Born in Canada, Fr. Stephen Eckert joined the Capuchin order, was ordained in 1896 and sent to New York for his first assignment. While there he fell in love with African Americans and felt a desire to minister to their spiritual needs, something that was rarely heard of in America at the time.
This calling was further cemented after a visit to the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in Philadelphia, a religious community founded by St. Katherine Drexel, who served various African American communities. He was convinced that God was calling him to this apostolate and wrote to his superior in 1903.
“I humbly ask you for the privilege of devoting my life to missionary work alone, in conformity with God’s holy will. I must point out that since last year I have been thinking of going south to work with the Blacks; so if you think that this might redound to the greater glory of God, I would be glad to do so…”
His dream wasn’t fulfilled until he was appointed pastor at St. Benedict the Moor Parish in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.