The death on May 25 of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis as an officer knelt on his neck for an extended time, drew sorrow and anger across the United States, spawning nationwide protests against police brutality and societal racism in its wake.

That sorrow was felt acutely by members of the Josephite Society of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic religious order of priests and brothers that since 1871 has served the African American community with pastoral and sacramental ministry, educational and charitable outreach, and by working for social justice.

After Floyd’s murder, Bishop John Ricard, the Josephites’ superior general, issued a statement saying, “The Josephites look with horror and disbelief at the killing once more of a black man by the police in Minneapolis this week. This is but another tragic and sad reminder of the legacy of America’s original sin of slavery and its aftermath, the continued violence against people of color.” 

In that statement, Bishop Ricard also said, “We must not slack in our vigilance to address the neglect of American society toward African Americans, which is glaringly evident during this pandemic in the differences in healthcare, employment, housing and education.”

And he concluded the statement by noting, “For over a century, the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart has dedicated itself toward the needs of African Americans, especially to those of the spirit and the soul, deeply wounded by racism and racial prejudice and to shoulder with them in procuring justice and solidarity and will continue to do so until this land lives up its creed that all are created free.” 

But for Bishop Ricard and the other Josephites, their shared sorrow over a national tragedy would be followed that week by personal sorrow over the loss of two brother Josephite priests who died of COVID-19, Father Frank Martin Hull and Father Joseph John McKinley, who both had lived at the Josephite Senior Residence in Washington, D.C. And one week earlier, another longtime Josephite priest who lived there, Father Jeremiah Dermot Brady died at the age of 96.

“It’s been quite a week,” said Bishop Ricard in a phone interview, noting the horror of Floyd’s killing, and the shock of the unexpected deaths of the three priests within days of each other.

Josephite Father Paul Oberg, the rector of the order’s retirement residence in the nation’s capital, confirmed that Father Hull and Father McKinley, who had underlying health issues, died from the coronavirus. The two priests died within hours of each other – Father Hull on May 26 at the age of 96, and Father McKinley on May 27 at the age of 83. The rector said Father Brady died of old age on May 20. The rector said another retired Josephite priest who had been living at the residence was diagnosed with COVID-19 and was in the hospital and recovering.

“These were good priests, and they had very productive ministry. They were good examples to me and to so many others who followed after them,” said Bishop Ricard, who is also the bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida, which he led from 1997 until his retirement from that role in 2011.

Father Hull, a native of Philadelphia, served in the Army Air Corps during World War II and was ordained as a Josephite priest in 1957 in Washington.

During his 63 years as a Josephite priest, Father Hull taught at the order’s St. Augustine High School in New Orleans, was editor of the Josephite Harvest magazine for 14 years beginning in 1963, and served as a spiritual director and vice rector at St. Joseph Seminary and on the Josephite General Council as an area director. 

Father Hull’s parish ministry began in 1977 at Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Houston, followed by 17 years as pastor of St. Raymond, St. Joan of Arc and St. David parishes in New Orleans. Then he later served as pastor of St. Benedict the Moor and St. Vincent de Paul parishes in Washington, D.C., and 10 years as pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Alexandria, Virginia.

After retiring briefly in 2012, in his late 80s Father Hull served in parish ministry at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Washington, and in his 90s, he served as director of the Josephite Archives in Baltimore and then when the archives moved to Washington.

Bishop Ricard said the priest was well suited for the archives work, because over the years he had gained great institutional memory of the order’s history and details about the parishes it served. “He had total dedication and energy,” the bishop said.

Father Oberg noted that Father Hull continued working in the Josephite archives until a week before his death of COVID-19. “He was a trooper, a wonderful archivist,” the rector said.

Father McKinley, the other Josephite priest who died of the coronavirus, was a native of Kelayres, Pennsylvania, who made his first profession in the Josephite order in 1960 and was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Ricard in 1985 in Washington. Over the years, he served as a vice principal at St. Joseph Industrial School in Clayton, Delaware, and taught at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans.

During his priesthood, Father McKinley served as a pastor at Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Mobile, Alabama; and at St. Joan of Arc Parish and at Epiphany Parish in New Orleans. His first priest assignment was as an assistant pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Parish in Washington.

After his service as a pastor, Father McKinley worked for more than 20 years as a traveling Josephite, providing pastoral ministry at many parishes, substituting for sick Josephites, filling in for priests on vacation, and during transitions of priest assignments at parishes. During that time, he served people in 12 parishes in Louisiana, 11 parishes in Alabama, six parishes in Mississippi, and one parish in Washington and Texas. He retired in 2014 and moved to the Josephites’ Senior Residence in 2018.

Bishop Ricard praised Father McKinley as “a guy who was always available, always ready to respond to needs.”

Josephite Father Jeremiah Dermot Brady died on May 20 at the age of 96. (Photo courtesy of the Josephites)

Father Brady, a native of Cork, Ireland, was ordained as a Josephite priest in 1951 in Washington, beginning nearly seven decades of priestly service. He served as an associate pastor at St. Pius V Parish in Baltimore and then at Incarnation Parish in Washington before joining the faculty at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans. 

Then Father Brady served at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Washington as an assistant pastor, before becoming pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Clayton, Delaware. Later he served as pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Baton Rouge and at St. Benedict the Moor Parish in Napoleonville, also in Louisiana.

Over the years, Father Brady also served as pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in Norfolk, Virginia; St. Joseph in Tuskegee, Alabama; and he led Prince of Peace Parish and St. Joseph Parish in Mobile, Alabama. He also served at Immaculate Conception Parish in Baton Rouge and at St. Peter Claver in Baltimore. After serving for eight years as pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Wilmington, Delaware, Father Brady was rector at St. Joseph’s Center for Prayer at Clayton, Delaware.

Bishop Ricard said that Father Brady reflected the Josephites’ hallmark of “total dedication and unambiguous commitment to the people they served.”

And he said Father Brady helped inspire him to become a priest. “I was his former altar boy,” the bishop said, noting the priest was very friendly and approachable, and they had long conversations together.