Two parishes with strong roots in African-American communities are gearing up for celebrations of their history next month.
On Oct. 5, St. Joseph Parish in Wilmington, Del., is commemorating 125 years of ministry and service to the community with a Mass celebrated by Bishop W. Francis Malooly. A luncheon will follow at the Hotel Dupont.
The church’s history begins with the Josephite Fathers, who founded St. Joseph Mission on Oct. 10, 1889. The Josephites were invited to Wilmington to administer to the African-American Catholics, who did not have a church of their own and were segregated from white parishioners in other churches. The cornerstone for the first St. Joseph Church, on North French Street, was laid July 6, 1890, and Bishop Alfred Curtis dedicated the church on Oct. 5, 1890. After a fire in 1945, the current building was dedicated on Nov. 25, 1948.
The church has been recognized by the state as “the cradle of African-American Catholicism in Delaware.” Today, St. Joseph’s is the only African-American institution still on French Street after 100 years. St. Joseph School, which operated from 1928 to 1950, educated several prominent African Americans, including State Senator Herman Holloway Sr., the first African-American to serve in the Delaware State Senate.
In 1993, the friars of Holy Name Province began staffing the parish. Paul Williams, OFM, has served as pastor since April 2013.
“The parish has received and will print congratulatory letters from several dignitaries,” according to staff member Loretta Young. They include Apostolic Nuncio Vigano on behalf of Pope Francis, Superior General of the Josephites Rev. William L. Norvel, President Barack Obama, U.S. Senator Thomas Carper, Governor Jack Markell, Mayor Dennis Williams and Congressman John Carney, a St. Joseph parishioner.
“We are producing a commemorative hardcover souvenir book containing the parish history, including photographs of the 22 pastors who have served at St. Joseph’s,” Young added.
Two weeks after the Delaware celebration, St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Greenville, S.C., will mark its 75th anniversary with three events. The weekend of Oct. 17 will include “A Taste of St Anthony” in the school gym, a banquet on Saturday with Bishop Robert Guglielmone and a picnic at a local park on Sunday.
In the 1930s, the Province was invited by Bishop William Hafey to open a second ministry to African-American Catholics in South Carolina, after founding St. Anthony Church in Asheville, S.C. On Feb. 1, 1939, Joseph Michael McGrath, OFM, arrived in Greenville and began meeting regularly with African-American Catholics serving at nearby St. Francis Hospital to plan a parish. St. Anthony Church was built on six acres in the African-American section of Greenville and the first Mass was offered Sept. 3, 1939. The formal dedication had to be postponed until Oct. 22 because of Ku Klux Klan activities.
In 1951, St. Anthony School was opened and staffed by four Sisters of St. Francis of Stella Niagara, N.Y. To accommodate a growing enrollment and congregation, a church-school building was completed in January 1957 under the leadership of Thomas Albert, OFM. To accommodate the growing congregation, the church was expanded in 2002 to hold more than 600 people. Patrick Tuttle, OFM, has served as pastor of the Greenville parish since 2006.
Nearly 60 years after St. Anthony School was opened, the community built a new, state-of-the-art facility to replace the well-worn structure, welcoming students on May 13, 2013. With a strong legacy in Catholic education, St. Anthony’s has increased the high school graduation rate for African-American children from 40 percent to 94 percent.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.