A native of East St. Louis, Father Brown was taught by Dominican Sisters when he was a boy, said James Forstall, who is a long-time leader of the local Frontiers International as well as co-chair of the Diocesan Task Force for Racial Justice and ex officio member of the Diocesan Black Catholic Advisory Board.
Father Brown is only the fourth Catholic religious to speak at the Dr. King breakfast, although several Catholics have led the invocation, Forstall said. “We consider this a religious event, but it is interdenominational,” he said. “The Dominican Sisters always have a strong presence at the breakfast.”
Father Brown has an extensive academic and pastoral career. Since 1997, he has been a professor and director of the Black American Studies Program at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He is a graduate of St. Louis University with a bachelor’s in philosophy and holds a master’s degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University. After his ordination to the priesthood in 1972, he taught theater and poetry at Creighton University for several years, eventually becoming artist-in-residence in 1978.
After receiving both a second master’s degree in Afro-American Studies and a Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale University, Father Brown taught at the University of Virginia and at Xavier University in New Orleans. Additionally, in the fall semester of 2009 he acted as the holder of the MacLean Chair of Jesuit Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.
Active as a lecturer in the areas of African and African-American spirituality, and African-American history and culture, Father Brown also periodically serves as a liturgical consultant to a variety of communities in the United States. In 1999, he consulted on the RENEW 2000 project, completing two five-booklet series in adult spiritual development, focusing on black Catholic spirituality. He was appointed Congress liturgist for both the seventh (New Orleans, 1992) and the ninth National Black Catholic Congress (Chicago, 2002).
Father Brown is a published poet and has also written many articles on black theology and literature. His has written several books and also has published a collection of prayer services in the black tradition. His latest book The Sun Whispers, Wait: New and Collected Poems, was published by Brown Turtle Press in the spring of 2009.
The breakfast has been held annually on Dr. King’s birthday since 1976. The late Bishop Joseph McNicholas spoke at that first breakfast, along with Rabbi Barry A. Marks and Rev. Rudolph Shoultz. Other speakers in the past have included Martin L. King III and Rosa Parks.
Registration for the day runs from 6 to 7:30 a.m. on Jan. 18. The breakfast will be held from 7:30 to 10 a.m. and the seminar will be held from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 each and can be purchased by contacting: Richard Bowen at (217) 529-0767, Robert Moore at (217) 891-7806 or James Boykin at (217) 787-8373.