‘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.

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