Catholic priest known for ac­tivism re­mem­bered at Holy An­gels ser­vice

Over a hun­dred pay trib­ute to Rev. Ge­orge Cle­ments

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - CHICAGOLAN­D - By Made­line Buckley

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.

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