An inspired, inspiring life

Celebration: The Rev. George Clements, a noted activist priest, will speak at a Columbia church for an event honoring Black History Month.

February 18, 2005|By Tawanda W. Johnson | Tawanda W. Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The priest whose life inspired a made-for-TV movie in 1987 after launching a national program urging church members to adopt minority children will be the keynote speaker at a Columbia church's Black History Month program.

The Rev. George Clements, a nationally known activist and a celebrant at St. Martin's Church in Washington, will speak at noon Sunday at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center.

Clements is expected to talk about how God inspired him to start and get involved with various programs to help others. The free event, called An African-American Cultural Mass, is being sponsored by St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in observance of Black History Month.

St. Martin's gospel choir and a reception also will be part of the festivities.

Clements and the Rev. Michael Kelley, pastor of St. Martin's, will celebrate the Mass together.

"Father Clements is a person of note. He was the first priest in the country who adopted a child," said Minnie M. Kenny, a member of St. John's parish council and planning committee for the black history event.

During the 1980s, Clements founded One Church, One Child in Chicago to promote the recruitment of foster and adoptive parents for the disproportionate number of minority children in the child welfare system.

Clements adopted his first child in 1981, a teenage boy, and later three more. His passion for helping children spread across the country, and his program is credited with leading to the adoption of more than 100,000 children nationwide.

His role in the civil rights movement also is noteworthy.

During the 1960s, Clements aligned himself with the Black Panthers, serving as group chaplain.

Years later, he stressed the value of education through a black college tour. And in 1995, during the Million Man March, he announced plans for the One Church, One Addict program to help recovering alcohol and drug addicts with re-entering society.

Clements' life was featured in the 1987 TV movie The Father Clements Story starring Lou Gossett Jr.

Kenny said church members are looking forward to hearing Clements.

"We asked him [to speak] because, as a Catholic, we want to see how God has moved in the lives of other Catholics," she said. "He is one who has worked out of sight, and he has been named a chief of the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria because he has assisted so many Africans with higher education in the United States."

Kenny said Kelley has also made a difference helping those who are less fortunate.

"He's an activist, too. He does free computer training for adults," she said.

Helen Liu, chair of St. John's diversity committee, said the African-American Cultural Mass is part of the church's vision for inclusion.

"We've had a Haitian Cultural Mass, a Filipino Cultural Mass and a Hispanic Cultural Mass," she said. "We want to learn and appreciate each other's heritages. Only by learning and appreciating each other can we be gifts for one another."

Kenny added that St. John's parish is multicultural and involved in many different projects to help the community.

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