America’s first black priest started in Baltimore

INTRODUCES US TO FATHER CHARLES
RANDOLPH UNCLES, THE FIRST
AFRICAN AMERICAN PRIEST IN THE
COUNTRY. >> HE PAVED THE WAY IN THE SENSE
THAT ALL FIRSTS HAVE TO DO WHEN
YOU ARE TRYING TO BE THE FIRST. THAT IS TO SAY IT IS POSSIBLE. LISA: FATHER TOM FRANK IS THE
VICAR GENERAL FOR THE JOSEPHITE
FATHERS AND BROTHERS, AN ORDER
WHOSE EXCLUSIVE MISSION IS TO
SERVE AFRICAN AMERICAN
COMMUNITIES. FATHER CHARLES RANDOLPH UNCL
IS THE FIRST HE’S TALKING ABOUT. HE WAS THE FIRST BLACK ORDAINED
PRIEST IN THE UNITED STATES, AND
ONE OF THE FOUNDING MEMBERS OF
THE AMERICAN JOSEPHITES. HE WAS ORDAINED IN 1891 BY
CARDINAL GIBBONS IN THE
BALTIMORE CATHEDRAL. >> HE ESPECIALLY IN THOSE DAYS
OF SEGREGATION BEING AN
AFRICAN-AMERICAN PRIEST REALLY
SUFFERED THE BRUNT OF THAT AND
WAS RESTRICTED AND LIMITED
BECAUSE AMERICAN BISHOPS WOULDN’T APPOINT HIM TO
POSITIONS IN THEIR DIOCESES. LISA: AS A RESULT HE WAS
RELAGATED TO TEACHING IN THE
SEMINARY, AND HE COULD NOT BE A
PASTOR OF A CHURCH IN A DIOCESE
OUTSIDE OF BALTIMORE. TO BECOME A PRIEST FATHER UNCLES
STUDIED AT A SEMINARY IN QUEBEC
AND AT THE JOSEPHITE SEMINARY
WHICH IS ON PENSSYVLVAIA AVENUE. >> THAT HOUSED BOTH BLACK AND
WHITE MEN. BUT THEY LIVED SEGREGATED. THEY TOOK CLASSES TOGETHER BUT
THEY LIVED SEGREGATED. LISA: THE DRUID HEIGHTS
DEVELOPMENT COMPANY BOUGHT THE
BUILDING AND TURNED IT INTO LOW
INCOME HOUSING, NAMING IT AFTER
FATHER UNCLES. >> HE WAS OUR FIRST ORDAINED
AFRICAN-AMERICAN PRIEST IN THE
COUNTRY. WE THOUGHT IT WAS RIGHT TO NAME
THE BUILDING AFTER HIM. LISA: THE BUILDING STILL
MAINTAINS SOME OF THE ORIGINAL
ARCHITCTURE IF THE CEILING. >> YOU CAN STILL FEEL THE SENSE
OF HISTORY IN THE ROOM AND YOU
CAN ALMOST FEEL WHERE THERE IS
LIKE SACRED GROUND HERE. LISA: IN HIS QUEST TO BECOME A
PRIEST, THE BALTIMORE NATIVE HAD
TO ATTEND SOME COURSES AT ST. MARY’S SEMINARY. HE BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER THERE
AT A TIME WHEN SEGREGATION IN
THE CHURCH WAS THE NORM. THE FACULTY PUT THE MATTER TO A
VOTE WITH THE SEMINARIANS, AND
THEY VOTED UNANIMOUSLY TO VOTE
— ADMIT HIM. BLACK CLERGY SAY FATHER UNCLES
HOLD A SPECIAL PLACE IN THEIR
HISTORY AND HEARTS. >> WHEN I THINK ABOUT ANY
OBSTACLE THAT I HAVE TO FACE OR
ANY OF MY BROTHER DEACONS OR
PRIESTS HAVE TO FACE, BEING
BLACK AND IN THIS DIOCESE, YOU
CAN LOOK TO SOMEONE LIKE FATHER UNCLES.

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