The National Black Catholic Seminarians Association has elected James Johnson IV as president, the latest in a long tradition of service to diasporans studying for the priesthood and religious brotherhood in the United States.
Johnson, a 23-year-old seminarian for the Diocese of Charlotte, was installed into office on Sunday, July 23, during the 2023 National Black Catholic Congress in National Harbor, Maryland. The event brought thousands of Black Catholics to the region from around the country, including several current and former NBCSA members.
Past presidents Br Cursey “C. J.” Calais, SSJ, Nate Tinner-Williams, and Fr Kareem Smith were present for the ceremony—conducted by Smith, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York and also a former NBCSA president. He now serves as the NBCSA presbyteral moderator.
Johnson, who was encircled by a number of his fellow seminarians during the event, called the experience humbling.
“I remember joining the NBCSA to be with other Black men who are discerning the priesthood with no intention on leadership positions, just friendships,” he told BCM.
“These friendships have been instrumental in my discernment and I hope that I can continue as the president to build new ones.”
Johnson, a student at Mount St. Mary's Seminary & School of Theology in Cincinnati, succeeds as president Tinner-Williams, formerly of the Josephites. Following Tinner-Williams’ departure from the seminary, Johnson became acting president and began service with the assistance of Calais, who had helped revive the NBCSA in 2017 and served as president for five years thereafter.
Johnson, who had been serving as the NBCSA secretary, was elected president by the organization’s members in mid-July, alongside vice president Samuel Zuze, who studies for the Diocese of Albany. At a meeting held thereafter, they discussed plans for the immediate future of the organization, which currently has roughly 50 members.
“I would like to emphasize the importance of brotherhood and foster a sense of community that is open to talk about the realities of being a Black Catholic seminarian, despite the geographic distance,” Johnson told BCM of his vision.
“I want to encourage other Black seminarians to reach out to me or each other to just check in or to talk about any issues that may come up.”
The auspicious moment for the NBCSA comes at a time of remembrance, with the death of its founder, Fr Clarence Williams, CPpS, having occurred within a week of Johnson’s election. Williams founded the organization more than 50 years ago while studying as a seminarian for the Missionaries of the Precious Blood in Ohio. It has been a constituent organization of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus since that time and quickly grew in size and influence.
As Johnson works to continue the organization’s recent rebuild, he says its communal work of intercession will sustain him as he seeks to build Black Catholic community among men in formal discernment.
“By building these fraternal bonds now, please God, when we are priests, we can continue in our ministry knowing we have brothers who have our best interests in their hearts,” he said.
“With the prayers of my brothers, I am certain we can achieve this goal and grow together.”
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.