Father Charles Green, remembered as ‘a good, holy priest,’ dies after COVID-19 diagnosis
May 10, 2020
As one of the first African American students to integrate the formerly all-white Eastern High School in Washington, D.C., in 1958, Charles Green knew the opportunities that came when doors were opened to people.
And just before Father Charles Green was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Washington in 1995 at the age of 56, he was convinced that God had opened the doors for him to achieve his nearly lifelong dream of becoming a priest. He had grown up in a devout Catholic family in the old St. Cyprian Parish in the nation’s capital, and while he had always admired priests, he had not witnessed many African American priests then.
“I figured the priesthood was something I couldn’t aspire to,” he said, adding that after his ordination to the priesthood, he hoped to show people that “Christ is alive and well, and that He has great plans for us. He will open doors that we thought would never be opened.”
Father Green, who would go on to serve as a priest in three Washington parishes, including as administrator and then pastor at Assumption Catholic Church from 2004 until his retirement in 2008, died on April 26 at the age of 81. Father Green, who had several underlying health conditions, was diagnosed with COVID-19 shortly before his death at the Washington Hospital Center.
This year marked Father Green’s 25th anniversary as a priest, and he had been living at the Jeanne Jugan Residence in Washington operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor since his retirement.
In an interview, Msgr. Ray East, the pastor of St. Teresa of Avila Parish in Washington, remembered his longtime friend Father Green as “a good holy priest” and a powerful preacher.
“He could bring the Word home. If you needed fire and brimstone, he could bring you fire and brimstone from the pulpit. He was serious about salvation,” he said.
Father Green was an upbeat man who never complained about the health challenges he faced later in life, Msgr. East added.
“If anyone epitomized the ‘joy of the Gospel,’ it was Father Charles,” he said, noting that the priest exemplified the phrase that Pope Francis used as the title of his 2013 apostolic exhortation.
Msgr. East said his friend “had a humility with a joy for Jesus and a deep personal holiness. That fusion made him a good priest.”
In an interview with the Catholic Standard’s Richard Szczepanowski before the 1995 ordination, the future Father Green said that when he celebrated his first Mass that summer at his home parish, St. Anthony’s in Washington’s Brookland neighborhood, it would be the happiest day of his life.
Msgr. East, who had been a mentor to Father Green when he was discerning his vocation, first to the diaconate and ultimately to the priesthood, remembers witnessing his friend’s first Mass.
“It was just one of those joyful moments. I knew he had really fulfilled his calling and was doing what God wanted him to do,” said Msgr. East.
In the early 1980s when then-Father East was serving at St. Anthony’s, he encouraged Charles Green to pursue the dream of his vocation, and he first studied for the diaconate and was ordained as a permanent deacon for the archdiocese in 1988.
Before that, Charles Green had worked in a variety of retail positions, including as a manager at the National Shirt Shop in Washington, which offered sportswear for men. He also later worked at the Carroll Manor Nursing Home.
As a deacon, he served in pastoral assignments at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Washington, St. Joseph in Largo, St. Francis Xavier in Washington, and at St. Anthony’s.
Father Green was a native Washingtonian who had grown up as the ninth child in a family of 16 children. The foundation he received from his parents helped him face challenges in his life and fortified his faith, he said.
Remembering how he and his classmates integrated Eastern High School, he said, “I was in the first integrated class, the class of 1958. It was a real difficult time integrating the schools. We Negroes, as we were called then, stood behind each other and supported each other. We also had the support of our parents and families and the grace of God.”
He said that as a priest, he would devote his life to bringing God to people, adding, “I would like the people of God to know that God loves them and through me, He can manifest His love for them. I also want people to know that there is hope for all of us, we are all children of God.”
Describing how much he looked forward to celebrating his first Mass, the future priest said, “What an awesome privilege it is to consecrate the Body and Blood of our Lord and offer it to my fellow Catholics. I love the Catholic Church. It was the faith of my parents, and my faith is a gift from them. If the Church was good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.”
After his 1995 ordination to the priesthood, Father Green first served as a parochial vicar at St. Gabriel Parish in Washington, and then from 1996 to 2004 at St. Augustine Parish, before his service at Assumption Parish.
Msgr. East noted that Father Green in his later years struggled with diabetes, and while he was pastor at Assumption, he would drive in his little Hyundai Sonata to dialysis treatments three days a week, leaving early in the morning and then returning to serve at his parish. At one point, Father Green’s leg had to be amputated, and the priest was fitted with a prosthesis, but he continued serving his people as long as he could until his retirement.
“He gave the last full measure,” said Msgr. East, who said Father Green “was indomitable, nothing could get him down. He wasn’t defeated by obstacles, challenges or setbacks.”
Living at the Jeanne Jugan Residence proved to be a special experience for Father Green in his last years, Msgr. East said, noting that his priest friend received loving care from the Little Sisters of the Poor, and he also enjoyed the friendship of many residents there whom he had met over the years at the parishes where he had served as a deacon and priest.
“It was a beautiful family (there). Everybody loved Father Charles,” said Msgr. East.
On May 6, Washington Auxiliary Bishop Michael Fisher and Msgr. East celebrated a Funeral Mass for Father Green at St. Anthony’s, formerly his home parish. The liturgy was attended by a small gathering of his family members, in accordance with local government restrictions on public gatherings during the COVID-19 crisis. The archdiocese plans to have a public Memorial Mass for Father Green at a later date, to honor his life and ministry.
In an email, Bishop Fisher praised Father Green as “a kind, considerate shepherd totally dedicated to his flock. He faced the adversity in his life with faith and service to others.”