By Chinta Strausberg
Partners in the ministry and in crime, Father Michael L. Pfleger Sunday praised his long-time friend, Father George Clements who died on November 25, 2019, at a Hammond, Indiana hospital calling him a priest who had a passion for social justice.
Ironically, Clements, then 87, died on the 32nd anniversary of the death of Mayor Harold Washington whom he helped to elect.
When the Chicago police were looking for Black Panther Bobby Rush, Father Pfleger said it was Father Clements who took him in. He was referring to then State’s Attorney Ed Hanrahan’s special Chicago police unit that stormed the Black Panther’s West Side home on December 4, 1969 killing Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, but Rush was not there.
Police combed the city looking for Rush, now a U.S. Congressman, but Father Pfleger said Clements gave him shelter until after Rush had gone to several homes, he went to Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. who turned him over to police.
That was the kind of priest Father Clements was, said Father Pfleger…a man seeking justice…a man “willing to take the heat” in his fight for justice and equality.
And, Father Pfleger said it was Father Clements who made African Americans proud Catholics having been the first black pastor of Holy Angels Catholic Church. Father Clements also loved to party and play bid whist.
Father Pfleger made his remarks during a more than four-and-a-half hour, nearly standing-room-only crowd Sunday where Father George Clements’ life was celebrated at the Saint Sabina Church.
Father Pfleger told of the many times he and Father Clements were arrested including one time in Milwaukee where they were joined by comedian Dick Gregory who told the police they were staying in jail until they passed a bill banning drug paraphernalia. Admitting he suffers from claustrophobia, Pfleger said, “I told the police he doesn’t speak for me,” sparking laughter from the audience.
He and Father Clements were arrested several times protesting Chicago neighborhood stores that told drug paraphernalia. One time when the police told them not to come back to one store, Father Clements led his partner in crime, Father Pfleger, to the same store.
While Clements was knocking on the glass door hard, Father Pfleger warned him that it would break prompting Clements to say, “That’s what I want to happen.” Pfleger was arrested again but Clements was taken to the hospital for a cut hand. “I didn’t get crazy by myself,” Pfleger said to the laughter of the audience.
Verbally and pictorially, the dash between Father Clement’s life and death were shared by his family and friends while a number of pictures of the popular priest flashed on a screen.
Born to the parents of Aldonia and Samuel Clements, Father Clements was born on January 26, 1932, Sunday would have been Father Clement’s 88th birthday, and his son, Joey, asked the band and the audience to sing happy birthday to his father, he always called “Pops” because he was admittedly jealous that so many called Clements father.
It was a very moving memorial and birthday celebration where downstairs in the McMahon Hall more than 200 people gathered for dinner as if it were a pre-past and upstairs in the sanctuary the music was performed by the Father Clements Memorial Choir directed by Tyrone Pittman.
Three of Father Clements favorite songs, “What the World Needs Now,” “What a Wonderful World,” and “God Is,” were sung in a very moving way. At one point the band was requested to play some “praise” (shouting) music as if this were a worship service.
Father Clements was praised by his sons, Joey and a tearful Friday, Father Pfleger and family members nephew Craig Gilmer niece, Tanya Clements-Edmond, nephew Timothy Hart, sister, Inez Clements-Gilmer; Kevin Russell, from the Bahamas and Mark Pantries a long time neighbor.
Others who had been touched by the kindness of Father Clements included Father Stephen Folorunso and Emmanuel Babatunde from Nigeria and Arie Sailor, executive director/Florida from the One-Church,-One Child program Father Clements began.
Father Clements, who was the first black graduate of the Corpus Christi Elementary School and Quigley Seminary, served at several Chicago parishes including St. Ambrose, St. Dorothy’s and Holy Angels, but he also served at the Resurrection parish in Nassau, Bahamas and the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
Father Clements is the founder of both the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus and the African American Police League.
In 1981, Father Clements was the first priest to adopt a child. Despite being told not to by the Archdiocese, Father Clements adopted three more sons.
He was praised for launching the One-Church-One Addict project and the One-Church, One Inmate program.
Father Clements is survived by his sister, Inez Clements-Gilmer, his sons, Joseph Friday, Stewart and Saint Anthony, 15 grandchildren, 5 great-grandchildren; 4 nieces and 9 nephews 15 great nephews and 15 great nieces.