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Frt. Carl Gales, SVD nears ordination, professing final vows Saturday

An African-American seminarian with the Society of the Divine Word is taking perpetual vows on Saturday, signaling a soon-coming ordination to the priesthood.

Another African-American priest is on the way.

Tomorrow, September 18th at the Society of the Divine Word theologate in Chicago, Frt. Carl Gales, SVD, a 44-year-old seminarian from Phoenix, will profess final vows—the last step in male religious life before ordination to the transitional diaconate.

Gales, a former professional pianist, announced the news on social media in June.

Having returned to the states from his mandatory SVD intercultural training due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gales is forging a largely unprecedented path within the order. (His service had occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a largely Catholic country in a region deeply connected to Black Catholicism in the states.)

Gales himself is a convert to the Catholic faith, having been raised in the Church of God in Christ, a Black Pentecostal denomination founded in 1897—eleven years after the ordination of Venerable Fr Augustus Tolton, America’s first openly Black priest.

In an interview for The Catholic Missourian on September 2nd, Gales detailed his connections to (and inspiration from) the Tolton story, having served for a time at St Elizabeth’s in Chicago, into which Tolton’s former parish St Monica was merged in 1924.

Missouri, where Tolton was born enslaved in 1854, also links the future Black Catholic saint with the future Black Catholic priest, as Gales served as music director for Jefferson City’s Cathedral of St. Joseph from 2012 to 2014.

It was his last stop before entering formation with the SVDs, who themselves are integral to the story of African-American vocations.

Founded in 1875 by St Arnold Janssen, the international society of priests and brothers (also known as the Verbites) began work in the Black community in 1905, a few decades after Blessed Pope Pius IX asked for priestly orders to commit to such work in earnest.

Britain's Mill Hill Fathers were among the first to answer the call, and soon their US operation spun off to form the Josephites—who nevertheless denied most Black applicants to their seminary.

The SVDs quickly picked up the slack, however, founding in 1920 Sacred Heart College—better known as St Augustine Seminary—in Mississippi, the first and only Catholic seminary dedicated to African Americans. (It is now a retreat center.)

The first class at St Augustine’s was ordained in 1934, comprising four men in total. 32 years later, the order produced America’s first openly Black bishop, Harold Perry, SVD of New Orleans.

The latest in this storied tradition, Gales says he hopes to be ordained to the diaconate on October 17th by Chicago’s sitting Black bishop, Joseph Perry (who helps lead Fr Tolton’s sainthood cause), and to to the priesthood on May 28th.

In the meantime, tomorrow’s ceremony will be livestreamed on YouTube at 10am CT.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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