Time Capsule • February 10, 2020

This undated photo shows the interior of St. Joseph Church, Norfolk. The Josephite Fathers ministered to African Americans at St. Joseph Church and School from 1894 until 1961. (Photo/Diocese of Richmond Archives)



The fifth bishop of Richmond, John J. Keane (1878–1888), blazed the trail for evangelizing freed slaves in the diocese by preaching to them in the basement of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Richmond (1879).

He then recruited members of the Society of St. Joseph for Foreign Missions, better known as the Josephites (1883), and the Franciscan Sisters of St. Mary (1885) to expand his work. Men and women religious of these orders, founded at St. Joseph’s Missionary College in Mill Hill (London, England), established churches and schools for black Catholics in the Diocese of Richmond.

The Josephites ministered to several generations of African Americans at St. Joseph Church and School in Norfolk (1894¬–1961). There and in other places throughout the diocese, education was instrumental in bringing African Americans into the Catholic Church and helping them advance socially and professionally.

Ministry to black Catholics in Virginia aroused some opposition. In an incident that drew national attention, on Sept. 1, 1926, the Ku Klux Klan abducted the pastor of St. Joseph, Josephite Father Vincent Warren. The Klansmen warned the priest against “the mixing of the races” and threatened him, but released him unharmed. A black farmer found Father Warren and drove him home.

Two months later, The Virginia Knight, the predecessor publication to The Catholic Virginian, called for the arrest of the perpetrators who had still not been apprehended. Although a grand jury investigation was launched, state and local authorities eventually dropped the case.

Excerpts from the editorial in The Virginia Knight (November 1926) appear below:

“The entire State of Virginia and the entire country rose up in indignant protest when the news was spread broadcast a few weeks ago that Rev. Father Vincent B. Warren, pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Norfolk, had been kidnapped by a mob of hooded men in Princess Anne County.

“The priest, who is loved by persons of all denominations, and [sic] committed no crime. His entire record during the ten years he has been in this city has been the best. He has devoted all the years he has been in Norfolk to educating little negro boys and girls and to teaching them and their parents how to live upright lives. He has built up the congregation of his little church from 125 to 1,000 in ten years. Eighty percent of his congregation is composed of converts to the Catholic faith, proving conclusively that his work here has brought many persons to live better lives than they had been living before he came to this city. …

“Father Warren organized a brass band of 65 pieces. The members were all young boys —students of St. Joseph’s school. It was at a concert given by this band in Princess Anne that Father Warren was kidnapped by the hooded mob and taken away in an automobile. He was put down in the road some miles from where the kidnapping took place and left in the dark to find his way back home as best he could.

“Although the kidnapping occurred on September 1, not a single person has been arrested. There were 30 hooded men in the mob who actually took part in the kidnapping and the roads through which the mob passed were guarded by other hooded men. Father Warren said he was satisfied that approximately 70 men were implicated in one way or another in his kidnapping.

“The most encouraging indication that the courts of Princess Anne intend to do something in the case of the kidnapping of Father Warren is found in a charge to the grand jury named to make an investigation by Judge B.D. White, the presiding jurist of the county.

“Judge White told the jury that the kidnapping of Father Warren was a disgrace to the State and the county and a crime against the Government.

“’There can be but one Government in this country,’ he said. ‘There is no place in Virginia for the law of the mob. If the courts are to function then the mob must be put down.’”

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