When Fr. Andrew McNair first visited Phoenix 16 years ago to preach the homily at the Diocese of Phoenix’s Martin Luther King Mass, he didn’t know that he would one day call the city his home.
When visiting the church building that was then called St. Pius X, he told his host — then director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry Kit Marshall — that as a courtesy he’d like to introduce himself to the pastor.
“We don’t have a pastor,” Marshall told Fr. McNair, explaining that his role was to find a priest to celebrate Mass for the community once a month, to which the priest responded, “Well, I hope you have a pastor one day.”
That “one day” came Dec. 31, 2023, when Bishop John P. Dolan canonically installed, Fr. McNair as the pastor of the now renamed St. Josephine Bakhita Mission Parish located near downtown Phoenix at 809 S. Seventh Ave.
“I had no idea what God was thinking,” recalled Fr. McNair in his homily that day. “My brothers and sisters, today, God has answered our prayers.”
Indeed, longtime members of the Black Catholic community have been praying for a pastor since the ministry was established in the early 1990s. With an established parish and pastor with weekly Mass comes stability.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Andy Hardin. “We have a lot of young people who are back, and it’s wonderful that they have an established place now that they can come to and call it a church home.”
In the early days of the Black Catholic Ministry, Hardin said, the youngest people in the congregation attended high school. Now, families bring their young children to the weekly Gospel Mass.
“Hopefully, we’ll see young people grow up in this facility, and then, this facility will grow and bring more Catholics — more Black Catholics, especially — back to this place,” she said. “It was a dream of ours, so now it is a dream come true. Hearing the children cry in the church to me is a joy because that’s something we never had.”
The role of the pastor has no meaning without a flock, Fr. McNair said in his homily. He noted the providential nature that the installation occurred when the Universal Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family.
“The Holy Family — Jesus, Joseph and Mary — the first Church, a domestic Church — reveals to us that the Church is a family of God,” he said. “The Church is more than just a building, it’s not just a group of people that come together, it is a family.”
The distinguishing characteristic of a family, Fr. McNair said, is love, and that same love must characterize the relationship of a pastor and his flock. As a pastor, his role is to be a loving father.
“Jesus, Joseph and Mary were distinguished by their love,” he said. “Love is more than just being nice. It’s more than just being courteous. Love is to love the other as Jesus would love them.”
After his homily, Bishop Dolan formally installed Fr. McNair as pastor. The priest placed his hand on a Bible on the altar, and before the bishop, recited the Oath of Fidelity as a pastor, promising his obedience to the bishop and to all the Catholic Church teaches. He then signed the oath.
After embracing Fr. McNair, Bishop Dolan introduced him as “your new pastor,” to thunderous applause.
The appointment comes after Fr. McNair became incardinated in the Diocese of Phoenix, meaning that no longer would he be serving in the diocese at the permission of the bishop in his previous diocese but rather is now a priest of the diocese. With the appointment, he was also installed as pastor of the nearby Our Lady of Fatima Parish, where St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta famously visited in 1989. Fr. McNair also leads the Office of Black Catholic Ministry for the Diocese of Phoenix.
Seminarian Connor Companik, who served at the Mass, said he was “blown away” by the music and liturgy.
“There was just so much joy, I could feel it,” said Companik, who is in his third year of studying theology at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver and is scheduled to be ordained — God-willing — to the diaconate in May of this year. “I always love to go to a new parish and learn about the people I might be serving someday.”
Michelle Gill, who has been a member of the diocese’s Black Catholic community for a little more than eight years said that while having a variety of different priests celebrate once a month provided different perspectives, there’s something to be said for the stability of having a pastor.
“It’s so great to now have something stable for the community,” said Gill, who currently serves as the Vice Grand Lady of Knights of Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary Court 369. “Now, we can actually be established here in the community. I know a lot of people I talked to said they weren’t even aware that the church was open because they would pass by it. Now it’s open, it’s vibrant and I think the community is going to flourish.”
Bran’nu Brown, a sophomore at Brophy College Preparatory Jesuit Catholic High School, started attending St. Josephine in November and sings in the parish’s Freedom Singers Gospel Choir and Umoja Youth Choir.
“There’s something here for us particularly and what we’re seeing,” said the 15-year-old on attending the personal parish for Black Catholics. On being present for the installation, Brown said that “it really is just about stability, and it’s history. Now we have someone who’s there to lead us.”
The celebration also drew interfaith representatives. Gerrit Steenblik, who represents the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the Arizona Faith Network Board of Directors attended the liturgy with his wife Judy.
“We have developed a great friendship with Fr. McNair, and it goes back to shortly after he arrived in Phoenix and this parish was established,” said Steenblik, who also represents his faith to the broader African American community. “This is a thrilling celebration of much needed progress in this neighborhood and in this community.”