Catholic priest known for activism remembered at Holy Angels service
Over a hundred pay tribute to Rev. George Clements
Mourners packed into pews Saturday morning at Holy Angels Church in Chicago’s Bronzeville community to celebrate the life of the Rev. George Clements, a renowned Catholic priest and civil rights activist who was heralded at the service as a visionary, innovator and “fearless man of God.”
Clements, who served as pastor at Holy Angels Parish from 1969 to 1991, died on Nov. 25 at 87. He had retired from active ministry in 2006.
More than a hundred people filled the church, spilling into an overflow room, for the funeral Mass that was presided by the Rev. Joseph N. Perry, auxiliary bishop of Chicago. About a dozen priests and deacons led Perry into the church.
Clements is known as the first Catholic priest to adopt a child. He adopted his son Joey, then 13, in 1981. Joey Clements performed the first reading during the service. At the time of the adoption, the archdiocese said it did not violate Clements’ vow of celibacy or any other vows. He later adopted three more sons.
With his own adoption as a guide, Clements started the One Church One Child program, which helped reduce the number of black children waiting to get adopted across the state. Later, he pioneered programs to help inmates and those suffering from addictions.
Clements was active in the civil rights movement, marching with Martin Luther King Jr. in Chicago, Alabama and Mississippi. He was the second African American priest to be ordained in the Archdiocese of Chicago, and the first black pastor of Holy Angels Parish.
His life also inspired a made-for-TV movie, “The Father Clements Story,” that aired in 1987.
“He recognized that the black community was being systematically destroyed, and he fought back,” said the Rev. Andrew C. Smith, who delivered the homily.
Clements also served at a number of other Chicago parishes, including St. Ambrose Parish from July 6, 1957, to July 6, 1962; and St. Dorothy Parish from July 7, 1962, to June 19, 1969. In 1993, he was the resident priest at St. Sabina Parish. Outside Chicago, Clements served the Diocese of Nassau, Bahamas, in the West Indies from Sept. 1, 1991, to Oct. 17, 1993; and the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., from Oct. 18, 1993, to March 31, 2006.
Clements had been investigated this year in connection with allegations that he had sexually abused a minor in 1974, while he was pastor of Holy Angels. After an investigation, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services deemed the allegations unfounded, which means the agency did not find any current child victims, a DCFS spokesman said. An “unfounded” designation, however, does not speak to the credibility of the original allegation.
The Tyrone Pittman & The Fr. Clements Memorial Choir performs at the memorial service for the Rev. George Clements.
A program with an image of the the Rev. George Clements sits on the piano Saturday at Holy Angels Church.