By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer
PHILADELPHIA – Father Stephen D. Thorne said his duty as director of the Archdiocese’s Office for Black Catholics “is not about making a Black Church, but about inviting African-Americans to feel at home in the Catholic Church.”
Cardinal Justin Rigali so highly regards Father Thorne’s responsibilities to the Black Catholic apostolate across the Archdiocese that he recently reassigned him to serve solely as the director of the Office for Black Catholics and no longer simultaneously as pastor of St. Therese of the Child Jesus Parish in the Mount Airy section of Philadelphia.
Father Thorne, 40, has served as the director of the office since June 2004 and was pastor of St. Therese Parish from June 2006 to this past June.
“The fact that I’m a full-time director shows the Cardinal’s tremendous commitment, love, support and care for the Black community,” Father Thorne said. “He has asked me to devote all of my energy to this work.”
According to the Archdiocese’s Office for Research and Planning, there are nearly 25,600 registered African-American Catholics in the Archdiocese, the majority of whom reside in the Philadelphia-North and Philadelphia-South vicariates.
Although the Office for Black Catholics facilitates the participation of African-Americans in the life of the Church in a multitude of ways, evangelization is one the most essential elements of Father Thorne’s work.
“It’s about spreading the Good News of the Church to the African-American community,” Father Thorne said.
In that regard, he said, Cardinal Rigali continually tells to him how important it is to “proclaim Jesus Christ – speak about Jesus” to those entrusted to his care.
The St. Peter Claver Center for Evangelization, located at 12th and Lombard Streets in Center City Philadelphia, operates under the auspices of the Office for Black Catholics.
It serves as a place for catechetical and spiritual formation for laity and clergy serving in the African-American Catholic community and as a site for retreats, workshops and meetings.
An urban youth summit will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13, at the St. Peter Claver Center. Sponsored by the archdiocesan Office for Youth and Young Adults, the summit for high school students of all races will highlight an understanding and appreciation of multicultural spanersity.
Father Thorne facilitates an adult Bible study from 7 to 8 p.m. each Wednesday at the center. There, the group reflects on Scripture readings for the upcoming Sunday Mass.
Also operating under the auspices of Black Catholics office is a program that provides certification in pastoral ministry to African-American Catholics; Kujenga, a Christ-centered, family-oriented leadership weekend for African- American youths of high school age; and the Msgr. John Mitchell Memorial Scholarship Fund, which provides African-American students scholarships to Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese.
The Office for Black Catholics also collaborates with the St. Martin de Porres Foundation, a philanthropic organization headquartered in North Philadelphia that helps fund endeavors for African-American Catholics in the Archdiocese, among them a scholarship and a lay leadership program.
In conjunction with the Archdiocese’s Vocation Office for Diocesan Priesthood, Father Thorne also encourages young men to consider a potential call to the priesthood.
Father Thorne was raised in Our Lady of the Holy Souls Parish in North Philadelphia. An alumnus of Our Lady of the Holy Souls School, Northeast Catholic High School for Boys in Philadelphia and St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese in 1998.
His assignments have also included parochial vicar of St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Chester and faculty at St. John Neumann High School for Boys in South Philadelphia.
In addition to the need to evangelize, Father Thorne categorizes his job into the following sectors: “celebrate, educate, advocate.”
Although Father Thorne is a priest in residence at St. Cyprian Parish in West Philadelphia, he celebrates Mass at a different parish in the Archdiocese each weekend, promoting the Black Catholic apostolate in his travels throughout the city and suburbs.
A major celebration for Black Catholics is the annual St. Martin de Porres liturgy, which the Black Catholics office sponsors. Cardinal Rigali will serve as principal celebrant at the 2 p.m. Mass Sunday, Nov. 8, at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. Father Thorne will be among the priest concelebrants.
During the week, Father Thorne also visits parish schools across the Archdiocese. He joined Mary Rochford, the Archdiocese’s Superintendent of Schools, at an education forum sponsored by the Urban League of Philadelphia Sept. 30.
That was one of a number of civic affairs for which the Office for Black Catholics provides representation throughout the year.
Meeting the needs of the Archdiocese’s African immigrants is also a priority of the Office for Black Catholics. Father Thorne advocates for their needs in conjunction with the Archdiocese’s Office for Migrants and Refugees.
During visits this past summer to the Southwest Philadelphia parishes of St. Barnabas and spanine Mercy, Father Thorne was struck by the growing number of African countries represented there – namely, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
The Church affirms culture and always has, Father Thorne said.
In that regard, Father Thorne keeps in mind an address the late Pope John Paul II delivered at a meeting with the Black Catholic community in New Orleans in September 1987. “… There is no black Church, no white Church, no American Church; but there is and must be, in the one Church of Jesus Christ, a home for blacks, whites, Americans, every culture and race.”
For more information, contact the Office for Black Catholics at 215-587-3634, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the web site www.archphila.org/evangelization/blkcath/blackcath.htm.
CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or email@example.com.
Registered Black Catholics in the Philadelphia Archdiocese
Philadelphia-North Vicariate: 9,841
Philadelphia-South Vicariate: 10, 574
Bucks County: 636
Chester County: 968
Delaware County: 2,256
Montgomery County: 1,308
Source: Office for Research Planning, Archdiocese of Philadelphia