The life and career of Father George Harold Clements spans 60 years in the priesthood, with nearly as many firsts. His unique journey will be honored at a celebration on May 3 at the Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan, from 6 to 10 p.m.
Father Clements became the first black priest at Holy Angels Catholic Church in 1969. He led the parishioners there for more than 20 years. Clements was the archdiocese’s first African-American graduate of Chicago’s Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary.
He is widely praised for the growth of Holy Angels, and for the position he took in the civil and human rights movements. Father Clements was an active supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Clements’ One Child One Church program spawned others, including the One Church, One Addict program he launched in Washington, D.C. and the One Church, One Inmate program.
Louis Gossett Jr. and Malcom-Jamal Warner brought Clements’ life story to the screen 30 years ago this year, in the made for television movie The Father Clements Story. The movie told the story of how Clements came to be the first priest to adopt a child. In all, he adopted four sons, and today is the grandfather of eight.
In preparation of Easter, Clements recently came out to St. Benedict the African Parish to support Catholics and the Black community, as Cardinal Blasé Cupich led the Way of the Cross Walk on Good Friday in Englewood.
“I’m really proud of the fact I decided to do that march against violence. I just wanted to show up, let them know I support their efforts,” he said. Inspired by the spirit and prayer from the crowd, Clements, who recently celebrated his 85th birthday, did more than just show up. Just as he has done for more than 60 years, he joined and completed the march.
About the Black Catholic Initiative (BCI)
The Black Catholic Initiative (BCI) has as its focus the 66K African American Catholics served by 351 parishes, 38 of which are predominately African American. The BCI was created to prepare the church for the next generation of African American Catholics, charging them to be fully present and accountable. The goal of the BCI is to come together, and work together to give and serve the Church. The BCI is an ethnic ministry that actively participates and offers its work as a gift to the local church of Chicago. Those involved in the BCI will practice Umoja, Kujichagulia and Ujima, (unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility) to first give honor to God, and to offer Catholicity with the whole church. The BCI will be one church, not many parishes. In this tried and true tradition, the BCI will plainly and clearly be Catholic.