The Josephites trace their origin to the future English Cardinal Herbert Vaughn, who opened the St. Joseph College of the Sacred Heart in Mill Hill, England, in 1866. He petitioned to Pope Pius IX for a mission field for his “Mill Hill missionaries” and the Holy Father wanted the new community to minister to the recently freed African American slaves in the United States, according to the society’s website.
The four missionaries Vaughn brought to Baltimore took an oath issued by the pope in 1871 to make themselves “the father and servant” of African Americans. They vowed not to “ever take up any other work which might cause me to abandon, or in any way neglect the special care” of African Americans.
Vaughn consecrated the mission to the Sacred Heart of Jesus “and named his missionaries the “Josephites,” because St. Joseph was honored as the “first missionary,” according to the Josephites website.
“What began as a mission to help the newly freed slaves in America evolved into the broader task of assisting all of the Black community,” the website states. “The Josephites continue in the tradition of Cardinal Vaughn and by the commission of Pope Pius IX, as a society dedicated solely to the service of the African American community.”
Along with the African American parishioners at Church of the Transfiguration in Los Angeles are Catholics from the Caribbean and throughout Africa, according to Josephite Father Godwin Akpan, 54, who has pastored the parish for nine months.
Each Friday, the multicultural parish offers two hours of eucharistic adoration with devotions to the Sacred Heart, including reparation for sins against the Sacred Heart, an act of consecration, and litany, said Akpan, who is from Nigeria and was ordained in 2010.
The parish’s commemoration of the solemnity of the Sacred Heart will be somewhat different this year, as the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has called all diocesan parishes to pray the litany to the Sacred Heart of Jesus at Mass or during a Holy Hour with the Blessed Sacrament in response to the scheduled June 16 Los Angeles Dodgers’ Pride Night celebration when the team will honor the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a California-based group that has been accused of mocking the Catholic faith, desecrating the cross and Eucharist, and making light of religious sisters.
The Transfiguration congregation has a background in African American culture, music, and literature as well as an accomplished choir, said Akpan, who plays several instruments and sometimes performs with parishioners.
“I enjoy the ministry because the spirituality, the music, the exuberance, the kind of language,” Akpan said. “We sing, we shout, so that kind of fit in for me, the spirituality of the faith back in Nigeria.”
Two other Josephite pastors are nearby leading the bilingual parishes of St. Brigid and Holy Name of Jesus, and the three pastors support each other, Akpan said.
The Josephites give something important back to the Black community, he said, and despite the decline in priestly vocations, he is confident they will continue to have priests.
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