October 28, 2022

National Black Catholic Men’s Conference renamed in founding priest’s honor

Divine Word Father Charles Smith and Archbishop Charles C. Thompson smile after celebrating the closing Mass for the National Black Catholic Men’s Conference at St. Rita Church in Indianapolis on Oct. 15. The gathering was renamed in honor of Father Charles’ late twin brother, Divine Word Father Chester Smith, who co-founded the conference in 2004. (Submitted photo by Frances Guynn)

Divine Word Father Charles Smith and Archbishop Charles C. Thompson smile after celebrating the closing Mass for the National Black Catholic Men’s Conference at St. Rita Church in Indianapolis on Oct. 15. The gathering was renamed in honor of Father Charles’ late twin brother, Divine Word Father Chester Smith, who co-founded the conference in 2004. (Submitted photo by Frances Guynn)

By Mike Krokos

It was something the late Divine Word Father Chester Smith felt called to do. 

And nearly 20 years later, the outreach he helped create continues to bear fruit. 

The National Black Catholic Men’s Conference (NBCMC) was launched in Indianapolis in 2004, with Father Chester playing an integral role in developing the yearly gathering. The annual conference—which did not meet in person in 2020 and 2021 because of  COVID-19—helps carry out the mission of the Bowman-Francis Ministry, named for two Society of the Divine Word priests and Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman. 

Begun in 1995, the Bowman-Francis Ministry’s mission is to “minister to the total Black Catholic: spiritually, physically and intellectually [and] … to offer many gainful avenues to meet the needs of Black people everywhere,” according to its website. 

“Our programs and ministries are designed to empower men, women, young adults and youth to instill in them the tools needed to thrive in their personal lives and help them grow in their faith,” it continues. 

Although he died in April of 2020, Father Chester’s memory will live on through the conference as organizers announced the renaming of the annual gathering, which was held this year on Oct. 13-16 at the JW Marriott and St. Rita Church, both in Indianapolis. It was renamed the Fr. Chester P. Smith, S.V.D., National Black Catholic Men’s Conference.

A plaque presented to his twin brother, Divine Word Father Charles Smith on Oct. 13 at St. Rita Parish—where both brothers at one time served in priestly ministry—read: “Marking the Dedication of the National Black Catholic Men’s Conference to honor its founder and leader Father Chester Peter Smith, S.V.D. … We Were Made For More.” 

“It was not only a surprise, it was definitely an honor to receive it on behalf of my family,” said Father Charles of the honor bestowed on his late brother’s work in helping to start and build the conference through nearly two decades. 

“To know that something he really worked hard for and felt called by God to do,” the priest continued, “to build this whole men’s conference, to develop our spirituality and to help men express that and to have a strong relationship with God, and for us both to champion that calling that he got from God to bring that to fruition, it meant a lot to receive this.” †


Read more of our coverage of the National Black Catholic Men’s Conference:

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!