Bishop William Norvel, SSJ, celebrates 50th anniversary of ordination

Father William Norvel, SSJ, superior general of the Josephites, a Pascagoula native and former pastor in Natchez, will celebrate the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood on March 27 with a Mass and celebration in Moss Point.
He is the first African-American to be elected Superior General of the Josephites, who were founded to serve the African-American community in its 143-year history and he is the only African American to head a community of Catholic priests in the United States.
Father Norvel is the oldest child and only son of the late William and Velma (Wilson) Norvel. He attended St. Peter Elementary School and Our Mother of Sorrows High School in Biloxi.  After being told in the early 1950s by the archdiocese that there was “no place in the church” for him, young William Norvel was invited by his pastor, Father Edward Lawlor, to join the Josephites. Supported by family, friends and his pastor, he left Pascagoula by train following his junior year in high school to enter the seminary in Newburg, NY.
He was ordained on March 27, 1965, at the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis in New Orleans and offered his first Mass at St. Peter the next day.  Friends, family and parishioners who traveled from Pascagoula by bus to the ordination were briefly detained by police who mistook them for “freedom riders.” They were released only when Father Lawlor spotted the bus and stopped to verify their identity and destination.
Father Norvel’s first assignment was at Holy Family Parish in Natchez, Miss. There, he had a brief run-in with the Ku Klux Klan when “city officials” objected to a dance that was being held for teenagers.
Father Norvel stood up to them affirming the right of the church to have safe and wholesome activities for youth. Father has since served as pastor at St. Benedict the Moor in Washington, D.C., St. Brigid in Los Angeles, Calif., Most Pure Heart of Mary in Mobile, Ala., St. Francis Xavier in Baton Rouge, La., St. Francis Xavier in Baltimore, Md., (the Mother parish of African-American Catholics), St. Peter the Apostle Church in Pascagoula, Miss., and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Washington, D.C.
He has also taught at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans, the Josephite flagship school, and was briefly on the faculty of Notre Dame University and the Institute for Pastoral Ministry in the Black Community at Loyola Marymount University.
Father Norvel has bachelor and master’s degrees in education and philosophy from St. Joseph Seminary in Washington, D.C. He is a member of the Knights of St. Peter Claver, the Knights of Columbus and the National Association of Superiors General.