Rev. George Clements, a priest and veteran civil rights activist, died on Monday (Nov. 25) at a hospital in Northwest Indiana.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago native suffered a stroke in November and within the last month, Clements also experienced a heart attack, according to fellow South Side priest Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church. Clements’ passing was confirmed by his son Joey Clements, who’s the first of the pastor’s four adopted children.
Clements was quite active in the civil rights movement, having marched with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Alabama, Mississippi, and Chicago. Clements was even arrested for his participation in demonstrations.
Clements became the first Catholic priest to adopt a child in 1980. He would go on to adopt three more kids. His life inspired a made-for-TV movie called “The Father Clements Story” in 1987, starring Louis Gossett Jr. According to Pfleger, Clements “was one of the first voices advocating for civil rights for African-Americans within the Catholic Church.”
In 1945, Clements became the archdiocese’s first Black graduate of Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary. In 1957, he was ordained as a priest and he eventually became the first Black pastor at Holy Angels in 1869.
Clements went on to lead the “One Church-One Child” program in 1980, which attempted to have Catholic churches find adoptive parents for orphaned Black children. Clements started a similar initiative for folks living with drug addiction in 1994, and another for incarcerated people and their family members in 1999.
“The priesthood is a vocation. But then along the way, one gets avocations, and mine were three: homelessness, addicts and prisoners,” Clements told the ‘Sun-Times’ in 2017.
Back in August, Clements was accused of sexually abusing a minor in 1974 as the pastor of Holy Angels Parish in Bronzeville. He was asked to “step aside” from his ministry by Cardinal Blase Cupich of the Archdiocese of Chicago until an investigation was complete. Clements claimed the allegation was “totally unfounded.”
A spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services explained earlier this month that the allegations had been deemed “unfounded” after an investigation found “there was nothing” to support it.
Clements was the son of Samuel and Aldonia Clements and he was one of six children. Clements adopted his first son Joey from Uhlich Children’s Home in 1981, then he adopted his second son, Friday, a year later from an orphanage in Nigeria. Clements eventually adopted two more sons — Stewart, whom Clements adopted after they met on an Oprah Winfrey show about adoptions, and Saint Anthony, whom Clements adopted in 1985 after the principal of Phillips High School called Rev. Clements seeking assistance for a troubled teen.
Clements was 87 when he passed. A memorial service will be held for him by St. Sabina on Jan. 26, according to Pfleger.