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Josephites re-elect Bishop John H. Ricard as superior general

The historic religious society serving African Americans is meeting for its general chapter this week in Washington.

Josephite superior general Bishop John H. Ricard hands the Book of the Gospels to Fr Ifiok "Wisdom" Umanah at his ordination on June 3, 2023, in Washington. (The Josephites)

WASHINGTON — The Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart has re-elected Bishop Emeritus John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee as superior general, part of the proceedings in their general chapter taking place this week at St. Joseph Seminary.

The Louisiana-born prelate, 83, was elected on Tuesday to a second consecutive term as head of the historic religious society serving African Americans, following his initial election to the post in 2019. Frs Ray Bomberger and Michael Saah Buckman were re-elected as vicar general and consultor general, respectively.

The election was the first held in the society, also known as the Josephites, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which deaths—not all due to the virus—constituted the loss of roughly 10% of their membership.

The society’s yearly intake of seminarians has remained steady, however, according to reports in the Josephite Harvest noting strong vocations development in Nigeria. Each year, the community accepts candidates for minor seminary in Ibadan from a pool of hundreds of applicants in one of the world’s fastest-growing Catholic populations.

As a result, the ongoing general chapter—scheduled to run through Friday—may constitute a kind of youth movement, with several newly ordained Nigerian members serving as voting delegates. Also voting for the first time is the Josephites’ newest religious brother, Cursey “CJ” Calais II, an American from Louisiana.

One order of business for the newly elected council, which includes the three generals and four area directors, is to provide assignments for Calais and the three Josephite priests ordained earlier this month in Washington.

Ricard, who retired from the episcopate in 2011 due to health issues, is the society’s third African-American superior general and the first from the society’s wheelhouse of Louisiana, where the Josephites administer 13 parishes and have served for nearly all of their 130-year history. They were founded in 1893, some two decades after first arriving in America as part of the Mill Hill Fathers of London.

The general chapter electing Ricard this year gathered in Washington beginning on June 19, the 120th death anniversary of Cardinal Herbert Vaughan, who founded the Mill Hills and first sent a delegation of priests to Baltimore to serve the newly emancipated African Americans. Vaughan later gave his assent when five of his members—including one African-American priest, Fr Charles Uncles—requested to go independent and co-found the Josephites.

Today, the Josephites remain headquartered in Baltimore, numbering roughly 60 members and serving in 34 Black parishes across the Deep South (Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas), on the Eastern Seaboard (the Washington metropolitan area and Baltimore), and in Los Angeles, California.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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