Louisiana, has met the emergency needs of the neighborhood by collaborating with a Christian service center in the community.
Josephite Father Richard Wagner said, “Helping the people around the community is fulfilling the corporal works of mercy.”
Holy Family and St. Anne parishes participate in a shelter for battered women and children, Father James Fallon said. The parishes also support a community volunteer nursing program, which brings parishioners together quarterly to discuss health-related issues.
At St. Francis Xavier Church in Houston, the parish has offered a Health Fair that provides free services such as medical screenings, blood pressure and glucose level checks, nutritional advice, dental screenings and much more, according to parish staff member Shirley Foreman. This year, more than 350 people participated in the Health Fair, she said.
At Most Pure Heart of Mary parish in Mobile, Father Kenneth Ugwu, said the young adult group collects winter coats, clothing, shoes, and bedding for families and individuals in shelters.
In addition to providing for the homeless, Most Pure Heart of Mary coordinates a Christmas gift program, called the Angel Tree, for children whose parents have been incarcerated. The Angel Tree program, led by Julia James, has been ongoing for at least 15 years.
Homelessness and emergency needs
At Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Reserve, Louisiana, Father Christopher Amadi, SSJ, said charitable outreach is “doing what Jesus would do by providing the people with what they need.” He said that many people in the community come to the church for food as well as help with their gas or electric bill.
“We also have helped people find a job,” he said.
At Corpus Christi parish in New Orleans, helping the homeless through the Brother’s Keeper Project is an outreach priority. The purpose of Brother’s Keeper is to gather daily necessities such as bowls, pots, utensils and toiletries for the homeless.
“Many times, these people are only offered a mattress and nothing else,” said parishioner Sheryl Turner who works with 36 other members of the parish in the program.
She said the Ladies Auxiliary was inspired to start the program when they were asked to donate shoes for the homeless. At that time, she said volunteer nurses would check the feet of the homeless because many of them would walk around barefoot. From that event, the program grew. Most of the donations are from the parish.
At St. Francis Xavier parish in Baltimore, Father James McLinden, SSJ, said that every Thursday there is an outreach program to help people within the community with their electric cut-offs and eviction notices. The church collaborates with the St. Vincent DePaul society to assist families residing in four zip codes around the parish each week. There is an annual budget of about $25,000 a year to support this program, he said, which is raised from a weekly collection.
He said the parish program has been helping the community for more than 15 years.
Father Healy said St. Augustine parishioners conduct home visits to discuss personal hardships and assist families. “We also are there to pray with them,” he said.
By David Andrews
The Archdiocese of Washington is celebrating its 75th anniversary by presenting service medals recognizing individuals and organizations that have generously given their time, talent and treasure to parishes, schools, and archdiocesan corporations.
As stated by the Archdiocese of Washington’s office of communications, those who qualify must be practicing Catholics or non-Catholic active supporters of the church whose time is deemed extraordinary, or an organization that exemplifies the values and mission of the Catholic Church.
Josephite Father John Carroll, pastor of Church of the Incarnation, tabbed Erma Proctor for her service to the parish. Father Carroll said it was very difficult to choose just one member of the parish.
“Erma’s a long time member here and she is very supportive of any effort that the parish makes,” Father Carroll said. “She’s in a number of organizations, such as the fellowship choir, the ladies’ sodality, St. Vincent de Paul Society, the parish council. She lends her support to many efforts at the parish and in the community.”
“She’s just a really good parishioner,” Father Carroll said.
Holy Redeemer parish in Washington, D.C., a Josephite parish from 1919-1994, delegated its award to the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart. Father David Bava, the current pastor, joined the Holy Redeemer Church in 1995, a year after it was no longer a Josephite church, and said it was natural to honor the Josephites with the award.
“When the opportunity came to nominate a group, it was easy to recognize the Josephite priests and brothers who served here and nurtured the faith among the people for 75 years,” said Father Bava.
The Josephite’s will receive the award at a ceremony to be held on Sunday, November 16, 2014.
The Josephite churches of St. Luke and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Washington, DC have not yet announced who will receive the award.