Who will carry on work of dedicated black Catholics?

Within 12 days in June four dedicated black Catholics moved to higher ground as they were called from this world. They leave huge footsteps to follow and will certainly be missed. Paul Mifflin Johnson from St. Cecilia, Ella Francine Johnson from St. Veronica, Irene McNamara from St. Pius and Frances Chapman from historic St. Francis Xavier parishes were stalwart in their ministry and service to the church and to God’s people. They left their mark on specific ministries and now, we ask, who will take their place?

Paul Mifflin Johnson, husband of Muriel Johnson and father of Cecilia Johnson Simms was also known as a math teacher serving on both the junior high and high school level. He grew up in the Cross Keys-Falls Road community and was an avid and energetic educator. Paul acquired both a bachelor and a master’s degree from Morgan State University and availed himself to courses at Boston University and the University of Maryland. Paul was a member of the National Council of Mathematics, the Association of School Business Officers, trustee for N.M. Carroll Home for the elderly, member of For-Win-Ash Garden Club, Templars, Los Pecos Investment Club and an active member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. After retiring from the Baltimore Public School System, Paul became the first lay principal of Rosa Parks/St. Cecilia Catholic School. Under his leadership, the school’s academic program was strengthened, the financial situation improved and the enrollment increased.

At St. Cecilia, Paul mentored many, providing spiritual encouragement as well as standing in the gap for the fatherless or those in need of some “fatherly council”. He used his mathematical skills as chief financial officer as well as promoting the Judge Benjamin Foreman Scholarship Fund. If there was a St. Cecilia function, Paul was active in it. For more than 30 years, Paul would photographically record baptisms, First Communions, confirmations, weddings, anniversaries and special events not only for the parish but at archdiocesan and national events. I own a wonderful display of photographs of the eighth National Black Catholic Congress in 1992 all because of his acute and specific eye in capturing “full of life” scenes. He was a giving man, extensively involved in the church.

Ella Francine Johnson was not related to Paul Johnson by blood, but I think they were related in spirit and in faith. Ella, a social worker by profession used her love for people in the evangelization, catechetical and music ministries. She was a founding member of the Nahimah Ministry whose mission is to provide religious educational resources from an Africentric perspective. Many of her writings are featured in “Keep On Teaching” the resource created by the Nahimah Ministers. (Nahimah is a Swahili word which means, “We hope to be a blessing”.)

Once I visited Ella at the hospital, and before I could get into the room, I heard her say to a nurse practitioner, “Child, don’t worry about me, today is the day that you can get right with Jesus and that family member, too”. Ella was known for checking in on people, concerned about their quality of life both spiritually and physically. Perhaps this is why for years she served as the liturgical chairperson at St. Veronica Church. It mattered to her how folks worshipped and that they experienced the love of God within our Catholic rituals.

Ella also served on the Archdiocesan Urban Choir and found great joy in her participation in events surrounding the visit of Pope John Paul II to Baltimore in 1995. Ella also served on the Archdiocesan Board of African American Catholic Ministries, giving voice to issues relating to racism, catechesis and evangelization. Ella was educated at both Morgan State University receiving a bachelor’s degree and Howard University, achieving a Master’s degree.

While we rejoice in knowing such faith-filled individuals, we pray that others will rise to serve as co-workers in the vineyard. Next week I will share the stories of Irene McNamara and Frances Chapman.

Therese Wilson Favors is director of the Office of African American Catholic Ministries.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.