BETHESDA, Md. — The Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart kicked off a slate of events with a renewal of vows this weekend in Maryland, the first of three major happenings for the Black-serving Catholic religious community in the coming weeks.
Bishop Emeritus John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, superior general of the Josephites, celebrated the Mass on Friday morning at Our Lady of Bethesda Retreat Center. 11 of the society’s seminarians have been on retreat at the Legionaries of Christ’s Bethesda facility since Monday.
“This time of year is a time of transition for our society… People are moving on from one stage of their life to the next. That’s what we’re doing today,” Ricard said during his homily.
“We were [once working] in 17 states. Now we’re in a few less than that, but still serving African Americans. And so you are here to continue that mission, that vision.”
The students renewing their profession of poverty, chastity, and obedience were Dominic Njoku, Charles Nwamadi, Linus James, and Chidiebere Augustus Dominic, all of whom hail from Nigeria. The latter three were making their first renewal following completion of the novitiate last summer, while Njoku was making his second renewal of vows after a semester of pastoral ministry at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans.
The group assembled for the Mass in Bethesda included a veteran African-American priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, Msgr Ray East of St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., who led the weeklong retreat for the Josephite seminarians.
“I thought it was amazing, absolutely amazing. The theme that was presented to me, that of ‘Bringing a Sacrifice of Praise to the Lord,’ I think it was so beautifully represented by those giving themselves, pouring themselves out like a libation,” East told BCM.
“We really saw that culminated in Bishop Ricard being with us… He was the midwife to the adoption of the first national Pastoral Plan of Action for Black Catholics in 1987. Now, as a superior general in the society—it took a long time for us to get a [Black] superior general—he’s taking in another generation of those making professions and being right there as he gets ready to ordain a few others.”
On Saturday, June 3, the Josephites will welcome back to Washington three of their seminarians under final profession, all of whom have been on pastoral ministry this semester in the society’s parishes. Deacons Henry Ihuoma, George Liwhuliwhe, and Ifiok Umanah will be ordained to the priesthood by Ricard at St. Luke Catholic Church at 10am ET.
They will be the first ordinations for the society since that of Fr Joseph Kikanda last year. He is now serving as parochial vicar at Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church in Houston.
On Sunday, June 11 in New Orleans, the society’s novices, Alex Lema and Justus Ihemawulotu, will make the first profession with novice master Fr Roderick Coates, who began their program last summer. Bishop Ricard will be present to receive their promises at Mary Immaculate Novitiate House, which is expected to relocate soon to accommodate a large incoming class.
The Josephites will convene their general conference in Washington beginning Monday, June 19, a weeklong event conducting society business and elections. The 130-year-old religious community is due to select a new superior general and Ricard is eligible for re-election. He was first elected in 2019, eight years after his retirement from the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee. He had been serving as rector of St. Joseph Seminary at the time of his selection and has since resided at the society headquarters in Baltimore.
The Josephites, currently numbering roughly 55 members, currently staff some 38 Black parishes in African-American communities of the Deep South, Texas, the Washington metro area, Baltimore, and Los Angeles.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.