Nov. 1 – Vatican welcomes Father Tolton

The renowned Father Augustus Tolton’s cause for sainthood has reached the Vatican. Father Tolton is one of four African Americans on the road to sainthood. AugustineTolton

Last month, Father Tolton’s dossier encasing his life’s work was shipped to Rome where it will be carefully sifted through and judged by various members of the Roman Catholic Church.

Introducing Father Tolton to the Vatican is a major step for not only African American Catholics, but for African Americans everywhere. “We’ve never had an African American saint. It would be a crowning achievement of the whole panorama of black Catholicism in this country from the days of slavery onto today,” said Bishop Joseph Perry of Chicago. Good luck, Father Tolton!

Remember your loved ones on All Souls Day

In Autumn, the leaves change color. Flowers, once vibrant and bright, lose their luster. The Fall season makes us think of things past.

This is the time of year when we visit cemeteries and remember loved ones. We gather to pray for those who have gone before us. And in our prayers, we pray that “perpetual light will shine on them.”

Praying for the dead is a natural part of our faith. Our church teaches that “purgatory exists, and that the souls detained there are helped by the suffrages of the faithful.” We also know that those who have died in the love of God can have their souls purified “by the suffrages of the faithful in this life, that is, by Masses, prayers, and almsgiving, and by the other offices of piety usually performed by the faithful.”

angelThe Josephites annually observe the month of November as the time we pray in a special way for all of our deceased members, friends, relatives and benefactors. The Josephites conduct a “Nine Days of Prayer for the Departed” novena, Oct. 24 – Nov. 2. You are invited to join with us and remember your loved ones. The novena prayers can be found on our website: www.

The most effective of all prayers is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Josephites will remember your loved ones in the Masses we offer on All Souls Day, November 2. All Josephite seminarians, novices, priests and brothers will join our prayers with yours on their behalf.

Also, the Josephites offer throughout the entire month of November prayers for all the deceased loved ones you recommend to us.

It is comforting to know that there is something that we can do for those we love. There is a way for us to remember them. We pray for them even as they watch over us and pray on our behalf before the Lord God. Thus, it is with confidence we pray, “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. May perpetual light shine upon them.”

The Fall Edition is Here!

Click here to read the Fall edition of the Josephite Harvest.





Oldest U.S Diocese Celebrates 225 years


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.

XavierChurchThe 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.
Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 2.52.42 PMThe 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.

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 2.52.34 PMThe 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.

Celebrating St. Joseph Seminary


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.

SeminaryLater, 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.