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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Father Albert Joseph McKnight: A Warrior For Justice

Father Albert Joseph McKnight

A Warrior For Justice

April 30, 2016

In A Word, April 2016
A Publication of The Society of the Divine Word, Southern Province

Father Albert Joseph McKnight
(August 18, 1927 - April 17, 2016)
"A Warrior for Justice"
Fr. Albert McKnight, C.S.Sp., a member of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, died peacefully April 17, 2016 at Marion Manor, Greentree PA. He was 88 years old. He was born August 18, 1927 in Brooklyn, NY. He professed his vows as a member of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit on August 15, 1947 and was ordained to the Priesthood June 6, 1952.

No words can describe his passion for justice and equality. No words can adequately convey his drive to better the lives of those called “have nots”. It is his own words that summarize the life of this dynamic revolutionary priest.

“When I die, I hope to be still on the battlefield struggling
against racism and the inequities of the capitalistic system.
There’s a big gap between those who have and those who

When I die, I hope to be still speaking the truth as I believe
Jesus taught the truth to be when He said to take care of the
least ones.

When I die, I hope to be still never compromising values,
following the dictates of my conscience and demanding
justice — now.”

Yes, Father Al McKnight was on fire with the Holy Spirit. His zeal for the gospel of Jesus Christ was at the forefront of his efforts to build up the lives of the mistreated. In 1969, he organized and led a peaceful economic revolution among low income families in the rural South by teaching them how to help themselves by working together in cooperatives and establishing a widespread system of credit unions.

With ingenuity and persistence, he developed sources of financial and technical assistance for cooperatives such as the Southern Cooperative Development Program and the Southern Cooperative Development Fund. He served on many national financial philanthropic and human rights committees including being the Executive Director of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus.

In 1982 he was made pastor of Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Opelousas, Louisiana. This is the largest African American church in the country. Father McKnight set about bringing African American spirituality to the church. He said in his autobiography titled “Whistling in the Wind”.......

“Since 1966, there has been a revolutionary change in Black
consciousness. There has been a true revolution in Blacks’
thinking about God and themselves. This revolutionary thinking
has not yet begun to influence Black Catholic parochial life. 

I had hoped to develop Holy Ghost Parish in Opelousas into a
teaching parish, a model of what a Black Catholic Parish needs
to be today in order to be truly Black, Christian and Catholic 
and relevant to the critical needs of the Black Community,
which must become a reborn community.”

“I wanted to develop a Faith Community which was truly and
authentically Black and truly and authentically Catholic — a
Faith Community, who saw their calling through baptism to be
about the task of Jesus Christ, the task of liberation of the total
person and of the total community.

The vision was to develop a Black Catholic Parish which was
truly and authentically Black and Catholic by recruiting several
very talented Black priests to minister at Holy Ghost.

We dreamed of developing the best of Black culture in
art, music, preaching and teaching and to have liturgical
celebrations which were spiritually uplifting and emotionally

We dreamed of challenging the Faith Community
to be both a teaching and a learning community and doers of
the word. In this way, young Blacks would be exposed to the
best of what was truly Black and Catholic. Exposure to various
personalities and styles of ministry would hopefully attract
young Blacks to pursue the priestly ministry.”  (Fr. A.J. McKnight)

His fervor got him in trouble with many people who did not wish to change the status quo. Then when outright racism within the local school board surfaced he was part of the protests against the overt racism. He was arrested twice and spent time in jail. In the end he had to leave Holy Ghost at the request of the Bishop who was pressured to do so.

His dreams were dashed but he would continue to preach the gospel. His life has been a testament that real economic and social change occurs only after the “inner change,” the cultural change, which comes with emphasis on spiritual growth and sharing.

“People say that I enjoy confrontation and conflict. That is not true. I dread confrontation and conflict. But I believe and live by the words of Pope Paul VI: “If you want Peace, work for
Justice.” But justice is not only equality. 

Justice is about paying debts, the ones that the rich owe the poor. The earth belongs to the Lord, and therefore, the basic needs of all people of society should be provided for. In my concept of God, the earth is not owned by the clique, the few.”  
(Fr. A.J. McKnight)

Thank you Father McKnight. Thank you for your passion, your suffering, your sensitivity and willingness to work for justice as Jesus would. Rest in peace.
Father Albert Joseph McKnight: A Warrior For Justice
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