Category: Josephite News

Racism ‘Remains Pre-Eminent Sin of Nation, Church,’ Says Brooklyn Bishop

By Ed Wilkinson Catholic News Service

8.25.2017 3:32 PM ET

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CNS) — Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn is forming a new commission to study the effects of racism in the Catholic Church and on the Brooklyn Diocese.

He made the announcement Aug. 24 at a specially called Mass for Solidarity and Peace to counter recent display of racism in demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia.

He said, “I am establishing a diocesan commission for social justice. … In the coming months, we will design our commission to deal with the social and religious problems that racism — in all of its forms — presents to us.”

He said that the commission would be named for Msgr. Bernard Quinn, a white Brooklyn pastor who established parishes and services for African-American Catholics in the first half of the 20th century. His cause for sainthood is currently before the Vatican Congregation for Saints’ Causes.

Bishop DiMarzio pointed out that only a day before, the U.S. bishops had set up an ad hoc committee that will “challenge the sin of racism,” listen to those “suffering under this sin,” and encourage coming together in the love of Christ.

He specifically mentioned the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, alt-right, white supremacists and anti-Semites, as groups that have their roots in racism and need to be rejected.

“Racism remains the pre-eminent sin of not only our nation, but also of our church,” said Bishop DiMarzio. “We should not tolerate monuments to people who were racists or tried to destroy our democracy. We in the United States have our own particular original sin. It is called racism.”

He explained that racism has its origin in a “sense of inferiority. This flies in the face of our God-given knowledge that we are all created as children of God, and, as we profess in our country, we are all created equal. We have yet to put into practice what God teaches us and what our nation professes.”

He invoked the intercession of St. Peter Claver, the 17th-century Jesuit priest who labored on the docks of Colombia baptizing literally thousands of slaves and ministering to their physical and spiritual needs.

“If he could have changed slavery, he would have done so. Instead, Peter Claver did whatever he could to alleviate the pain and suffering that came from the innate racism that allowed for slavery and changed the face of the United States,” he explained.

He also pointed out that Msgr. Quinn had been the target of KKK groups on Long Island. His life was threatened several times by the group that also twice burned down Little Flower Orphanage for black children that he founded before it was established as a presence in the then-Diocese of Brooklyn.

“Our real home is in heaven,” said Bishop DiMarzio. “And it is only there that we will be free from original sin, that of our first parents, and that of our nation. But in the meantime, while we live in exile, we can look to this evening’s Gospel, for an answer.”

That reading was about the beatitudes and the bishop said, “Jesus calls us to be people who are blessed, blessed as we put into practice the revolutionary teaching that he gave to us.”

Bishop DiMarzio was joined at the altar by five auxiliary bishops of Brooklyn, and 20 priests and deacons. A little more than 100 people attended the hastily called liturgy that was requested by Father Alonzo Cox, director for African-American ministry in Brooklyn and Queens.

During the liturgy, prayers also were offered for the victims of the recent terrorist attacks in Barcelona, Spain.

Angela Brandt of St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in East Flatbush, said she was pleased with the Bishop’s announcement about a commission to study racism.

“We need to acknowledge that there is a problem,” she told The Tablet, Brooklyn’s diocesan newspaper. “I had to explain to my son who is now the generation out there dealing with this that I have dealt with this my whole life. I am very proud of the younger generation and seeing so many young people responding to what is happening in America.

“The recent events are touching so many people’s lives,” she said, “so we need to come together tonight and pray. We are all here together on this one planet and we can’t destroy one another.”

Father Daniel Kinsley, a parochial vicar at St. Martin De Porres Parish in Bedford-Stuyvesant, expressed shock and horror at recent events in the country.

“The church has a prophetic voice to address the issues that our society faces and also being that witness in the world,” he said. “I believe the bishop’s commission is a step in the right direction and it is my hope to be the beginning of something great.”

Jeremy Lagverre a student at Long Island University Brooklyn, also felt that the diocesan commission was a step in the right direction.

“Father Alonso told me about this Mass and once I heard, I knew I wanted to be a part of it and help out any way I could,” he said.

“Seeing the events that have taken place over the last few weeks I have been waiting to see how the church would react because I knew the Catholic Church had to do something and make its stand,” Lagverre added.

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Wilkinson is editor of The Tablet, newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn. Matthew O’Connor of The Tablet staff contributed to this story.

San Diego Bishop Denounces Racist Beliefs, Actions As ‘Blasphemies’

By Denis Grasska Catholic News Service

8.24.2017 4:22 PM ET

SAN DIEGO (CNS) — Denouncing racist beliefs and actions as “blasphemies” against God, Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego joined with several other faith leaders from the area to speak out against bigotry.

He joined dozens of religious leaders brought together by the San Diego Organizing Project for a news conference Aug. 18 in the courtyard of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral.

The event was held in response to what took place Aug. 11-12 in Charlottesville, Virginia, where hundreds of white supremacists staged a rally against the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee; the rally ultimately turned violent, leaving one counterprotester dead and more than 30 other people injured. Two state troopers also were killed when the helicopter they were in to monitor the crowd crashed.

In opening remarks, Kathleen Owens of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego said the interfaith gathering was intended “to send a clear message that the faith community of San Diego will not be silent in the face of racism, bigotry and hatred.

Before delivering the opening prayer, the Rev. Penny Bridges, dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, described the event as a “declaration of our united and unconditional condemnation of racism and white supremacy.”

Beginning with Auxiliary Bishop John P. Dolan of San Diego and concluding with Bishop McElroy, several speakers took to the stage outside the cathedral to reflect on the Charlottesville rally and its aftermath.

Speakers included Imam Taha Hassane, Islamic Center of San Diego; Bishop George McKinney, 2nd Jurisdiction Church of God in Christ; Pastor Tania Marquez, First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego; Rev. Mary Sue Brookshire, Pioneer Ocean View United Church of Christ; Rabbi Devorah Marcus, Temple Emanu-El of San Diego; and Bishop Cornelius Bowser, Charity Apostolic Church.

In his remarks, Bishop Dolan contrasted the assembled faith leaders, whose message is one of communion, with many in the world who seem to be “hell-bent on a mission toward division.”

“We cannot allow division to be a part of this nation that God has blessed,” Bishop Dolan said. “Let us remember that communion is the only reason for us being together today. … Our communion is the only reason for our desire to be one people under one God.”

In especially poignant remarks, Rabbi Marcus reflected on how it felt as a Jewish person “to see Nazi flags being waved proudly, without embarrassment or shame, on our American streets,” and Bishop McKinney, who is African-American, recalled having grown up in the South during “a dark period in the history of our nation” and stressed the important role of prayer in overcoming racism.

“While we fight for justice, and righteousness, and peace,” Bishop McKinney said, “we must also remember that this is our Father’s world, and we must remember to join together across denominational and faith lines in praying that God would direct our steps and that God would bless America.”

A recurring theme in the speeches was that religious leaders themselves have not done enough to address racism.

“For too long, too many of us, especially white people, especially white clergy … have done too little,” said Rev. Brookshire. “We have fallen asleep, dreaming that our world is better than it is. We must wake up, we must stand up, and we must speak up against hatred in all its forms. But we must do so in a spirit of love, lest we become like those we oppose.”

Imam Hassane and Pastor Marquez both challenged their fellow religious leaders to denounce bigotry from the pulpit, and Bishop Bowser called on local and county law enforcement to make advanced preparations and develop public safety plans in case a demonstration similar to that in Charlottesville were to take place in San Diego.

The leadership of the San Diego Organizing Project believes the chances of that are not unlikely, as a recent report identified 79 hate groups active in California, the highest number in any state.

As the event’s final speaker, Bishop McElroy said, “I am proud to stand here today in solidarity with the religious leadership of San Diego to state categorically that the actions, the words and the beliefs of neo-Nazis, the Klan, white militias and all hate groups are blasphemies against the God who is the Creator of the whole human family and looks upon every man, and woman, and child as equal in dignity and in worth.”

The bishop lamented that “one of the most troubling elements” about the incident in Charlottesville was that so many of the participants were young people. He noted that this “puts to the lie” the belief that younger generations will not inherit the racism of the past, and he encouraged his fellow religious leaders to ask parents to discuss this issue with their children.

Bishop McElroy said he had already requested that the diocesan Office for Schools and the diocesan Office for Evangelization and Catechetical Ministry work together on designing an educational module “specifically about the Charlottesville moment” for children through young adults.

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Grasska is assistant editor of The Southern Cross, newspaper of the Diocese of San Diego.

Priest Asks Forgiveness for Having Been KKK Member Years Ago as Young Man

By Catholic News Service

8.23.2017 12:03 PM ET

ARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) — Writing in the Arlington Catholic Herald, Father William Aitcheson, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, asked forgiveness for having been a member of the Ku Klux Klan years ago as “an impressionable young man.”

“As a young adult I was Catholic, but in no way practicing my faith,” Father Aitcheson, 62, wrote in an Aug. 21 op-ed in the diocesan newspaper. “The irony that I left an anti-Catholic hate group to rejoin the Catholic Church is not lost on me. It is a reminder of the radical transformation possible through Jesus Christ in his mercy.

“While 40 years have passed, I must say this: I’m sorry. To anyone who has been subjected to racism or bigotry, I am sorry. I have no excuse, but I hope you will forgive me,” he said.

In response Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge said in a statement: “While Father Aitcheson’s past with the Ku Klux Klan is sad and deeply troubling, I pray that in our current political and social climate his message will reach those who support hate and division, and inspire them to a conversion of heart.

“Our Lord is ready to help them begin a new journey, one where they will find peace, love, and mercy. The Catholic Church will walk with anyone to help bring them closer to God,” he said.

The diocese said “no accusations of racism or bigotry” have been directed against Father Aitcheson “throughout his time in the Diocese of Arlington.” His article “was written with the intention of telling his story of transformation,” it said. The diocese added that it had approved his request “to temporarily step away from public ministry, for the well-being of the church and parish community.”

Father Aitcheson’s article was published with the headline “Moving from hate to love with God’s grace” and also posted on the newspaper’s website,

Here is the full text:

In the course of one’s life, there are seminal moments that humble us and, in some cases, even bring shame. For the past several decades, I have been blessed with the opportunity to serve as a Catholic priest. Originally ordained for (what was then) the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas, I transferred to my home area here in the Diocese of Arlington.

What most people do not know about me is that as an impressionable young man, I was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s public information but it rarely comes up. My actions were despicable. When I think back on burning crosses, a threatening letter, and so on, I feel as though I am speaking of somebody else. It’s hard to believe that was me.

As a young adult I was Catholic, but in no way practicing my faith. The irony that I left an anti-Catholic hate group to rejoin the Catholic Church is not lost on me. It is a reminder of the radical transformation possible through Jesus Christ in his mercy.

While 40 years have passed, I must say this: I’m sorry. To anyone who has been subjected to racism or bigotry, I am sorry. I have no excuse, but I hope you will forgive me.

The images from Charlottesville brought back memories of a bleak period in my life that I would have preferred to forget. The reality is, we cannot forget, we should not forget. Our actions have consequences and while I firmly believe God forgave me — as he forgives anyone who repents and asks for forgiveness — forgetting what I did would be a mistake. Those mistakes have emboldened me in my journey to follow the God who yearns to give us his grace and redemption.

The images from Charlottesville are embarrassing. They embarrass us as a country, but for those who have repented from a damaging and destructive past, the images should bring us to our knees in prayer. Racists have polluted minds, twisted by an ideology that reinforces the false belief that they are superior to others.

Christ teaches something different. He teaches us that we are all his creations and wonderfully made — no matter our skin color or ethnicity. Realizing this truth is incredibly liberating. When I left my former life, I did a lot of soul-searching. God humbled me, because I needed to be humbled. But abandoning thoughts of racism and superiority gave me the liberation I needed.

We must condemn, at every opportunity, the hatred and vile beliefs of the KKK and other white supremacist organizations. What they believe directly contradicts what we believe as Americans and what we, as Catholics, hold dear.

If there are any white supremacists reading this, I have a message for you: you will find no fulfillment in this ideology. Your hate will never be satisfied and your anger will never subside. I encourage you to find peace and mercy in the only place where it is authentic and unending: Jesus Christ.

I ask that you pray for the victims of racism and bigotry. Pray that they would never feel like anything less than children of God, bestowed with dignity and love.

Pray also for those who perpetuate racist beliefs and wrongly believe they are superior to others. God forgives everyone who truly repents. Nobody is outside of his loving grasp. With conversion in Christ, they can find new life in the truth.

Book Collects John Paul II’s Notes from 41 Years of Spiritual Retreats

By Agostino Bono Catholic News Service

8.18.2017 11:15 AM ET

“In God’s Hands: The Spiritual Diaries of Pope St. John Paul II” by Pope St. John Paul II. HarperCollins (New York, 2017). 482 pp., $34.99.

St. John Paul II was a churchman known for his public activism and as a major world figure during the latter part of the last century.

As a priest, bishop and cardinal in communist-ruled Poland, he learned how to deal with an authoritarian atheist regime, helping to keep faith alive and flourishing in the historically Catholic country. As pope, he was instrumental in the fall of the Soviet empire and the end of the cold war, chipping away at the Iron Curtain with his constant calls for religious liberty and respect for human rights.

As head of the Catholic Church, St. John Paul updated Catholic social teachings, especially concerning such politically hot-button issues as protecting the environment, economic and political globalization and support for democracy as a form of government.

Yet underneath all of this was a very spiritual man, the spirituality driving his insertion of the Catholic Church into the post-Second Vatican Council modern world. Only nine years after his death, he was declared a saint. This book aims to explain the pope’s spirituality in his own words, but it falls short.

Although the subtitle describes the book as the pope’s “spiritual diaries,” it is not. The book is a collection of notes the pope jotted down during years of spiritual retreats (1962-2003) as a Polish clergymen and then as pope during the annual Lenten retreats he took at the Vatican.

Some of the notes are labeled meditations and are several paragraphs long. But much of the book is composed of isolated sentences and phrases, things people jot down to jog their memories later on; and it is unclear whether these notes reflect the pope’s thinking or are a quick recording of the retreat master’s thoughts. The pope, in his will, requested that these notes be burned but they were saved by his personal secretary, Msgr. Stanislaw Dziwisz — later the cardinal-archbishop of Krakow, Poland — who saw them as glimpses into the pope’s spirituality.

The most important glimpse, perhaps, was the pope’s ability to shut out his worldly concerns while on retreat to concentrate on his inner life. Except for a few simple references to the need for world peace and the threats posed by Marxism, communism, atheism and secularism to the church’s work in the modern world, the notes are devoted to spiritual issues.

Key among them is the pope’s devotion to Mary, the mother of God, exemplified in his motto “totus tuus,” Latin for “entirely yours,” taken from a Marian prayer. He shows interest in understanding her relationship to Jesus as her son and as God. During his life, he often referred to her as being responsible for saving his life during the assassination attempt in St. Peter’s Square May 13, 1981. However, he only alludes to this once by naming his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, in a brief section on forgiveness. The pope did visit Agca in prison and forgave him.

Another interesting point is his conviction, from his early years as a bishop, that the primary role of the episcopate is pastoral. While the notes may help scholars understand some of the spiritual issues important to the pope, it does not provide an in-depth look. Such a book has yet to be written.

Father James Albert Hayes, Josephite priest, dies at age 92



December 19, 1924 – July 13, 2017

In his 62nd year as a Josephite priest, Father James Albert Hayes passed to a new life at St. Joseph Manor, Baltimore, MD, on July 13, 2017. He had been retired for 15 years and in the past year experienced a serious illness. He recently celebrated his 92nd birthday.

Father Hayes was born December 19, 1924, in Presque Isle, Maine, one of three sons and one daughter of Albert and Verna (O’Brien) Hayes. He served with the Army Air Corps in World War II and graduated from Holy Cross College, Worcester, MA, in 1950. Motivated by the mission of the Josephites, he then entered their formation program and was ordained in his home parish church in Presque Isle on June 4, 1955.

His parochial assignments as a priest were limited to two St. Joseph churches, one in Jackson, TN, for the month of July, 1955, and the other in Wilmington, DE, in August of the same year. For the rest of his priesthood, he was associated with the Josephite seminaries in Newburgh, NY, and Washington, DC.

From September of 1955 to September of 1984, he was on the staff of Epiphany Apostolic College in Newburgh, NY. He served as as faculty member teaching Religion, English and the Humanities. In addition, he had been Prefect of Discipline, Director of Athletics, Principal of the High School and Rector of the College and overseer of the building until its final sale in the mid-’80s. During this time, Father obtained a Master’s Degree in the Humanities from St. Bonaventure University in Olean, NY.

During his time at Newburgh, Father Hayes became interested in and studied painting and sculpture and held several exhibits of his work of over 100 pieces of art, some of which adorn several Josephite houses.

In 1985, he was assigned to St. Joseph’s Seminary as assistant director and supervisor of its custodial care as well as assistant to the Pastoral Center. He also had five more exhibits of his art work. In 2001, he retired to Maine on sick leave and ten years later entered St. Joseph Manor.

Father Hayes is predeceased by his parents; sister, Mary and brothers, Jack and Father Pat of the Portland, Maine, Diocese. He is survived by several nieces and nephews including Father William Shaughnessey, an Opus Dei priest.

His funeral Mass will be celebrated at St. Joseph Manor, Baltimore on Thursday, July 20, 2017. Burial will be at the Josephite plot in New Cathedral Cemetery, Baltimore. May he find the peace and joy of the Lord which he sought to express in his art.

Celebrate the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus on June 23!

Do you know why the Josephites are called Saint Joseph’s Society of the Sacred Heart?

It’s because, inspired by Saint Joseph, the Josephites have a very special devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

This year the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart is June 23, which is 19 days after Pentecost. The Josephites lead an annual “Sacred Heart of Jesus Novena of Reparation for the Offenses Against Life.” You are invited to join us in this special novena. The Novena begins on June 23, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The Josephites lead this novena with special confidence because a devotion to the Sacred Heart is part of our name: The Society of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart has been ministering in the United States for more than 140 years. Please join us in this unique mission of evangelization.

The Josephites are Pro-Life and Pro-Family. Saint Joseph protected his family when they fled to Egypt as the Holy Innocents were being slaughtered in Nazareth. Today more than ever, we need this protection against the attacks against family life. And you can help!

As you know, there are many attacks against life – abortion, euthanasia, immoral stem cell research – that take place every day. During the month of June, you are invited to join the Josephites in prayer to make reparation for these sins against life. Every life is sacred. Every human life is made in the image and likeness of God. Every human life deserves our respect and protection. With your help, we can build a culture of life.

In June, the Josephites will pray in Reparation for Offenses Against Life. We will pray that the unjust acts against life – “God’s most precious gift” – will stop. You can add your prayer intentions to ours as we make reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus by visiting

May good Saint Joseph intercede for you and all your special intentions. You can be assured that we Josephites will be praying through the intercession of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for all your special needs and intentions.

A life of service

St. Luke parish in Washington honors long-serving staff for commitment

By Ariana Cassard

Successful parishes need a dedicated staff. At St. Luke Church in Washington, D.C., two men were recently honored for more than four decades of service to the parish community.

John Quarles joined the staff at St. Luke Church over 40 years ago. As director of St. Luke’s Community Center, Mr. Quarles showed up every day to care for the center and the programs that take place there.

St. Luke’s Community Center is the social arm of the parish. It is home to a number of community programs, such as youth basketball, social activities, Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous programs, and CSOSA, a program run by the U.S. Justice Department to re-integrate those returning home from incarceration. Mr. Quarles cared for each of these activities.

“He lifts up his Catholic faith and understands the meaning of service,” said Josephite Father Cornelius Ejiogu, pastor of St. Luke Church and personal friend to Mr. Quarles.

When Father Cornelius began his pastorate at St. Luke, Mr. Quarles was one of the first men he met. The other was Eugene Russell.

Mr. Russell is described as a quiet, dedicated man who has devoted his life to doing the background work at St. Luke.

Mr. Russell began working in maintenance at St. Luke 23 years ago, as an assistant to the maintenance supervisor. By the time of his retirement, he had been promoted to maintenance engineer.

His duties included ensuring the church is properly taken care of both on the inside and outside, as well as welcoming groups at the church for parties and meetings. Father Cornelius praised Mr. Russell’s dedication to the church, saying he cared for it as he would his own home.

Mr. Russell told The Harvest that in his retirement, he misses the parishioners the most. “I love interacting with the parishioners of the church. It was very helpful for me with my job,” he said.

The legacy of these two men was celebrated with a retirement party in the church hall in January. Over 300 parishioners, friends and family members gathered for a Mass of Thanksgiving, followed by a luncheon in St. Luke Center. Each retiree was awarded a plaque in appreciation of their years of service.

Both Mr. Quarles and Mr. Russell will be remembered for the impact they had on St. Luke Church. “These men loved St. Luke with all their heart, and I think that’s the genesis of all their sacrifice,” said the pastor.

While they have retired from their duties, Father Cornelius said he would not miss these men, because he will still see them at Mass every Sunday.

‘Thank you St. Joseph for leading us to the Josephites’

Four priests honored for 220 years of ministry

By John Powers

A jubilant congregation of Josephites and friends gathered in the chapel at St. Joseph Seminary on May 2 to celebrate the lifetime of ministry provided by four Josephite priests.

Father John Filippelli, Father Frank Hull and Father Charles Moffatt were honored by 60 years of priestly service. Father Robert Zawacki was recognized for 40 years of ministry.

Superior General Father Michael Thompson, SSJ, principal celebrant at the jubilee Mass, noted that the four had collectively offered 220 years of ministry in the African American community.

“We offer you our warmest love for your service and dedication,” he said at the conclusion of the Mass.

He said that stories of their early ministry in rural areas of the south, missionary territory for Josephites, were overwhelming. “But God gave you the grace to do saintly and extraordinary things. Now we take up the mantle and continue in the missionary spirit that you have shown throughout your years of priestly service.”

Father Filippelli, a former superior general, gave the homily, which recounted Josephite history and challenges that racism posed both inside and outside the church.

“The most important work in the church today is fulfilling an obligation to African Americans.”

Speaking from a wheelchair, Father Filippelli preached about the virtues of St. Joseph. “It was Joseph who taught Jesus to speak and to work. Listening to Jesus is like listening to Joseph.”

He described an effort by Pope John XXIII who, at the Second Vatican Council, aimed to increase awareness of St. Joseph as patron of the church. But when the saintly pope died as the Council began, the St. Joseph campaign was stalled. “It took 50 more years before St. Joseph’s name was added to the Eucharistic prayer,” he said.

Describing the role of St. Joseph as the “first missionary,” Father Filippelli recalled how the founder of the Josephites, Cardinal Vaughn, was instructed to start his missionary work. “He was told to go to the United States and to respond to the needs of the recently emancipated people there. And we give thanks for the good work that they did.”

He said that after World War II, there were a quarter of a million African American Catholics mostly due to the work of the Josephites. “Why didn’t we have more,” he asked. “Because we didn’t understand racism.”

Father Filippelli indicated that there was racism inside the church as well as in society. “The greatest challenge is to continue the missionary work among the African American community. The most important work in the church today is fulfilling an obligation to African Americans.”

Reflecting on his life as a Josephite, Father Filippelli said, “Each and every Josephite who has given a permanent commitment has received the gifts of joy and peace that come from serving in the African American community. This permanent commitment is a special gift from God. We all can say thank you to St. Joseph for leading us to the Josephites and the African American community.”

A celebratory luncheon was held at the seminary at the conclusion of Mass.

Four Josephites honored for 220 years of ministry

A jubilant congregation of Josephites and friends gathered in the chapel at St. Joseph Seminary on May 2 to celebrate the lifetime of ministry provided by four Josephite priests.
Father John Filippelli, Father Frank Hull and Father Charles Moffatt were honored by 60 years of priestly service. Father Robert Zawacki was recognized for 40 years of ministry.

Superior General Father Michael Thompson, SSJ, principal celebrant at the jubilee Mass, noted that the four had collectively offered 220 years of ministry in the African American community. “We offer you are warmest love for your service and dedication,” he said at the conclusion of the Mass. “God gave you the grace to do saintly and extraordinary things throughout your years of priestly service.”

A celebratory luncheon was held at the seminary at the conclusion of Mass.

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Baltimore mom prays for racial healing, solutions to social injustice

Editors: A video to accompany this story can be found at

BALTIMORE (CNS) — Crystal Morris is a busy woman. The 55-year-old West Baltimore resident makes sure her neighborhood church is always open for those who seek Jesus.

Crystal Morris poses for a photo outside the rectory of St. Peter Claver Church in Baltimore March 7. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn) See MOTHERS-DAY-SOCIAL-AWARENESS April 11, 2017.

Nestled near the corner of Bloom Street and North Freemont Avenue, sandwiched between an elementary school and a catchall grocery, she answers God’s phone calls and doorbells, researches baptismal records, and even washes and irons his altar linens.

Crystal Morris poses for a photo in the rectory of St. Peter Claver Church in Baltimore March 9. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn) See MOTHERS-DAY-SOCIAL-AWARENESS April 11, 2017.

“This church has been a beacon of hope for a lot of people in our community,” she told Catholic News Service from St. Peter Claver Church’s rectory. “We have people coming in and out of here asking for help with rent, gas, electricity — they come here for food and clothing.”

Poverty is no joke in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood. Door after door, window after window, homes are boarded up with a sadness associated with war.

In 2015, residents took to these same streets near the African-American church to feud with police after 25-year-old Freddie Gray died in their custody.

“Some people are not grounded and rooted in Christ,” the mother of three adult children said about social injustices. “I tell my two daughters to keep praying. Pray because God can do anything but fail.”

Crystal Morris, holding Bible, poses March 9 for a photo with her sister Bernadette Johnson, and her two daughters Cierra, far left, and Candace, right. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn) See MOTHERS-DAY-SOCIAL-AWARENESS April 11, 2017.

Prayer and song, Morris makes sure her devotion is heard during Mass as a choir member.

“She loves herself some Smokie Norful!” her youngest daughter Cierra, 20, said about her mom’s appreciation for the Grammy-winning gospel singer. “She sings all around the house like 24/7.”

“She thinks she’s Whitney Houston!” Candace, her eldest daughter, 23, said jokingly.

Church life and church employment have been a blessing for the Morris family. Crystal told CNS that she thanks God for her time on earth because she, too, has lost friends and family to drug and alcohol addiction, and violence.

“It takes a village,” Morris said when asked about raising kids under these circumstances. “The older women in the parish always had an eye out (for each other’s children) and the kids did not like that. Sometimes they would get a little puffy and give you a look, but they stayed respectful.”

“I think it’s a good thing that mom works at the church,” Candace said.

“We can tell it’s a big part of her, and it feels good,” Cierra said.

Crystal Morris shows the Bible her mother gave her and her sister in 1972. Morris credits her mother for her spiritual foundation in Christ. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn) See MOTHERS-DAY-SOCIAL-AWARENESS April 11, 2017.