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New York — Jan 12, 2021 — Fr. Benedict Taylor, OFM, 88, a professed Franciscan friar for 66 years and a priest for 60, died on Jan. 8 at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Yonkers, New York. As a member of the Order of Friars Minor with the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province, Fr. Taylor spent most of his religious life focusing on social justice issues and creating programs that helped the marginalized in New York City – including a Harlem-based initiative he founded in the early 1970s that continues to provide housing and social services to families and individuals, among them the homeless and formerly incarcerated, who are struggling with hunger, unemployment, addiction and other issues.
A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on Jan. 12 at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi on West 31st Street in New York City, where Fr. Taylor had lived in the 1960s. With the COVID-19 pandemic limiting in-person capacity, the Mass was broadcast via live stream. Burial took place at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Totowa, New Jersey.
“Ben Taylor was an authentic ‘friar minor,’” said Fr. Kevin Mullen, OFM, provincial minister of Holy Name Province. “St. Francis of Assisi chose this designation for himself and his brothers because he wanted us always to be one with the ‘little ones’ in society – the people that live on the margins of ‘polite society.’ He challenged his brothers and himself to live with and advocate for those who have no power, wealth or influence. Ben Taylor understood what St. Francis wanted and he lived his vocation as a ‘friar minor’ in a remarkable way.”
Fr. Mullen continued, “Ben showed us how to live the Gospel, and he also helped us confront the systemic racism that was part of our Province and our Church. He never rejected us, but rather he loved us and encouraged us to change. Ben Taylor made each member of our Province a better friar for having known him.”
Fr. Taylor was born on Dec. 13, 1932, the youngest of seven children of George and Evangeline (née Byrd) Taylor in Jersey City, New Jersey – where he attended St. Peter’s Prep, at the time the school’s only Black student. He was received into the Franciscan Order at St. Bonaventure Church in Paterson, New Jersey, on Aug. 12, 1953 and professed his first vows one year later.
Fr. Taylor earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Bonaventure University and studied at St. Francis College in Rye Beach, New Hampshire, as well as at Holy Name College in Washington, D.C. He professed his final vows as a Franciscan on Aug. 20, 1957 at Christ the King Seminary in Allegany, New York, before then-Provincial Minister Fr. Celsus Wheeler, OFM.
He was ordained on March 12, 1960, during a Mass that was presided by Archbishop Egidio Vagnozzi at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington, D.C.
After ordination, Fr. Taylor was stationed at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, Massachusetts, where he completed a year of pastoral theology training. From 1961 until 1967, Fr. Taylor was assigned to the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in New York, where he became familiar with the city’s culture and needs. During that time, while serving as a spiritual assistant to the Secular Franciscan Order, he met Martin Luther King Jr. at an event in which King was presented with the St. Francis Peace Medal. A conversation with King about civil rights strengthened Fr. Taylor’s interest in helping the Black community. Last year, at a Martin Luther King Day commemoration at Holy Name of Jesus Church in New York City, Fr. Taylor spoke about how King inspired his ministry after their conversation during that one-on-one encounter.
“Ben saw the fractures in people’s lives caused by drug and alcohol abuse, incarceration, unemployment, homelessness, and domestic violence,” said Fr. Mullen. “He did not select one of these issues to address, but rather he established multiple programs to address all these needs. He saw the real world that his sisters and brothers inhabited and he went out with all his strength to transform it relying on God’s grace and the support of others who shared his vision.”
Throughout his life, Fr. Taylor was honored by city, state and religious organizations for his work on behalf of the poor. In 1979, he was awarded an honorary doctorate of sacred theology from Siena College in Loudonville, New York.
The New York Times, which many years highlighted Fr. Taylor in its Neediest Cases series, featured his work at Create in an article published in December 2017, “In Harlem, a Shelter That Gives Young Men the Tools to Succeed.”
In his later years, Fr. Taylor served as a consultant for Create’s vast network of social service programs. After living for many years in Harlem, Ben moved in 2017 to the College of Mount St. Vincent in the Bronx, where he resided with friars from Holy Name Province and served as chaplain to the college.
Fr. Taylor is survived by a step-sister, Myrna Pinkney of Plainfield, New Jersey, a sister-in-law, Florence Taylor of California, and eight nieces and seven nephews.
Memorial donations may be sent to Franciscan Friars – Holy Name Province, 144 West 32nd Street, New York, NY 10001-3202.
About Holy Name Province
Holy Name Province is the largest of seven entities in the United States belonging to the Order of Friars Minor. With ministries in 12 states along the East Coast, its nearly 300 Catholic priests and brothers serve in colleges, parishes, urban ministry centers and a wide variety of social service ministries, as well as in overseas missions. The Order, founded in 1209 by St. Francis of Assisi, commemorated its 800th anniversary in 2009. Today, St. Francis, whose feast day is Oct. 4, remains one of the most widely known saints, revered for his affection for nature and care for creation.