The Josephite Fathers and Brothers, most commonly known as Josephites and more properly as Saint Joseph's Society of the Sacred Heart, Inc. (abbreviated post-nominally as S.S.J.) are a society of Catholic priests and brothers, based in the United States and ministering specifically to African-Americans.
It is a Roman Catholic Society of Apostolic Life of Pontifical Right for men, formed in 1871 by a group of priests from the English Foreign Mission Society of Saint Joseph, also known as the Mill Hill Missionaries. They decided to establish a mission society in the United States dedicated to the cause and needs of newly freed people emancipated during the American Civil War.
1865 ushered in the period of Southern Reconstruction, during which time, the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, outlawing slavery, was passed. Ten former Confederate states were divided into five military districts. As a condition of readmission to the Union, the former Confederate states were required to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which granted citizenship to all people born in the U.S. regardless of race.
It was against this backdrop that the U.S. bishops met for their tenth provincial council in Baltimore, Maryland in 1869. The fifth decree of this Council exhorted the Council Fathers to provide missions and schools for all black Americans in their dioceses, as education was seen as a critical need by the community.
Subsequently, the Council Fathers wrote a letter requesting clergy for that purpose to Father Herbert Vaughan, superior general of the Saint Joseph's Society for Foreign Missions in Mill Hill, London. He had founded the society in 1866, and in 1869 opened St Joseph's Foreign Missionary College in that area of London. Later Vaughan was installed as Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster.
Vaughan brought a group of priests to Baltimore in 1871 to form a mission society devoted to freedmen. In 1893 they re-organized to create a United States-based institution, the St. Joseph Society of the Sacred Heart.
Among the small founding group of Josephite priests in 1893 was Fr. Charles R. Uncles, the first African-American priest, who was both trained and ordained in the United States, with his initial studies at a seminary in Quebec, Canada. The commitment to the African-American apostolate by the new Society was the same as before; to teach the faith of the Catholic Church and to promote the Church's teachings on social justice. The society is interracial, with resources and personnel being committed totally to serving the African-American community. It was founded in 1893 by Fr. John Slattery, as a North American offshoot of the Saint Joseph's Missionary Society of Mill Hill.
In June 2011, the Josephite Fathers and Brothers, 140 years after their founding in 1871 to serve the African-American community, elected their first black superior general: the Right Reverend Father William Norvel, Previously pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Washington, D.C.. Father Norvel then served a four-year term at the religious institute's Baltimore headquarters.
Father Norvel had served as consultor general for the Josephites from 1983-1987, and as President of the National Black Clergy Caucus from 1985-1987. He is credited with starting the Gospel choir movement in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. He also established a Josephite house of spiritual formation in Nigeria, where he served for five years. The house has been the source of a number of Josephite vocations.
The Josephite Harvest is the official magazine of the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, which has been ministering in the African-American community since 1871. The Harvest has been in publication for 125 years, which makes it the longest running Catholic mission magazine still in existence in the US today. It first began in 1888 published under the name The Colored Harvest, before being changed in 1960 to The Josephite Harvest. During the 20th century, The Harvest chronicled the Josephites' efforts to build parishes and schools for African-Americans throughout the nation.
In 2012, it counted 40 houses and 88 members, including 76 priests.