Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Historic anniversaries of firsts for U.S. black priests celebrated

Published September 18, 2014

MOBILE, Ala.—Atlanta deacons and a priest joined with other black Catholics for the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus Joint Conference July 27-31.

Bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians and religious brothers gathered in Mobile, Alabama, at the annual event. Several clergy members of the Archdiocese of Atlanta attended the conference: Msgr. Edward Branch, Deacon Alfred Mitchell, Deacon Hilliard Lee, Deacon Chester Griffin, Deacon Leonard Chambliss and Deacon Jerry Lett.

The conference focused on the historical presence of black priests in the U.S.

Bishop Joseph Perry of the Archdiocese of Chicago gave an update on the progress of the canonization of Father Augustus Tolton, the first recognized black Catholic priest in the country. He was ordained in 1886.

Another highlight was the 80th anniversary of the first class of black priests educated and ordained in the U.S. The Society of the Divine Word, a German missionary order, took on the challenge of establishing black clergy for America’s black Catholic parishes. In 1934, four black men were ordained.

Like Father Tolton, they all suffered racial hatred. The conference coincided with the National Black Sisters’ Convention and overlapped with the Knights of Peter Claver and the Ladies Auxiliary convention, July 25-30. Named for the patron saint of slaves, the black Catholic fraternal order Knights of Peter Claver got its start in Mobile, Alabama.

The members of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus visited and celebrated dinner at the site of the last slave ship to arrive in America.

The National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus presented the Brother Joseph Davis Award for lifetime achievement to Bishop Dominic Carmon, SVD, retired auxiliary bishop of New Orleans, Louisiana. Bishop Carmon witnessed the unfolding history of the black priesthood.