The Crusader Newspaper Group

Civil rights activist Rev. George Clements dies

Crusader Staff Report

Reverend George Clements, who for decades fought for the civil rights of the poor and voiceless, died Monday, November 25. He was 87.

St. Sabina Church will hold a memorial service for Clements on January 26.

In 1945, Clements became the archdiocese’s first Black graduate of Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary.

The fourth of six children, Father George Clements was born in Chicago, Illinois on January 26, 1932. After attending Catholic elementary and high schools, Clements went on to St. Mary of the Lake Seminary School, first earning a B.A. degree and then a  M.A. degree in 1957.

Clements began his ministry in 1957 in the Archdiocese of Chicago. He aligned himself with various social causes, especially the Civil Rights Movement.

In 1968, while Chicago’s African American Catholics were calling for a Black pastor, Clements was a front runner for the position. When the position of pastor was given to Father Rollins Lambert, many in the community were angry, including the Black Panthers, who Clements had served as group chaplain. When parishioners of St. Dorothy’s, Lambert’s former parish, began demanding Clements be appointed pastor, Cardinal John Cody instead placed him under Lambert.

Following this, Clements went on a speaking tour at Black colleges across the nation. In 1969, he was named pastor of Holy Angels Church, and while there, he harbored many Black Panthers wanted by the police.

During the Civil Rights Movement, Clements marched with the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., in Chicago, Alabama and Mississippi, and was arrested.

Clements is the founder of the One Church-One Child, One Church-One Addict and One Church-One Inmate initiatives.

In 1980, Clements became the first Catholic priest to adopt a child. After adopting Joey from Uhlich Children’s Home in 1981, he adopted his second son, Friday, a year later from an orphanage in Nigeria. He later adopted Stewart after they met on an Oprah Winfrey Show episode about adoptions. In 1985, he adopted Saint Anthony after he received a call about a troubled teenager at Wendell Phillips Academy in Bronzeville.

Clements’ One Church-One Child program subsequently resulted in the adoption of more than 100,000 children nationwide.

He worked to help students from Africa secure higher education in the United States and was active in the war on drugs. During the Million Man March in 1995, Clements announced plans for the One Church-One Addict program, wherein communities would provide aftercare for individuals who have been incarcerated. More than 1,000 churches in 35 states now belong to the program.

Clements has been honored by numerous organizations, including the Kentucky State Senate, which issued a resolution praising his deeds. A film starring Lou Gossett, Jr., “The Father Clements Story” was produced and broadcast by NBC in 1987.

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