After nearly 50 years Rev. William Norvel was considering retirement, but to his surprise, he accepted a position very far from taking a backseat role: the position to serve as the primary voice of the nation’s three million Black Catholics.
Norvel, 76, is now the 13th superior general of the Josephite Priests and Brothers, a Roman Catholic order started 140 years ago to minister to freed slaves.
Surprisingly, in a ministry that originally catered to freed slaves, he is the first African-American to hold the position and was officially installed last month during a ceremony at the church where he served as pastor, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Anacostia.
“I thought I was ready for retirement,” Norvel told the Washington Post. “But it looks like the Lord has asked me to continue to minister to my brothers and sisters.”
Novel was ordained as a Josephite priest in 1965 in a ceremony in New Orleans and he spent most of his career in schools and parishes across the South.
He established the first Catholic gospel choirs in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles and was a contributing author to “Lead Me, Guide Me: The African American Catholic Hymnal.”
He is considered by Black Catholics across the country as a peacemaker who looks like them, understands their issues and who has advocated on their behalf often in unresponsive church hierarchy.
“It is about time that [the Josephites] had an African-American to lead them,” said Deacon Al Turner, director of the Office of Black Catholics for the Archdiocese of Washington. “African American Catholics suffer from invisibility. We have always been doing things, but the larger population thinks that we are invisible because they don’t see many Blacks in leadership.”
Novel says that one of his top priorities is to train and encourage more young men to become priests.
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(Photo: Joshua Dahl/ blog.al.com)