Special to The CS&T

Robert James saw a need, and he filled it.

“It was back in the early 1970s that Bob was mostly connected with Most Precious Blood Parish, 28th and Diamond Street,” said Msgr. Wilfred Pashley, pastor of St. Rose of Lima and St. Barbara Parishes in West Philadelphia. “He was very active in bringing the Knights of Peter Claver to Philadelphia. It is an African-American fraternal organization that is 100 years old. Its purpose is to strengthen the faith of African-American men. It’s a Catholic group that is a social outlet for men. They raise money to support various ministries. They dress in formal attire, like the Knights of Columbus.”

Robert James, 74, died Jan. 26, 2008, at the Germantown home of one of his four daughters, Deborah James.

“Bob had exemplary devotion (to the Church),” Msgr. Pashley recalled. “He certainly was one of the most outstanding African-American Catholics in the Archdiocese.

“The late Father William Finley, of the now-closed Most Precious Blood Parish, had tremendous influence on Bob James and brought him into the ministry,” Msgr. Pashley said.

James was a member of the Commission of Research and Development of the Urban Ministry, a committee that studied the Church’s role in city areas.

He was also a member of the Cardinal’s Commission on Human Relations, which was headed by Msgr. Charles Devlin, who now resides at Nativity B.V.M. rectory in Media. The commission dealt with racial tensions in the Archdiocese.

“He was a dedicated inspanidual who was able to present the areas of contention, define those and develop solutions for them,” said Msgr. Devlin, who worked with James for over 25 years. “He had an incisive mind; he was a doer, a stick-to-it guy.”

One of the highest honors James received came in 1976 when he was named a Knight of St. Gregory the Great. The papal honor was bestowed at the request of Cardinal John Krol.

“He loved God, loved Jesus,” said his daughter, Deborah, who is affiliated with the choir at St.Vincent de Paul Parish in Germantown. “He also had a role of trying to empower the African-American community in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. He wanted to give it a voice in the Catholic Church and show how important that story is in the Catholic Church and the United States. That was his passion.”

James, son of Alphonso and Esther, was born Dec. 6, 1934, in Philadelphia. He was a graduate of Northeast High School and a U.S. Army veteran. He is survived by his wife, Harriet; daughters Deborah James, Tina Supplee, Joan Hardaway and Patricia James Nuble; son Robert James Jr.; five granddaughters; five grandsons; two great grandchildren; brothers Roy, Alphonso and Earl; and sister Sylvia Washington. All live in the Philadelphia area.

A funeral Mass was celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Robert P. Maginnis on Jan. 31 at St. Vincent de Paul Church, Germantown, with interment at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Cheltenham.

Jim Gauger is a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish, Glenside, and a freelance writer.