Monday, November 18, 2013

National Black Catholic History Month: Father Charles Randolph Uncles

We've already discussed the claims Bishop James Augustine Healy (who was never known to publicly identify as black) and Father Augustus Tolton have to the title "first black American priest," but did you know there's also a third candidate?

Meet Father Charles Randolph Uncles.

Uncles was born about 1859 or 1860 in Baltimore, Md., (which had a significant population of black Catholics) to Lorenzo and Anna Uncles. The members of the Uncles family reportedly were fair-skinned enough to pass for white, but declined to do so. He was educated in Quebec, Canada, but later studied for the priesthood at St. Joseph Seminary in Baltimore.

He was ordained in Baltimore in 1891. That was a few years after Tolton's ordination and decades after Healy's ordination, but since Uncles was the only one of our three "first black American priest" candidates both to have identified as black and been ordained in the United States, he is often said to have the only true claim to the title. The first U.S. ordination of a black man merited mention in the New York Times the day after it happened.

For most of his life, Uncles taught students Latin, Greek and English at schools in Baltimore and upstate New York. He died July 21, 1933.

Father Uncles also had an important role to play in the founding of the Josephites, the subject of tomorrow's post.

Follow my National Black Catholic History Month tag for more information on black Catholic notables.

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