Viewing page 298 of 484

Personality of the Year 
Brother Father 
Maurice James Blackwell

[[image]]

"Maurice, the Priest"

[[box]]
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
and soor I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other just as fair...
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - 
I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost
[[/box]]

In the United States today there are two hundred sixty black priests; Baltimore, Maryland has six black priests, and Phi Beta Sigma has one of those priests. He is "Reverend Father," "Brother Father," "Father Brother" or "whatever" Maurice James Blackwell, who likes referring to himself as "Maurice, the Priest," and in the Baltimore environs he is also known by the endearing epithet, "The Hoodlum Priest." 

Born and reared in Baltimore, Maurice, the youngest of five boys, attended Public School 61, grade school through the six grade and the Charles Hamilton Houston Junior High School. Maurice's first Catholic school was Towson Catholic High where he entered by a trick of fate. On his way to register at Calvert Hall he deboarded the bus at the wrong stop—and took the other, as just as fair—and approached Towson High, thinking it was Calvert Hall. Through his error, he was the first black student to enter Towson High. The nuns were "nice," and they needed Blacks to integrate. Typical of his fashion, Maurice started his trek as an innovator, if you will, or a trail blazer. Upon graduation from Towson High, he anticipated entering the Harvard Business School, but he had more business courses than academic courses; he, thereupon, entered the Portsmouth Abbey School, an Ivy League "prep" for Catholic boys, at Portsmouth, Rhode Island. After Portsmouth, he entered the Trinitarian Monastery in Pikesville, Maryland. He lead the monastic life for three years. Finding the monastic life too remote from the human interaction which he loves most, he left the Trinitarians and joined the Dicesian Seminary. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy at Saint Mary's Seminary College in Catonsville, Maryland; he later received his Master of Divinity at Saint Mary's University in Roland Park, Baltimore, Maryland.

Maurice has served at Saint Bernadine's Church, and in 1979 he was made the Pastor of saint Edwards Catholic Church where he currently serves. He quietly confides that a goodly number of his male congregation is Sigmas.

Maurice's ministry has been varied—outside the church. He has taught in the Baltimore Public Schools; he has been a lecturer at Essex Community College, Loyola University on Black Studies. He has taught at St. Francis High School and at the Baltimore City Jail. He is involved in civil rights. Following his model, spiritual mentor and idol; the progenitor of the priesthood; Jesus, Maurice is more than a parish priest. He travels the highways and by-ways ministering unto wayward youth, "street people," winos, dope addicts, prostitutes. It was one of these unfortunate social victims who labeled him with the epithet "the Hoodlum Priest," and the name caught on as his work progressed. The epithet has served to endear this workaholic-thorn-in-the-flesh-of-the-Bishop priest of Baltimore, to both his parishioners and street people alike. This unconventional priest is enthusiastic, effervescent, and energetic. He directs the Benedict the Moor Center and runs retreats and youth leadership workshops every other weekend. He is widely traveled in thirteen European countries and Africa. He will lead a tour to the Holy Land in May, 1982. His favorite prayer is the "Prayer of st. Francis" of Assisi.

In all of this, he still has time for his hobbies. He collects pipes, and Martin Luther King memorabilia. It can be accurately said, as Maurice attests, that Father Blackwell's ministry in the words of Robert Frost, is one of THE ROADS LESS TRAVELED.

Father Maurice Blackwell met Brothers Charles Brown and Guilbert Daley at the closing banquet at the Zeta Phi Beta regional in Baltiore where he was serving as the official Suppliant, the "Dove of Peace." These two brothers, according to Maurice's own testimony, influenced this unconventional priest to become a Sigmaman. On March 21, 1981, Father Maurice Blackwell was initiated in Zeta Alpha Sigma Chapter and became Brother Father Blackwell.

Many of us saw Maurice in action at Conclave Charleston, '81. Yes, even that was forced upon him by the Bishop who forever warns this young dedicated man of over exerting himself and fears for his prematurely burning himself out. The Bishop knows when he has an assiduous "laborer in the vineyards" and he wants to keep him on. The writer of this article knows personally that "Maurice, the Priest" had to check in with the Bishop from Charleston to prove that he was indeed in South Carolina, presumably on a vacation. Little did the Bishop known that "Maurice the Priest" was still working assiduously as Brother Maurice, the Sigmaman. On one occasion when Maurice was being questioned as to which priest support group he belonged, Maurice answered Phi Beta Sigma. The Bishop though Phi Beta Sigma was a priests-support group (Poor Bishop!).

Brothers, this is our personality of the year, "Maurice the Priest," "the Hoodlum Priest," a dedicated man of God, a dedicated Sigma, devoted Sigma brother, Father Maurice James Blackwell.

296
Please note that the language and terminology used in this collection reflects the context and culture of the time of its creation, and may include culturally sensitive information. As an historical document, its contents may be at odds with contemporary views and terminology. The information within this collection does not reflect the views of the Smithsonian Institution, but is available in its original form to facilitate research. For questions or comments regarding sensitive content, access, and use related to this collection, please contact transcribe@si.edu.