Father Anthony Clark, 1944-2016
Father Anthony Clark SVD, chairperson of African American Catholic Ministry in the Diocese of Memphis and pastor of St. Augustine parish, died May 18, at age 71.
Since 2002, Father Clark has helped to revitalize parishes in economically struggling parts of the Diocese of Memphis. In addition to pastoral ministry at St. Augustine, he was pastor of Holy Names of Jesus and Mary parish, pastor emeritus at Sacred Heart, and former director of the Department of Multicultural Ministries for the Diocese of Memphis, providing and directing services and programs for the various cultural groups throughout the diocese.
On behalf of the Department of Multicultural Ministries, Father Clark and his staff worked with representatives from African, African-American, Filipino, Hispanic, Korean, Native American, Polish and Vietnamese groups to plan and evaluate pastoral goals and activities.
Born in Washington, D.C., in 1944, Anthony Clark was the seventh of James and Valentina [nee Adola] Clark’s 11 children. He grew up in St. Peter parish in the District of Columbia and began studies with the Divine Word Missionaries in 1960 in Conesus, N.Y.
In 1967 after earning certification in electronics from the Milwaukee Area Technical College, he professed vows and was given the name Brother Valentine. He served as a brother for 18 years but continued to hear the call to the priesthood. To follow that aspiration, he entered Pope John XXIII Seminary in Weston, Mass., eventually being ordained in 1985.
Known for his outgoing personality, Father Clark worked tirelessly in African-American ministry. For a decade, he was pastor of St. Rita in Indianapolis. In 1995, he became the first Divine Word Missionary to be elected president of the National Black Clergy Caucus. As president, he strove to unite a fractured African-American Catholic community that had been torn apart by Father George Stallings Jr., a priest who established the Imani Temple African American Catholic Congregation and was excommunicated by the Vatican.
As a founding member of the Bowman-Francis Ministry Team, Father Clark and his colleagues designed and implemented retreats, leadership programs and revivals that celebrate African and African-American culture within the context of the Catholic Church.
Father Chester Smith SVD, another Bowman-Francis Ministry Team co-founder, said "Tony was not only a father figure for Charles [Father Smith’s twin brother who is also a Divine Word Missionary], he was also a leader. He understood what it meant to be a leader in today’s Church, especially in the Black community."
Father Smith continued, "Through his wisdom, laughter and openness, he gave us an opening to share ourselves—to be open to other people and share who we are. That kind of spirit was invaluable to two young men from the Southside of Chicago who grew up during the 1960s and ’70s, during a Black revolutionary period. Tony encouraged us to be ourselves and be happy being ourselves. He challenged us to come up with a vision of what we could do as African-American Divine Word Missionaries."
Father Clark is survived his sister Nettie Landry of Maryland and many nieces and nephews. In Memphis, his visitation and wake was held on May 22 at St. Augustine Catholic Church with a funeral Mass the following day.
He also was remembered at Techny, Ill., with a wake service on June 2 and a Mass of Christian Burial on June 3. Both events were held in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in Techny Towers Conference and Retreat Center at 2001 Waukegan Rd. His body was laid to rest in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Techny.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in the name of Father Clark can be made for the care of elderly and infirm missionaries and may be sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, 1901 Waukegan Road, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.
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