Father Stephen D. Thorne
This past year I was blessed to offer the homily at the funeral Masses of two prominent African-American Catholics – Msgr. Albert Norrell and Sir Knight William Collins. Both men are legends in this Archdiocese, and their lives were powerful witnesses of deep love for Christ and His Church.
I knew Mr. Collins from my home parish, Our Lady of the Holy Souls in North Philadelphia. He and his wife Mattie were very involved in the life of our church. Mr. Collins was also a great lay leader in our Archdiocese; he served on various committees, and was especially dedicated to promoting vocations to the priesthood, for which he received two papal honors. However, my greatest memory of Mr. Collins was that he was always in the same pew every Sunday to receive our greatest gift as Catholics – the Most Blessed Sacrament.
I met Msgr. Norrell as a seminarian and eventually was mentored by him as a deacon at St. Carthage Parish, where he was the pastor. Observing him closely, I witnessed a man with tremendous love for the Church and a deep devotion to our Blessed Mother. I also witnessed a great preacher. Those years with Msgr. Norrell inspired me so much in discerning my vocation to the priesthood that I asked Monsignor to preach at my first Mass. He agreed only if I would return the favor at his funeral.
With the passing of these two men, I pondered this question: “Who will be in the next rank of African-American Catholic leaders in our Archdiocese?” We are certainly blessed now to have many great leaders among our clergy, religious and laity. But what about our future?
Around the same time as these funerals, I worked on the selection process for the Monsignor John Mitchell Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship is dedicated to a holy priest of our Archdiocese who served African-Americans. A good friend of his offered an endowment in his name to support African-American Catholics in their pursuit of education in our Catholic high schools.
This year six young people were chosen, and I truly believe they represent the future of our Archdiocese. They are intelligent and gifted students, who will use their Catholic education to build a firm foundation for college and beyond. They are active in their parishes and are committed to community service.
If the Mitchell Scholars look a little tall, they are standing on the shoulders of Msgr. Norrell and Bill Collins.
Father Thorne is the director for the Archdiocesan Office for African-American Catholics and the administrator of the Monsignor John Mitchell Scholarship Fund.