Josephites have a dream

By Carol Schuck Scheiber; photos courtesy of the Josephites: Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart

For nearly a century and a half, Josephite priests and brothers have served the African-American community through education and pastoral care. 

Father Michael K. Okechukwu, S.S.J. blesses a couple at his 2011 ordination

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Josephite priests and their parishioners took part in the historic 1963 March on Washington
Josephite priests and their parishioners took part in the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, an important event in the civil-rights movement. It was during this march that Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech. The men in the background wearing clerical collars are Josephites.

Image: Father Michael K. Okechukwu, S.S.J. blesses a couple at his 2011 ordination to the priesthood at Holy Comforter-Saint Cyprian Catholic Church in Washington, D.C.


From their beginning in 1871, Josephite priests and brothers ministered exclusively to African Americans. They are the only men’s religious community with this singular mission. An interracial, intercultural community, their members are black and white, American-born and African-born. There are 78 Josephites who serve in 41 parishes and four schools in several states. In addition, they run the Josephite Pastoral Center, an education, publishing, and research ministry in Washington, D.C. that specializes in resources for black Catholics.

Josephites—and their lay companions, parishioners, and students—have been part of the ongoing American struggle for civil rights and racial justice. Their efforts have ranged from activism for voting rights to a commitment to nurture African-American spirituality within a largely Caucasian church. They have helped nurture and develop gospel choirs and other Catholic liturgical forms with multicultural traditions.

“Today when black youth continue to be an endangered species, when we are still struggling to pass a Voting Rights Bill, and when almost 50 percent of black males drop out of high school and feed the prison pipeline, we Josephites are made keenly aware that our mission is not over,” writes the congregation’s general superior, Father William Norvel, S.S.J., in the Josephite quarterly Harvest. “Indeed our mission is more vital today than ever before.”

Read on to see images of the Josephites in action. 

Father Anthony Anichukwu, S.S.J talks with children after Mass
Father Anthony Anichukwu, S.S.J. talks with children after Mass at St. Peter Claver/St. Pius V Catholic Church in Baltimore, Maryland.
Father Michael Thompson, S.S.J., vicar general of the Josephites
Father Michael Thompson, S.S.J., vicar general of the Josephites, at a liturgical ministries workshop at the Josephite Pastoral Center in Washington, D.C. 
Father Cornelius Ejiogu, S.S.J., pastor at St. Luke’s Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., enjoys a moment with a parishioner.
Father Cornelius Ejiogu, S.S.J., pastor at St. Luke’s Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., enjoys a moment with a parishioner.
An emphasis of the Josephite community is to nurture lay leadership. Cheryl Holley, director of the Josephite Pastoral Center in Washington, D.C., staffs a display table of resources specifically developed for the African-American community and made available through the center.
Cheryl Holley, director of the Josephite Pastoral Center in Washington, D.C., staffs a display table of resources specifically developed for the African-American community
Permanent deacons worship at a Josephite-led Mass
Permanent deacons worship at a Josephite-led Mass on the 40th anniversary of the permanent diaconate. The Josephites led the way in preparing the national deaconate formation program. The Mass was held at St. Joseph Church in Largo, Maryland.
Father Donald Fest, S.S.J.; Father Thomas Frank, S.S.J.; and Brother Marx Tyree, S.S.J.
Sharing the triumphs and difficulties of their ministries—and sometimes laughing about them—is part of religious life. Pictured here are Father Donald Fest, S.S.J.; Father Thomas Frank, S.S.J.; and Brother Marx Tyree, S.S.J.
Carol Schuck Scheiber
Carol Schuck Scheiber is the content editor of VISION Vocation Guide and editor of HORIZON, the journal of the National Religious Vocation Conference.
2016 © TrueQuest Communications

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