PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Father James “Jim” Goode wore many hats during his nearly 50 years in the priesthood.
He was a founder, having started the National Day of Prayer for the African American Family in 1989 and the National Black Catholic Apostolate for Life. He was a maverick, integrating the black preaching idiom into Church language.
After nearly half a century of service, he came to be known as “Dean” of Black Catholic preaching for his dedication to providing a space for African American Catholics to feel represented and heard.
For the over 300 major events where he preached, along with hundreds of homilies given while in the Diocese of Brooklyn, Father Goode, who died on March 4, 2022, at the age of 81, left an indelible mark in the memories of local Black Catholics, particularly as a response to the more traditional form of preaching that had alienated them.
“He reassured them that whatever their challenge or obstacles or direction — whatever they were contemplating and discerning — that it was going to be alright,” said Brother Tyrone Davis, executive director of the Archdiocese of New York’s Cultural Diversity Apostolate.
Brother Davis and Father Goode were close friends for 40 years. It was the way Father Goode preached, with enthusiasm and honesty, constantly bringing in issues beyond the parish, that caused a conversion in those who heard his homilies, Brother Davis said. Anyone who heard Father Goode preach, he added, did not leave the pews the same person they were before. His unique style was evident in the way he began nearly every homily — singing “Blessed Assurance.”
“That’s part of the spirit and charisma and ministry of Father Jim Goode … that somehow, we were not people wandering aimlessly and without direction or support. That we had a blessed assurance,” Brother Davis said.
Born on Nov. 18, 1940, in Virginia, Father Goode was the first Black Catholic priest from Roanoke. Prior to joining the priesthood, he served in the U.S. Air Force and attended Holy Apostles Seminary in Connecticut.
Father Goode was the founding pastor at Our Lady of Charity Church in Crown Heights, but along with the duties and responsibilities of parish life, he was director of the Solid Ground Ministry, a ministry for black families. In this role, he reached out to the homeless and sick, and helped people living with HIV and other life-altering ailments.
His achievements were numerous. Just a year after he was ordained in Manhattan, Father Goode preached at the first Black Catholic Revival in Chicago. He was the first chairman of the Office of Black Ministry in the Diocese of Brooklyn. Beyond the diocese, he continued his mission in Rome, preaching alongside the Rev. Jesse Jackson during Black American Voices, an event sponsored by the Vatican and Rome. The U.S. House of Representatives honored him with a resolution in 2001 for his social work and preaching ministry.
For people like Darcel Wilamowski, founder-director of the Thea Bowman Mass Choir, who knew Father Goode personally, the title ”dean” fails to begin to describe him. She said one of the most religious experiences of her life happened at Our Lady of Charity, during a charismatic revival presided over by Father Goode.
“I never heard a Catholic priest break the word open like that,” Wilamowski recalled. “When you leave the church on Sunday [after one of his sermons], you have something that’s going to carry you through until the next time that you’re able to go into the church.”
While pastor at Our Lady of Charity, Father Goode adorned the walls with African American imagery, including flags of the countries of the continent from which so many members of his congregation traced their roots.
“The cultural expression is not anti-Catholic. The cultural expression is part of our faith,” said Deacon Jaime Cobham, who served alongside Father Goode at Our Lady of Charity, and now serves at St. Athanasius-St. Dominic Parish. He met Father Goode 40 years ago, after his mother and sister shared with him that there was a young, energetic pastor whose preaching strongly resonated with them.
“He offered no excuses, which allowed parishioners at Our Lady of Charity to really express themselves and what they felt in the Mass,” Deacon Cobham said. “The Mass at Our Lady of Charity became a real celebration.”