Josephite Fathers

The Josephite Fathers and Brothers or, more properly, Saint Joseph's Society of the Sacred Heart, Inc. (abbreviated post-nominally as S.S.J.) is an American society of Catholic priests and brothers, founded in 1893. It was formed in 1871 by a group of priests from the English Foreign Mission Society of Saint Joseph, also known as the Mill Hill Fathers. They decided to establish a mission society in the United States dedicated to newly freed black American slaves after the American Civil War.

Early beginnings

1865 ushered in the period of Southern Reconstruction during which time, the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, outlawing slavery, was passed Ten former confederate states were divided into five military districts. As a condition of readmission to the Union, the former confederate states were required to accept the Fourteenth Amendment to the constitution, which granted citizenship to the former slaves regardless of race.

It is against this backdrop that the American bishops met for their tenth provincial council in the Baltimore in 1869. The fifth decree of this Council exhorted the Council Fathers to provide missions and schools for all black Americans in their dioceses, as education was seen as a critical need by the community.

Subsequently, the Council Fathers wrote a letter requesting clergy for that purpose to Father Herbert Vaughan superior general of the Saint Joseph Society for Foreign Missions in Mill Hill, London. He had founded the society in 1866 and in 1869 opened St Joseph's Foreign Missionary College there. Later Vaughan was called as Cardinal and Archbishop of Westminster.

Vaughan brought a group of priests to Baltimore, Maryland in 1871 to form a mission society devoted to freedmen. In 1893 they reorganized to create an American institution, the St. Joseph Society of the Sacred Heart in 1893.

Among the small founding group of Josephite priests in 1893 was Fr. Charles R. Uncles, the first African-American priest who was both trained and ordained in the United States. The commitment to the African-American apostolate by the new Society was the same as before; to teach the doctrines of the Catholic Church and to promote the Church’s teachings on social justice. The society is interracial and committed to the African-American community.

The society operates St. Augustine High School in New Orleans, Louisiana, a historically black high school. It was constructed by the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

The Josephite Fathers also operate St. Joseph Manor in Baltimore and St. Joseph Seminary in Washington, DC.


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