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St Martin de Porres Church in Philly bids farewell to Fr Stephen Thorne

The longtime pastor of one of Philly's Black parishes is moving on, set to serve on a racial healing commission for the archdiocese and continue work on his PhD.

Fr Stephen Thorne has said his last Mass at St Martin de Porres in Philadelphia.

For now, anyway.

His last celebration there was on Sunday, noted on social media by Sr Patricia Ralph, SSJ—a Black sister and one-time teacher at the parish school—and by the parish itself.

Her twin sister (and SMDP’s Director of Religious Education), Sr Lynn Marie Ralph, SBS, added that he was wearing an Afrocentric Adinkra chasuble, bearing the symbol for Gye-Nyame ("except for God").

After a decade of service “in the Kingdom of North Philadelphia” at the church named for the patron saint of racial harmony, Thorne is moving on to a chancery position serving—where else?—on the archbishop’s Commission on Racial Healing.

Archbishop Nelson Pérez formed the commission on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this year, similar to efforts from other bishops around the country.

Philly’s initiative includes a robust list of participants, though it is not limited to African Americans.

Thorne, himself a Philly native, will serve alongside James Andrews, who serves in Thorne’s old position as the director of Black ministry for the archdiocese; Udochi Ekwerike, a young visual artist and leader in regional Catholic justice work; the Honorable Lucretia Clemons, a local judge; and 13 others from across the region.

Perez explicitly cited the events of 2020—that is, the still-ongoing racial reckoning—as the impetus for his inauguration of the commission. He also cited “Fratelli Tutti”, Pope Francis’ latest encyclical.

Thorne has been active in racial justice efforts for many years, and his time at SMDP was no exception. The parish even co-led a town hall a year ago that was picked up by the USCCB’s Catholic News Service.

Thorne will serve on the commission while continuing studies for a doctorate in Educational Leadership at Bowie State University, where he is a founding doctoral/educational fellow in the Center for Research & Mentoring of Black Male Students & Teachers.

A bona fide scholar already, Thorne serves as an adjunct faculty member at Neumann University, where he is also chaplain. He won an NCEA “Lead. Learn. Proclaim. Award” for his work there in 2017.

He has also volunteered with Philly’s Gesu School (which gave him an award in 2016), and served at various parishes including St Katharine Drexel in Chester and the former St Therese in Mt. Airy.

If that wasn’t enough, he also presently serves as administrator of the Daniel Rudd Fund, a grantmaking institution run by the National Black Catholic Congress. (He will be hosting a webinar on the application process for the Fund next week.)

While performing his new duties with the archdiocese, he will reside for the next year at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish in Media, Pennsylvania.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, in priesthood formation with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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