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Fr. Thomas Clark, SJ
Fr. Thomas Clark, SJ

As pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Baton Rouge, La., my days are never dull. A typical day includes celebrating Mass at noon, visiting the sick in the hospital or at their homes, walking around Southern University’s campus, where I am Catholic chaplain, and meeting students, leading Bible Study groups, guiding parishioners in the 19th Annotation version of the Spiritual Exercises, working with parish committees on planning events and programs, collaborating with ministers of other faiths for the good of the neighborhood and community and taking personal time for prayer and meditation.

The most rewarding part of my work is discovering the presence of God in the people around me. I have always prayed to have a closer relationship with Jesus. Lately, I perceive in prayer the Lord saying to me, “the closer you are to my people the closer you are to me.”

I have been blessed to minister in and with the Black Catholic community for nearly 35 years. I was part of a predominantly Black parish in Boston for about 18 years (pastor for 14) and have served as pastor in Baton Rouge for 15 years. It is the greatest blessing of my life to minister in the African-American community. I have listened to and learned from men and women who have shown profound faith, trust, graciousness, hope and above all, joy.

Immaculate Conception has approximately 700 registered families. We have always enjoyed a close relationship with our neighbor, Southern University. The majority of parishioners are alumni of Southern. We have deep roots in the community.

We serve the broader community by our participation in Together Baton Rouge, a faith-based community organizing effort, and CADAV (Community Against Drugs and Violence), a neighborhood organization that works to bring improvements to our neighborhood and community. We reach out to our neighbors through the aid provided by the St. Vincent de Paul Society and our parish food pantry.

I believe that racial healing and transformation is one of the greatest moral issues of our day. Slavery is the original sin of our nation. Its effects last to this very day. As Christians, it is our obligation to put Jesus’ law of love into action by transforming the unjust structures in our society. As a Jesuit, I experience it as at the heart of the Spiritual Exercises. (The first week bids us take an unflinching look at the reality of sin and evil. The second week urges us to answer the call of the Eternal King and join him in the work of witnessing to the Kingdom of God. The third week enables us to see those who suffer as one with Jesus crucified. The fourth week gives us hope.)

The Jesuits’ Universal Apostolic Preferences call on us to “walk with the poor, the outcasts of the world, those whose dignity has been violated, in a mission of reconciliation and justice.” In our nation, I believe that this Preference is best accomplished through the work of racial healing and transformation.

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