NEW ROADS, La. — Josephite priest Fr Joseph “Joe” Rodney, SSJ, a veteran priest of the Black Catholic apostolate, died on March 23rd in Baton Rouge, Louisiana following complications from COVID-19. He was 84 years old.
He had recently retired to his nearby hometown of New Roads, Louisiana, following a period of service in Houston, Texas. Throughout his 54 years as a priest, he also served at parishes in Washington DC, Alabama, and for many years in his home state.
St Augustine Catholic Church, his childhood parish, first announced the news of his passing.
A livestreamed Funeral Mass was held at St Augustine’s on Thursday. Presiding was the Josephites’ superior general Bishop John Ricard, also from New Roads and ordained with Rodney in Baton Rouge in 1968.
Also present for the event were Rodney’s surviving family members, numerous Josephite and other priests from the region, the Josephite novices, as well as the Bishop of Baton Rouge, Michael Duca. Fr Edward Chifriller, SSJ, pastor of St Francis Xavier Catholic Church in that city, served as the homilist.
“He lived a very productive life that was quite fulfilling, and he deserves a rest from all his labors to be with his Lord whom he served so well.”
Born in 1938 in Darrow, Louisiana, Rodney was one of the first African-Americans who answered the call when the Josephites once again began recruiting from Black parishes in the mid 20th century (following a long hiatus during the height of Jim Crow).
He served in seven different parishes during his priestly career, and persevered despite a kidney cancer diagnosis later in life. He received a kidney transplant in 2007 and continued working even into his retirement—assisting with Masses at St Francis Xavier, a 40-minute drive from New Roads.
“Death no longer has power over him,” the lector proclaimed during the second reading for the Funeral Mass, evoking the struggles Rodney endured during life and overcame, now in the most ultimate way.
His care as a pastor was also emphasized by those present, including both bishops Ricard and Duca.
“As Pope Francis said, a priest… has to smell of the sheep,” Duca said during his remarks to the congregation.
“It sounds like [Rodney] is a man who gave that kind of service and witness.”
The loss of a faithful shepherd is just the latest for the 129-year-old Josephite society, which specifically serves African Americans, with four of their priests having passed since November.
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).