Little more than a year after his arrival in the Diocese of Wilmington, Franciscan Father Paul M. Williams, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Wilmington, has been named director of Ministry for Black Catholics.
Bishop Malooly named Father Williams to the post on May 5, four months after the death of Preston Taylor, who ran the office for five years.
Father Williams admits he was “kind of reluctant at first to take the job because of the very fact I am new to the diocese. What made me decide to take it was I do have experience.”
He meant his 20 years as vicar for African American Catholics in the Diocese of Charleston, S.C.
On his new Black Catholic ministry in Wilmington, in addition to his duties at St. Joseph’s, he said, “I’ll just have to learn; get to know and meet the people and the priests and deacons. I look forward to working with the diocese of Wilmington. My first thing is really get acclimated to the gifts of the church here.”
Father Williams said this week there were about 7,000 black Catholics in the Charleston diocese, which comprises the state of South Carolina.
Getting a current count on the number of black Catholics in the Wilmington diocese is one of the short-term goals in his new diocesan post, he said. The planned census will include not just African Americans, Father Williams said, but also black Catholics from the Caribbean countries, Africa and South America who now live in the diocese.
St. Joseph’s, traditionally a black parish in Wilmington, was founded 125 years ago by the Josephite Fathers, who left the parish in 1993, when the diocese entrusted its ministry to Father Williams’ Holy Name Province Franciscans.
Father Williams says while there are about 300 families in the parish now and about 75 percent of its members are black Catholics, “nobody lives in the neighborhood. They come from throughout the city.”
Father Williams’ own black Catholic roots go back five generations from his hometown of Alexandria, Va., to Boston.
A second but not secondary goal in the Wilmington diocese will be to evangelize. That’s a goal of the National Black Catholic Congress from its 2012 meeting.
“I’m not talking about trying to convert good Methodists,” the Franciscan said. “We need to evangelize the unchurched.”
Evangelizing is important, said Father Williams, noting that at St. Joseph’s, “a good number of our parishioners are 60 or over. If we’re going to survive, we have to get some young people” into the church
Father Williams, 62, attended both Catholic and public schools growing up in Alexandria. After graduating from George Washington High School, he attended Northern Virginia Community College while working full-time.
He joined the Franciscans as a postulant at Holy Cross Friary in the Bronx, N.Y., in 1975. He entered the novitiate in Brookline, Mass., in 1976 and took his first vows in ’77.
He was a resident of the Franciscans’ Holy Name College in Washington, D.C., while he earned a degree in government and politics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., in 1982, after making his solemn profession of vows in 1980.
Before his ordination as a priest, he served as a director of religious education at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Greenville, S.C.
He was ordained to the transitional diaconate in 1985 and following studies at Pope John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass., where he earned a master’s of divinity, he was ordained a priest at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York by Bishop Emerson J. Moore.
Father Williams served as pastor of St. Anthony of Padua in Greenville, S.C., for five years, pastor of St. Martin de Porres in Columbia, S.C., where he built a new church, office building and rectory, for about nine years and at St. Joseph Church and School in Greenville, S.C., for two years before coming to Wilmington.
Father Williams served the Diocese of Charleston for 26 years in many other ways. In addition to being vicar for African American Catholics, he was on the diocesan college of consultors, the priests’ personnel board and ecumenical commission. He is a knight commander for the Knights of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a fourth-degree Knight of Columbus and third-degree member of the Knights of Peter Claver.
In Wilmington, in addition to being a pastor and director of Black Catholic ministry, Father Williams is chaplain at Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution in New Castle.