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Spiritans to celebrate 150 years in US with Mass at Xavier University of Louisiana

A historic religious order known for its work with African Americans is celebrating 150 years of US ministry with a Mass at the Institute for Black Catholic Studies.

(U.S. Spiritans)

The Congregation of the Holy Spirit, better known as the Spiritans or Holy Ghost Fathers, will celebrate their 150th anniversary of ministry in the United States with a special Mass at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans on Monday, July 11th at 12pm CT.

The event is being held in partnership with the school’s Institute for Black Catholic Studies, a three-week graduate and continuing education program now in its 43rd year. Studies commenced on June 26th and will run through July 15th.

The liturgy will be celebrated by Fr James Okoye, CSSp in the St Katharine Drexel Chapel, where Mass is being celebrated daily as part of the IBCS proceedings. Okoye is a professor, author, and director of the Center for Spiritan Studies at Duquesne University.

The Spiritans’ national anniversary celebration has been ongoing since January and will continue through Pentecost 2023.

Founded by Servant of God Claude Poullart des Places in 1703 in France, the Spiritans first arrived in the US in 1794, shortly after the onset of the French Revolution. Priests from the order arrived in earnest in 1872 and their first American province was founded the next year. It was located in Norwalk, Connecticut and involved formation at St Mary’s Seminary at Ferndale.

According to a Black Catholic History Month piece published by the order in 2020, their first US provincial, Fr Joseph Strub, CSSp was a graduate of Africa’s oldest senior seminary in Senegal. In 1878, he founded Duquesne—officially, “Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit”—in Pittsburgh.

Since their early years, the US Spiritans have collaborated in the African-American Catholic apostolate with groups such as the Josephites, the Society of the Divine Word, and the historic Black sisterhoods. They also worked with famed benefactor St Katharine Drexel and her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, who in 1915 founded the high school that became XULA.

The Spiritans continue to minister in the Black community, and are known for founding Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Opelousas, once known as the largest Black parish in America. The internationally known labor activist and author Fr Albert McKnight, CSSp, was the final Spiritan pastor at Holy Ghost.

The order was pioneering in the ordination of African-American men, having ordained McKnight in 1952 as its fourth such priest. He was preceded by Frs Figaro Egbert (1951), Leonard Cunningham (1950), and Joseph Burgess—ordained in France in 1907 as just the fifth openly Black priest in American history.

The Spiritans also founded a number of “mother churches” in the US Black Catholic community, including in Charleston, South Carolina; Harlem; Philadelphia; Dayton; the state of Michigan; and Arlington, Virginia.

A thoroughly international order, the Spiritans last fall elected the Congolese Fr Alain Mayama, CSSp as their first-ever Black superior general.

Those interested in obtaining more information on the 150th anniversary Mass in New Orleans can contact XULA at (504) 520-7691 or xula1925@xula.edu.

(Xavier University of Louisiana)

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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