Msgr Patrick Roland Wells, a longtime academic and veteran Black Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, died on May 11 following an extended illness. He turned 92 in April.
The news was announced publicly by his niece, Simone Jenkins Spears, who had previously asked for prayers for his declining health earlier this year. Wells had suffered from a bout with COVID-19 that weakened his health in late 2022.
Born in Liberty, Texas in 1931, Wells was raised Catholic in the Diocese of Beaumont. He later graduated from Texas Southern University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, studying pharmacology. He received his PhD from the latter school and for two decades served as the dean of the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences at TSU, his alma mater.
From 1983 to 1985, Wells was vice president of the Association of Minority Health Professions Schools. He also served as an evaluation team member of the American Council on Pharmaceutical Education and was on the boards of the Harris County Pharmaceutical Association and the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy.
Wells was one of two among his siblings to become a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church, preceding his brother Luther, who was ordained in 1992 for the Diocese of Beaumont. Following his retirement from TSU in 1990, Patrick would be ordained a priest for Galveston-Houston three years later, after completing studies at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology in Wisconsin, a hub for late vocations.
Wells served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Houston from 1993 to 2006, and is credited by the parish for having installed there an extensive multicultural Catholic art collection. In his final years at St. Francis, Wells commissioned a now-ubiquitous painting of Servant of God Thea Bowman by local Texas artist Tony Bryant, more than a decade before her sainthood cause was opened in the Diocese of Jackson.
Wells was known as a gifted preacher, traveling the country to speak to various Catholic groups and events. He served locally with the Unity Explosion Conference in Texas, an event focused on Black Catholic liturgy and ministry. Wells was also as a chaplain for sailors and on cruise ships, and assisted Black Catholic seminarians in their vocation journeys.
Wells also provided national leadership in the Black Catholic community, including as a board consultant for the National Black Catholic Apostolate for Life and as a longtime member of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus and the Knights of Peter Claver.
In appreciation for his academic and civic accomplishments, the City of Houston proclaimed June 9 as “Patrick Wells Day” with the commendation of various local and state officials upon his retirement from TSU in 1990. He is also the namesake of an endowed scholarship at the university.
Wells’ final assignment as a priest was at Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Port Isabel, from which he retired in 2017 to live in a priests’ community in Houston. He celebrated his silver jubilee as a priest the next year.
A vigil will be held for Wells at 6pm CT on Friday, May 19 at St. Francis of Assisi in Houston, with Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston officiating, followed by a Divine Mercy Chaplet with Fr Ralph Roberts. Visitation will take place at 3pm.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated by Bishop Emeritus Curtis Guillory of Beaumont at Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church in Ames, Texas on Saturday at 10am. Visitation will take place at 8am, and a Rite of Committal will follow the Mass at Wells Memorial Cemetery.
The public is invited to a reception at Our Mother of Mercy Hall following the interment.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger and a seminarian with the Josephites.