A Century of Spiritual Commitment

November 03, 1992

Baltimore is the cradle of American Catholicism.

Although the Catholic church is often viewed as a white church, the reality is such that as early as 1785 the Baltimore diocese reported to Rome that of the 15,800 Catholics in Maryland, 3,000 were African Americans. It was no wonder, then, that the first permanent group of black nuns, the Oblate Sisters, was formed here in 1829.

Another first, the interracial Josephite order of priests and brothers, is now beginning its year-long centennial celebration.

In fact, the Josephites have been working in America somewhat longer.

In 1871, the Catholic archbishop of Baltimore recorded the arrival from London of "four missionary priests for the Negroes." Known as Mill Hill Josephites, they took over the running of Baltimore's St. Francis Xavier Church, the oldest black Catholic congregation in America. Two decades later, a separate American branch was established. Among its founders was the Rev. Charles Randolph Uncles, the first black to be trained and ordained as a priest in the United States.

Baltimore is still the headquarters city for the Josephites, an order which today ministers to more than 50,000 parishioners in 73 parishes. Much of the order's work is done in the Deep South -- from Florida and Alabama to Mississippi and Louisiana.

Most of the Josephite priests and brothers are white but the overwhelming majority of seminarians are black. As this offshoot of a British missionary order celebrates its first 100 years, it is working in increasingly close cooperation with an order from Nigeria, which is sending its missionaries from Africa to America! That's how much things have changed in a century.

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