More MS news articles for Mar 2002

Muskegon's first black parish priest dead at 52

Wednesday, March 27, 2002
By Clayton Hardiman

Multiple sclerosis, the disease that sapped the Rev. Bernard Hall's energy for a decade, finally took his life.
But it took nothing from his legacy.

Those who knew him best recall Hall as a priest who celebrated his blackness as well as his faith and encouraged other black Catholics to do the same.

A funeral service was this morning in Grand Rapids for Hall, who was at one time the only black priest in the 11-county Diocese of Grand Rapids. He died Saturday at age 52.

From 1983 to 1988, Hall was pastor of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Muskegon. He was the first black parish priest here.

Friends and co-workers in Grand Rapids, where Hall was assigned following his time in Muskegon, spoke of Hall's energy, courage and love of people and music.

They called him an inspiration to other black Catholics.

"What I remember about him was that the ministry among blacks received its biggest boost when Father Hall was ordained a priest in 1977," said Sister Patrice Konwinski, chancellor for the Diocese of Grand Rapids.

Konwinski said Hall, who led the Black Catholic Caucus, strove through the caucus to "create a sense of identity among black Catholics" and to "encourage blacks to know their own culture and bring their gifts to the life of the church."

It was a mission Hall lived himself, friends said.

Hall, a talented singer, "loved gospel music," said Brandon Spence, director of liturgical music at St. Andrew's Cathedral in Grand Rapids. "You can be black and be Catholic -- it works with black identity, and he felt that way."

"I'm a black priest, but I don't separate being black from being a priest or being a priest from being black," Hall told The Chronicle in an interview shortly after his assignment to St. Joseph Parish in 1983. "My humanity and my priesthood are rolled up in one."

By about a year, Hall outlived the Muskegon parish he served. St. Joseph Catholic Church formally closed its doors in March 2001. It was demolished three months later.

Friends, associates and parishioners remember Hall's commitment to his faith.

"When the Bible talks about turning the other cheek, Father Hall really did that," said Darlene Eaves, a parishioner and friend in Grand Rapids.

"It bothered him that in some places, people didn't want to take communion from him because of the color of his skin, but he forgave them."

The Rev. Louis Stasker, another priest who is formerly from Muskegon, described Hall as "an energetic and lively personality."

"He was a picture of energy," said Stasker, now priest at St. Robert Church in Ada. "That's why the MS was such a tragic thing."

Hall, whose grandfather was an ordained Baptist minister, converted to Catholicism as an eighth-grader in his native Washington, D.C. When he was ordained, he was the third African-American priest in Michigan.

Bishop Robert J. Rose presided at Hall's Mass of Resurrection this morning at St. Mary's Church in Grand Rapids.

Hall was preceded in death by his mother, Catherine Hall. He is survived his father, Nathaniel Hall, and his brother, Winston Hall.

© 2002 Muskegon Chronicle