Reverend Charles Smith, SVD

Charles and Chester Smith grew up on the tough South Side of Chicago.  Their mom, a community-activist, inspired them, as did local SVD priests committed to aiding abused and neglected kids and to ridding their neighborhood of gangbangers. The priests challenged the boys to do likewise, and both answered the call.  In 1988, they made history as the first African-American twin priests ordained in the U.S. Catholic Church. Charles went to serve in San Bernadino, CA, while Chester returned to the South Side, to St. Anselm’s Parish.

Both recognized the dire need for specialized ministries and programs for Black youth. So, along with Fr. Ken Hamilton, SVD, they began directing the Bowman-Francis Ministry Project in Atlanta, GA — developing culturally relevant materials, cross-cultural awareness, and Africentric approaches to real challenges facing the African-American family and community.  

After three years in Atlanta, the Smiths relocated to St. Rita’s, a historically Black parish in Indianapolis, IN.  They created Ambassadors of the Word Ministries, which utilizes rites of passage programs to foster spiritual education, conflict resolution and leadership training.  Youth also benefit from cultural exchange trips throughout the African diaspora. Other ministries include retreats, revivals, and pastoral care, and they have written two manuals: Boyhood to Manhood (on Rites of Passage); and, My Family Our Family (on Kwanzaa). Chester is also a past president of NBCCC.

The Smiths show youth a vision of Jesus and success rarely seen in the ‘hood, and youth relate to them because they keep it real, they know the struggle, they know the culture, and they speak the right language – by taking time to learn the lyrics and messages of popular rappers and entertainers – in order to help youth critically rethink such messages and understand how the message of Jesus applies to their lives.  

How blessed we are that God, anticipating the dire needs of our community, saw fit to provide not one but TWO Smiths as priests!  NBCCC and the Church sorely need their innovative example and prophetic witness. Whether in the parish, the jail, the ‘hood, the home, the hospital, the school, or the streets – wherever Black males are, that’s where you’ll find them. They are where we need to be: visiting the ‘hood where Jesus hangs out