Fr. Clarence E. Williams, Jr., C.PP.S., 73, died on Saturday, July 8, 2023, at Jennings Nursing Home, Garfield Heights, Ohio. He had been in failing health in recent years.
He was born on May 10, 1950, in Tuscaloosa, Ala., to Clarence E. Williams Sr. and Lula Belle (Woods) Williams. Raised in Cleveland, he entered the Congregation in 1965 at Brunnerdale, the Missionaries’ former high school seminary near Canton, Ohio. He was ordained in Cleveland on October 28, 1978.
Fr. Williams was a writer, preacher and pastor who throughout his more than 40 years as a priest was an advocate for Black Catholics and for racial justice and understanding.
After his ordination, Fr. Williams entered parish ministry at St. Anthony Church, first as an assistant then as pastor.
In 1995, he was assigned to the Archbishop Lyke International Center in Detroit. He also served as director of African American ministries for the Archdiocese. In all, he ministered in the Archdiocese for more than 25 years.
In 1998, he received a doctoral degree in global education and cultural communication from the Union Institute and University of Cincinnati. He authored three books, many articles and gave presentations throughout the country on the theme of Racial Sobriety, a term with which he described his process for dealing with racism as a social illness, and a treatment program to help individuals and groups overcome racism. He established an institute, Recovery from Racism, dedicated to forming leaders and creating programs to counter racism. His work gained much attention from the Church, and he was invited to speak in many dioceses in the U.S. and abroad.
He was also the co-founder of Building Bridges in Black and Brown, a national dialogue between African American and Hispanic American communities. Through this initiative, he helped others explore the possibilities of a “pluricultural” world, a way to honor each individual as a child of God yet appreciate the complexities and gifts of each culture, and how they might benefit each other.
In 2007, Fr. Williams was named the director of racial equality and diversity for Catholic Charities USA, based in Washington, DC. Throughout these years of ministry, he was also active in multi-media productions, acting as executive producer on a number of video projects, including several that highlighted the history and gifts that Black Catholics bring to the Church.
He also continued in parish work, serving from 2010-12 at Holy Innocents-St. Barnabas in Roseville, Mich. From 2012-18, he was pastor of St. James the Less Church in Columbus, Ohio. He continued to give presentations on Racial Sobriety and other topics.
Fr. Williams’ many awards include a lifetime achievement award from the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus; the Dr. Martin Luther King “Keep the Dream Alive” Award during his time at St. Anthony Church in Detroit; and the Msgr. Phillip Murnion Award for Pastoral Excellence from the National Pastoral Life Center in New York.
He could speak compellingly to a crowd, yet make a solitary person feel completely heard and understood. A cheerful extrovert, he was happy to reach out to people from all walks of life. His educational achievements helped him excel as a communicator, but he never talked down to people and always appreciated the gifts they brought to the table of faith and fellowship. Despite his busy schedule, he supported his religious community in many ways, including serving as director of formation and as a member of its provincial council. He was a good friend to his fellow Missionaries and offered them encouragement and affirmation.
Though health issues plagued his final years, he never lost his sense of optimism and hope that the children of God could learn to live together, free of racism and hate. Even on his worst days, he longed to get back to his active ministry to further the cause of healing through the Precious Blood of Jesus.
Fr. Williams is survived by his father, Clarence E. Williams, Sr., of Cleveland; four younger brothers, Thomas D., Charles (Donna), Willie E. (Mercedes), and Carl (Cheryl), all of Cleveland; and numerous nieces and nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews.
He was preceded in death by his mother, Lula Belle.
A funeral Mass was celebrated at St. Charles Center, Carthagena, Ohio, on Monday, July 17, at 2 p.m. with Fr. Jeffrey Kirch, C.PP.S., provincial director, presiding. Fr. William O’Donnell, C.PP.S., was the homilist.
A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at St. Adalbert Church, Cleveland, at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, July 18. Fr. Richard Friebel, C.PP.S., presiding. St. Adalbert was Fr. Williams’ home parish, and he attended the parish school.
Burial will follow at Calvary Cemetery, Cleveland. He will be laid to rest next to his mentor, Fr. Gene Wilson, C.PP.S.
A memorial Mass was celebrated on Monday, July 24 at 7 p.m. at St. James the Less Church, Columbus. Fr. Stephen Dos Santos, C.PP.S., presided and preached.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, United States Province.