Fr. Theophile Brown, pioneer as first black Richmond priest, dies
Father Theophile Brown, a Benedictine priest of Mary Mother of the Church Abbey in Richmond, died December 24, 2011. He was 86 and had tongue and throat cancer for several months.
This past November he came to the Diocese of Richmond Pastoral Center for a reception given by Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo for black Catholics.
A native of Richmond, he was born August 24, 1925 and named Waldorf Brown. He was one of six children of Thomas and Sarah (Taylor) Brown and grew up in Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood.
Although he came from a Baptist family, Waldorf Brown became active as a teenager at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, then considered a Negro parish in the days of segregation. It was staffed by the Josephite Fathers.
In an interview by The Catholic Virginian, Father Theophile said a family member told him, “Every time the church door is open, you are there.”
After graduation from Armstrong High School in 1942, he attended the Van de Vyver Adult Education Center, a black Catholic institution run by the Franciscan Sisters of Baltimore, where he learned stenography or shorthand. He worked for a law firm in downtown Richmond and later as a storekeeper at Bellwood, then known as the Richmond Quartermaster Depot.
Father Theophile entered the novitiate of the Benedictine monastery at St. John Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, in 1949. He professed his first vows on July 11, 1950 and was ordained to the priesthood on May 19, 1956. After his ordination, he was assigned to St. Augustine’s Monastery in Nassau, the Bahamas, where he was Prior for 10 years.
Father Theophile also taught at St. Augustine High School and assisted at parishes in Nassau for 38 years. In 1994, he transferred his stability to Mary Mother of the Church Abbey in Richmond to be near his family. During his years in the Bahamas, he made annual visits to Richmond to visit family.
At Mary Mother of the Church Abbey he served as prior, and later as novice master. He was spiritual director of the Benedictine Oblates. He also taught French and scripture at Benedictine High School.
Father Theophile was an accomplished musician and played the organ at the liturgy at the Abbey. He also assisted in celebrating weekend Mass at various parishes in the diocese.
He is survived by his older brother, Thomas Brown, a member of St. Paul Parish in Richmond.
Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated Dec. 30 at Mary Mother of the Church Abbey after visitation the previous day at St. Joseph’s Home of the Little Sisters of the Poor. Burial was in the abbey cemetery.
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