Local News Archive
Print Issue: May 2, 1988
Appointment Reflects Universality, Unity
By Rita McInerney
Were his brother Josephites surprised at the announcement of Bishop Eugene A. Marinos appointment as archbishop of Atlanta on March 15?
Not entirely there had been rather widespread rumors, kind of a buildup of suspense. We were all hoping it would come true. We thought he was ready for such an important post. The speaker was Father Robert McCall, S.S.J., vicar general of the order dedicated to an apostolate to black Americans.
Were all proud. Its a great honor to the society and the people we serve.
What did Father McCall think the bishops reaction to the appointment was?
Hes looking at it in a symbolic way. As a sign of both the universality and unity of the Church as expressed in What We Have Seen and Heard, the pastoral letter of the black bishops (1984).
In his message, Father McCall said, the bishops were asking for inclusiveness of black Catholics as an integral sign to the world of the true role of blacks in the Church, His appointment is a magnificent expression of that universality and unity He is going to be a bishop of all the people.
Father McCall, whose doctoral thesis was on Essence and Existence, was seminarian Marinos philosophy professor at St. Josephs Seminary in Washington, D.C. They later served on the same faculty when Father Marino became spiritual director of the seminary in 1968. When Father Marino was chosen vicar general in 1971, the first black priest of the Society of St. Joseph to fill the post, Father McCall was elected a member of the general council as area director for Louisiana.
The council post brought Father McCall to Baltimore frequently, to society headquarters in a large old brownstone residence, actually several houses, at 1130 N. Calvert St.
The Chapter of Renewal held by the order after Vatican II was a lengthy one. Completed, it reflected the collegial manner and wider participation developing in the Church. The revised governing structure consisted of a superior general and council elected for four-year terms, the latter replacing consultors elected for six years.
Under the new form, Father McCall said, the order was divided into five areas where Josephites serve: Wilmington, Del., and Alexandria, Va.; Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, the Bahamas; New Orleans, Baton Rouge, LaFayette, La.; Jackson, Miss.; Lake Charles, La., Beaumont, Tex.; and Galveston, Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Tex., and Los Angeles, Calif.
Directors are elected by the members in each area, and are direct liaisons between the territories and the central administration and the superior, vicar and consultor generals. General conference is held every two years and elections every four years.
In an apostolate such as ours, with rapid changes, we wanted to have a timeliness to changing circumstances, especially in the black community, Father McCall explained.
Father Marino was the first Josephite to be elected vicar general under the new form of government, in 1971, upon the recommendation of the newly-elected superior general, Father Matthew ORourke. Father Marino was 37 at the time and the first black to hold the post.
I served with him, the scholarly priest said. He, as all of us, would participate in those meetings breaking a lot of ground in dealing with our societys apostolate. Father ORourke encouraged free flowing and open discussions. The superior general, Father McCall added, kept very much in touch with the men, the needs in their parishes and on the local level.
Father ORouke, the priest who made him according to Josephites proud conversation around the lunch tables in the handsome paneled dining room at the Baltimore headquarters, is now on the faculty of St. Augustines High School in New Orleans.
Father ORourke said he had known the young priest at the minor seminary in Newburgh, N.E., and while he was spiritual director at the Washington seminary. At the same time Father Marino was also actively working in the permanent diaconate program for the archdiocese of Washington.
I felt he was outstanding, particularly from a leadership point of view and qualified to step into a position of responsibility.
At the time he nominated him, Father ORourke said, he wasnt thinking in terms of a future bishop but said the society at the time was actively and quietly working behind the scenes to make the Church aware of the need for black bishops. We had a number of young and talented black priests at that time and were aware they had potential, he said.
But when the appointment of Father Marino as auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Washington was announced in 1974, he knew the providence of God was in there somewhere.
Father John Filippelli, who served as superior general from 1979 to 1987, was area director for the Washington Baltimore area when Father Marino was vicar general. He is also a close friend who was on the faculty of Epiphany with the archbishop designate.
He is pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church in Baltimore, the oldest black parish in the country, established in 1863. The parish, now in its third location, has about 700 families, and is a typical inner-city parish.
I have a black assistant pastor, Father Filippelli said. Most black Josephites are from our parishes.
Median age of Josephites is in the low 60s presently, Father Filippelli said. There are approximately 168 Josephite priests and 13 brothers. They staff about 75 parishes, most of them one-priest congregations.
Most candidates now are black, the priest said. The Josephites will ordain no new priests this year. There were two Josephites ordained in 1987 and it is expected that three seminarians, two black and one white, will be ordained in 1989.
The fifteen blacks in the order include three bishops; Archbishop-Designate Marino; Auxiliary Bishop John R. Ricard of Baltimore, and Auxiliary Bishop Carl A. Fisher of Los Angeles.
If an order can have a mother church, St. Francis Xavier would be the Josephites, according to a talk given on the 115th anniversary of the parish on Nov. 26, 1978, by Father Peter Hogan, archivist for the order.
When the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore met in 1866, the Baltimore archbishop, Martin John Spalding, was endeavoring to have the American Church pay attention to the needs of black Americans. As a result of this interest he was able to secure a community of priests, St. Josephs Society of the Sacred Heart for Foreign Missions at Mill Hill, London, begun in 1866, to work among blacks in the U.S.
By 1871, Father Herbert Vaughan, the founder of the Mill Hill congregation, had four priests ordained and was looking for a mission field for their efforts. Arrangements were made for the new community to come to St. Francis Xavier. The four priests were welcomed by Archbishop Spalding and installed at the parish on Dec. 10, 1871.
St. Francis Xavier, a parish community for 78 years and a church for eight years, received the new priests from England, Ireland and France and helped them through their first experiences, according to Father Hogans talk. They attempted a night school, an interracial brotherhood, a widows home some ventures succeeded, others failed.
The first chapter of Mill Hill was held in 1875 in St. Francis Xavier rectory with the Bishop Vaughn presiding. He was later to become Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster.
Two years earlier, in 1873, two Mill Hill fathers had taken over St. Augustine parish in Louisville, KY. Two went to Charleston, S.C., in 1875 to take over St. Peter's parish. Gradually, new parishes were established in South Baltimore, and the parish of St. Francis Xavier gave one of its black sons, Charles Randolph Uncles, to the order. He entered the newly established St. Josephs Seminary in 1888, was ordained in 1891 and offered his first solemn Mass at his parish on Christmas morning of that year.
(Although four other black men had preceded Father Uncles in the priesthood, they had studied and been ordained in Europe.)
By 1891 the Mill Hill Fathers had come to realize that a foreign-based mission society could not adequately handle the unique American problems. By 1893 reorganization brought forth the new group, St. Josephs Society of the Sacred Heart. The small founding group of Josephites included Father Uncles. The commitment remained the same, to teach the doctrines of the Catholic church and to promote its teachings on social justice. The Josephites continue to be a society of priests and brothers devoted exclusively to the spiritual, educational and social needs of the black community.
The second black man to be ordained by the Jospehites was John Henry Dorsey, a son of St. Francis Xavier parish, in 1902. Then in 1907, John Plantevigne became the third black Josephite priest. The two pioneers faced indifference, bigotry and persecution from both bishops and priests and Catholics and Protestants in the Jim Crow society of the south.
Six decades later, the Josephites, along with the rest of America, faced the developing black consciousness of the mid-60s, Father McCall said the order realized then that it could have been more aware of the cultural heritage of its black seminarians and what it meant in their formation.
Our own students and black priests helped us to come to a better understanding of black culture as it pertained to the life of the Church. There was, he said, a positive response on the part of the society to this.
Yet looking back 50 years to the time he entered the Epiphany Apostolic Seminary in Newburgh, N.Y., he believes much has been achieved for and by black Catholics, most notably the presence in the American church of 12 black bishops, an achievement little dreamed of by many earlier workers in the black apostolate.
A statistical profile by the Josephite Pastoral Center in Washington, D.C., traced the growth of the black population from 1929 until 1984, Father McCall said. It is the last extensive survey available and compared with federal census figures for the same period shows the rate of growth among black Catholics as compared to the black population as a whole has been two to one. Much of the growth he attributes to the number of adult converts and their families.
Statistics used in the profile came from sacramental records of parishes in very diocese in the country. The Glenmary Fathers prepared the map that goes with the statistical profile.
Father McCall sees marvelous opportunities for evangelization in Atlanta as in other large cities since about 65 to 75 percent of the black population in the U.S. is now urban and metropolitan.
The Josephite congregation, Father McCall said, is a community of apostolic life, a designation from the new Code of Canon Law to describe religious communities which do not take vows. We have perpetual promise of obedience to the society and its lawful superiors and a tradition from the very beginning of a life of poverty, he explained.
Affluence has come to the Josephites. Where once they received a salary of $100 yearly, the now receive $75 each month. With this they buy clothes and provide for their own recreation and vacations.
We voluntarily give our salaries to the society which in turn uses it for the black apostolate. The society regularly gives grants and low-interest or no-interest loans to parishes from a revolving fund.
As both a pastor in New Orleans and summer assistant dating back to the early 1950s, he knows the great help this aid has provided. Returning to New Orleans these days, he sees the growth of black Catholic families he knew earlier. He sees the pride of the parishioners in the physical parish plants, in their childrens successes, and in their homes.
Im convinced that black Catholics on the whole are far up the scale for achievements, homes and providing for and educating their families, he said with quiet emotion.
Father McCall, like a large number of the older Josephites, is from New England. Aware that he wanted to become a priest, he encountered his first Josephite in his senior year at Cathedral High School in Springfield, Mass. The priest distributed prayer cards with the message, Come Follow Me. He used his as a bookmark in his Vergils Aeneid and heeded the Josephite call.
The priest has contributed the lead article, Reaching Black America, in a forthcoming book, Evangelizing Blacks, to be published by the Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association in Washington, D.C.
Another contributor to the volume is the superior general of the Josephites, Father Eugene McManus, who contributed Education The Key to Reaching the American Black for Christ. The Josephite Society is listed as contributing The Important Role Played by Black Institutions.
The superior general, a man who can validly be described as being in perpetual motion, has scant time for press interviews between traveling to meetings around the Josephite areas, keeping current with Josephite business and presiding at frequent sessions at the brownstone complex on North Calvert Street.
A mathematician and sociologist, he was ordained in 1949 at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. That same year he was assigned as associate pastor at Holy Redeemer parish in New Orleans.
He is described by the society archivist, Father Hogan, as the Josephite presence in New Orleans for 20 years. He served as president of the Urban League in the Crescent City and was instrumental in the building of Christopher Homes, a low cost housing development.
Father Charles Chuck Andrus, as consultor general, is the third member of the three man executive committee running the society. A member of the Josephite parish of the Immaculate Conception in LeBeau, he was ordained May 8, 1976.
Before beginning his four-year term in 1987 he was pastor of St. Francis Xavier parish in Houston, Tex. Earlier, he was head of the Office of Black Catholicism in the diocese of Galveston-Houston.
Father Hogans archives are crammed into a maze of rooms and hallways in the thick-walled basement of the rambling brownstone structure, actually three large houses acquired beginning in 1930 by the society.
He began working in the archives part-time in 1947, spending summer vacations while on the faculty of St. Josephs Seminary and later Epiphany in Newburgh. In 1964, he took on the formidable task of being fulltime preserver of Josephite records the society and its members, of black Catholic history, from personal sources, from the daily press and diocesan weeklies all around the country. About 200 a week, Father Hogan estimated.
His domain has spilled upward to the third and fourth floors where photos and audio visual record are stored. The second floor, where the chapel is located, has also surrendered an area to the archives.
Bishop Marino has regularly sent material from his office at the Josephite Pastoral Center in Washington to his former seminary teacher for cataloguing and storing. Like doctoral students, reporters, and other Josephites, he turns to the archivist for help on occasion.
In April, 1977 an apparent resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the Washington area prompted Bishop Marino to write a lengthy commentary in the Catholic Standard of Washington warning Catholics that KKK membership is incompatible with the teaching of the Catholic Church.
In the preface, Bishop Marino extended special thanks to Father Hogan for researching the article.
Father Hogan is working toward the goal of having the archives on microfilm. Meanwhile, although the inquiring guest enters the basement domain in a state of bewilderment, Father Hogan and his secretary, Bernice Johnson Jones, soon make everything as clear as the Josephite mission.
Upstairs, in more traditional fashion, the other aspects of Josephite work are carried on in offices where functional office furniture contrasts with the high ceilings, marble mantels and handsome paneling of a less competitive period of Baltimore history.
The headquarters commands a corner of the busy street. A few doors up, another brownstone houses the Emergency House of the Salvation Army. Other brownstones have been converted to apartments, while across the street a delicatessen next to a new high rise apartment offers the 1988 version of the corner store.
In the blocks surrounding the headquarters, other dignified brownstones contain offices and more expensive apartments while restored carriage houses offer the ultimate in urban living.
Amid all the changes, tragedy, and traffic of this old section of busy Baltimore, the Josephites pursue their apostolate.