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Remembering Father Hull

Josephite Father Frank Martin Hull is pictured in this undated photo. He died May 26, 2020, due to complications of the coronavirus. He was 96. (CNS photo/courtesy the Josephites via Catholic Standard)

When Josephite Father Frank Hull was a young man stationed in the South Pacific while serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps during the Second World War, he was appalled by the way he saw black servicemen treated. Although they showed just as much patriotism and commitment as their white counterparts, African Americans faced blatant discrimination.

“I wanted to do something about the injustice and complete segregation,” Father Hull remembered in a 2016 interview with Support Our Aging Religious (SOAR).

In 1948 – the same year President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order desegregating the U.S. military – Father Hull began seminary studies with the Baltimore-based Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, whose ministry focuses on the African-American community.

Ordained in 1957, Father Hull spent the rest of his 96 years trying to right injustices while ministering in a variety of roles including seminary professor, editor of The Josephite Harvest magazine and parish priest at Josephite parishes in Louisiana, Texas, Washington, D.C. and Virginia.

In his later years, Father Hull was the archivist for his religious community, first in Baltimore and then in Washington, D.C. after the archives relocated to St. Joseph’s Seminary in the nation’s capital a few years ago.

Father Hull died of COVID-19 May 26 at the Josephites’ residence for senior priests in Washington, D.C. His death came just hours before the pandemic would also take the life of his brother Josephite, Father Joseph J. McKinley.

As a contributor to The Josephite Harvest magazine, I had the honor of getting to know Father Hull over the last few years. Four times a year, we met as part of an editorial team to discuss what stories would go into the quarterly national magazine.

Father Hull was an immense storehouse of knowledge and sharp as a tack even as he pushed 100. He could tell you in finite detail about how the Josephites pushed to integrate Louisiana sports by winning a 1967 federal lawsuit to allow their high school in New Orleans to compete in a white league – a decision that reverberated around the country as the court case was cited by 76 other cases across 32 states.

In a split second, Father Hull could also tell you exactly what year the Josephites’ seminary opened or what struggles Josephite Father Charles Uncles confronted after being ordained in 1891 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore as the first black man ordained on U.S. soil.

Put simply, Father Hull was the institutional memory of the Josephites and was often consulted by superiors general including the current leader, Bishop John Ricard, a former auxiliary bishop of Baltimore.

Even as he faced some health challenges in his later years, Father Hull took great pride in staying active in ministry — quite literally up to his dying days. He was not the kind of man who wanted to waste time, especially since God had given him that gift in abundance. Up until a few months ago, Father Hull was still writing articles for the magazine he had edited for 14 years beginning in 1963.

In a recent issue of The Josephite Harvest, Father Hull’s photograph was featured in an advertisement encouraging support for retired priests. After the magazine was published, Father Hull was not pleased.

“I’m not retired,” the still-active archivist explained with a smile.

I pray that Father Hull is enjoying the eternal reward he so richly deserves. And I pray that I didn’t make any historical errors in this commentary. Father Hull isn’t here to correct them.

Email George Matysek at gmatysek@CatholicReview.org.