By Catholic News Service
BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CNS) — Father Martin Carter, a Franciscan Friar of the Atonement, died Dec. 25 at age 91.
The Black priest who had initially been turned away from seminaries because of his race, was well-regarded in the Diocese of Brooklyn, where he led Our Lady of Victory Parish for 13 years.
He had also served the diocese as director of its Office of Black Ministry following a stint as director of the Office of Black Ministry for the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, in the 1980s.
The website of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement notes that Father Carter, was born in North Carolina and his family was denied entry into area Catholic Churches until the order built a church in his community that did not bar worshipers due to race.
Father Carter heard a call to the ordained priesthood but likewise had a hard time convincing a diocese or a religious order of his vocation until the Atonement Friars welcomed him in 1948. He took first vows in 1950 but was not ordained as a priest until 1975.
While ministering as a high school teacher in Chicago in 1977, Father Carter founded Kujenga — Swahili for “to build” — a leadership-training program to emphasize young people’s positive identity and gifts. He took Kujenga with him to Brooklyn when he began his ministry there.
He may be best known for being the first Black pastor of Our Lady of Victory, which had long been a Black parish in Brooklyn, largely populated by Caribbean immigrants at the time Father Carter was named pastor in 1995.
A 2000 New York Times profile of the priest said parishioners, instead of welcoming him, longed for the return of the popular white pastor who had been at the parish for two decades prior. Father Carter scandalized some in his flock when he sent a white nun with a can of paint to coat the statues of Mary and others outside the church in black paint.
”We are not Johnny-come-latelies,” Father Carter told The New York Times, noting that three early popes were from Africa. Father Carter added he was driven by the conviction that Black Catholics must understand their roots in Catholicism to claim equal footing in the church.
Father Carter’s efforts brought new members and vitality to Our Lady of Victory. But a decade after his departure in 2008, then-Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn ordered the merger of Our Lady of Victory with two other nearby parishes, St. Peter Claver and Holy Rosary, both of which were losing members. The parish was renamed St. Martin de Porres.
Father Carter is survived by his twin brother, Gilbert, who still lives in High Point, North Carolina, their birthplace.
A funeral Mass is scheduled for Jan. 8 at the friars’ Our Lady of Atonement Chapel in Garrison, New York, followed by burial in the order’s cemetery. The Mass will be recorded and made available on the order’s Facebook page later that day.