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Archdiocese of Newark to Celebrate 40 Years of African American Apostolate, 25th Anniversary of Pioneering Bishop’s Death

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the staff of the Ridgewood blog

Newark NJ, the Archdiocese of Newark’s African American, African, and Caribbean Apostolate will celebrate a special Mass on Saturday, Oct. 8, at 10:30 a.m. in Newark’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart to commemorate two major milestones — the 40th anniversary of the Apostolate’s founding and the 25th anniversary of the death of Bishop Joseph Abel Francis, SVD, the titular Bishop of Valliposita and the first and only Black auxiliary bishop in archdiocesan history.

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All are invited to attend the Mass — which will be presided over by Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R., Archbishop of Newark — to honor the Apostolate for its four decades of ministering to and advocating for Black Catholics in the Archdiocese. Visitors are also invited and encouraged to pray for the eternal repose of Bishop Francis, who the New York Times once described as “one of the first Black priests in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church to speak out against racism.”

“This is a Mass of thanksgiving because we’re grateful to God for allowing us to still be here after 40 years,” said Father Emeka Okwuosa, director for the African American, African, and Caribbean Apostolate. “We’re also happy to celebrate the legacy of Bishop Francis because his teachings are still alive in the Archdiocese 25 years after his death.”

The double anniversary Mass will feature songs representing the African American, African, and Caribbean cultures. Attendees are encouraged to wear attire embodying their ethnic heritage.

Born in Louisiana on Sept. 30, 1923, Bishop Francis was ordained a priest in 1950, eventually ascending to the position of auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Newark in 1976. Throughout his time in the Church, Bishop Francis worked to combat racial discrimination on a national level.

Bishop Francis was provincial superior of the Society of the Divine Word Western Province until 1973, when he became superior of the congregation’s Southern Province. He also served as president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men Religious and president of the Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, and he was the primary author of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 1979 pastoral letter on racism. Locally, he championed the archdiocesan African American, African, and Caribbean Apostolate until his retirement in 1995. Bishop Francis died in 1997 at the age of 73.

“Bishop Francis was a happy warrior,” Father Okwuosa said. “He was a happy fellow — anybody who met him always saw him with a smile. But he was a tough guy, too. He never accepted mediocrity and always pushed for the truth. He preached the message of Christ and fought against racism even when it wasn’t comfortable. He stood for equality, and he opened the doors of the Church for people who looked like him. He was a leader at a time when it was hard to find Church leaders who looked like him, so he was really a pioneer.

“The story of the apostolate is intermingled with the story of the episcopate of Bishop Francis because he was instrumental to founding it and laying down a strong foundation,” he said.

The Apostolate will next host its annual Black History Month Mass at Newark’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in February. In July (July 20-23), it will participate in the National Black Catholic Congress in National Harbor, M.D., to celebrate Black culture and share ideas for addressing challenging issues faced by the Black community.

To learn more, visit the African American, African, and Caribbean Apostolate ministry online at

The Archdiocese of Newark serves 1.3 million Catholics throughout Bergen, Essex, Hudson, and Union counties. There are 212 parishes, 73 Catholic schools, and many missions and ministries in the Archdiocese, and hundreds of Masses celebrated in more than a dozen languages each week. Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R., the sixth archbishop of Newark, leads the Archdiocese with four auxiliary bishops. Together, they serve the northern New Jersey community through faith, education, and social services. For more information, visit

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