Last weekend, Edwan Lamar “Manie” Manuel, SVD professed perpetual vows with the Divine Word Missionaries, one of the last stops on his journey as one of the few African-American Catholics headed to the priesthood.
The ceremony took place during a Mass on September 17 at St Joseph the Worker Church in Wheeling, Illinois, where Manuel was feted alongside three of his Verbite brothers. The event was preceded by a prayer vigil for the men on the previous night.
“We gather this morning here to rejoice and be grateful,” said Fr. Quang Duc Dinh, SVD, superior of the order’s Chicago Province, during the livestreamed liturgy on Saturday.
“This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad.”
The event marked the second time this year that the SVDs have celebrated an African American progressing to the priesthood, following the ordination of Fr Carl Gales, SVD in the same province this spring.
Manuel, who like Gales entered the order in his 30s, hails from Buffalo, New York and recently completed his cross-cultural training in the order with a two-year stint in the South American country of Colombia.
He grew up attending Buffalo’s historic Black Catholic parish, Ss. Columba-Brigid Church, where he later became an altar server.
“My grandma was a closet Catholic,” Manuel said in an interview upon professing first vows in 2017.
“Most of my family didn’t know she was taking me to the Catholic Church.”
He later became a professional chef and entrepreneur, even while harboring a pull to a religious vocation. He studied at the Atlantic Culinary Academy in New Hampshire and Southern New Hampshire University before starting his own soap company in 2008. After his grandmother died, he began pursuing his religious calling and found the SVDs.
“It was exactly 10 years ago that I had my first contact with [him], then in 2014 we began a more serious discernment process,” said vocations director Fr Adam MacDonald, SVD on social media Sunday.
“Witnessing him profess Perpetual Vows as a member of my Divine Word Missionary community only deepens my resolve to continue inviting young people to holiness.”
A Dutch congregation founded in 1875 by St Arnold Janssen, the SVDs have served in the United States since the late 19th century, with a tradition of African-American ministry dating back to 1905, shortly after Blessed Pope Pius IX asked for priestly orders to commit to such work in earnest.
Following their arrival stateside, the SVDs founded in 1923 the nation’s first and only seminary for African Americans, Sacred Heart College in Mississippi (later St Augustine Seminary), and they continue to operate a number of Black parishes around the country.
One of them, Our Lady of Africa Catholic Church on the South Side of Chicago in the Bronzeville neighborhood, will be the site of Manuel’s ordination to the transitional diaconate next month.
That Mass is scheduled to take place on Sunday, October 2 at 11am CT, to be celebrated by the Chicago archdiocese's vicar general, Auxiliary Bishop Robert Casey.
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).