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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 14, 2006

Priest to talk about adoption

By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Religion & Ethics Writer

The Rev. George Clements of Chicago recalls his first adopted son, Joey, as a "pretty rugged kid." But with support from colleagues and others, Clements helped Joey turn his life around. Clements' other adopted sons are Friday, Stewart and Saint Anthony Clements.

ADVERTISER LIBRARY PHOTO | August 1981

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RED MASS

Sermon to be presented by the Rev. George Clements

9 a.m. Thursday

Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace, downtown

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A lot of people called the Rev. George Clements "Father," but only four also called him "Pops."

That would be his four sons Joey, Friday, Stewart and Saint Anthony, a former Chaminade basketball player.

As far as he knows, Clements is the first Catholic priest ever to adopt children with the blessing of the pope.

In town from Chicago, Clements will be talking about the importance of adoptions in his sermon at next week's Red Mass, the traditional service that helps usher in the legislative session.

Why should people adopt?

"In the final analysis, all of us were adopted," said Clements.

"We were adopted by God.

"We should try, best we can, to give back best we can. What better way to do it?"

Clements is here as part of the Families for Waiting Keiki project, which seeks to find adoptive families for older, difficult-to-place children, an effort backed by Hawaii Family Forum.

"We're trying to find homes for these children who have been in the system for quite some time," said Clements.

"The idea has been very successful in the One Church-One Child program and we hope we can get the methodology to work in Hawai'i."

The One Church One Child program has found homes for more than 170,000 children over the past 25 years, Clements estimated.

His story became a made-for-TV movie, "The Father Clements Story" with Louis Gossett Jr. in the title role and MalcolmJamal Warner as his first adopted son, Joey.

About 25 years ago, the cardinal of his Chicago diocese said the church couldn't allow such adoptions, but then the local, then national, then international media got wind of his story.

"Nothing in canon law proscribes adoption," said Clements. "Pope John Paul II heard about it, went over the cardinal's head and allowed it."

His kind of fatherhood wasn't easy, as the telemovie showed: Adopting older children has its challenges, and Joey was a "pretty rugged kid ... we went round and round." But with the help of Clements as well as support from his biological as well as religious family, Joey's life was turned around.

"I got support from the people at the parish, priests, nuns, lay people," Clements said. "They were very helpful. Sometimes a little too helpful, because some of them were convinced, especially the ladies, that I didn't know what I was doing. (He chuckles.) Had to tell them thanks but, no, thanks."

After his defiant first son came Friday, his second son.

"He was just the opposite," said Clements, noting that Friday, whom he adopted at age 10, was brought up in a traditional African background.

"He was very respectful," Clements recalled. "I figured I could bring him up with Joey and, through osmosis, some of his virtues could rub off.

"But, of course, osmosis works both ways."

He laughed.

"We had an interesting life."

Then came Stewart, whom he met on the set of a talk show in Baltimore.

Clements heard Stewart telling viewers how he was too old for anyone to adopt, but there were plenty of young children available: "When you get to be my age, 11, you're over the hill."

Clements responded, "OK, I'll take you."

Saint Anthony was the last to be adopted, though he's a hair older than Stewart, but the one most likely to remembered here in Hawai'i. Saint Anthony Clements was a Chaminade basketball player from 1986 to 1990.

His dad remembered the day he and Stewart made a surprise visit to Hawai'i to see Saint Anthony play ball. They arrived just a few moments before a game.

"He was in state of shock," Clements recalled. "It was the worst game he ever had, he was so nervous. Coach took him out of the game; he couldn't function."

But it was a wonderful visit, with tourist stops in Pearl Harbor and a round-the-island tour.

Saint Anthony, now 35, was visiting Hawai'i himself recently with his wife and two kids and took time out to talk about "Pops." Now a supervisor for the Illinois Parks & Recreation Department, Saint Anthony talked about being adopted at age 14.

"He treated us like any other good father would his kids, except we lived in a rectory with priests," said Saint Anthony, who as a child had moved from house to house, living with friends. He went from being left alone for days on end, sometimes without food, to discovering basketball and staying with loving friends in the projects. A teacher introduced him to Clements.

"Everybody in the 'hood knew what I was about, knew I wasn't a troublemaker, wanted to succeed and could go to college," said Saint Anthony.

All that came, in time.

Now, Saint Anthony would like to see Clements slow down.

"Sometimes I think: He's (over) 70 years old, he should be relaxing," said Saint Anthony.

"He's helping people, flying all over the place. That's the way Father is. He won't stop helping people. Period. He should be resting, taking it easy, but he won't do it."

Now with five grandchildren and adult sons to worry about him, Clements can relax and think about the big picture.

"The main thing about adopting older kids certainly there are struggles you go through," Clements said.

"It doesn't compare with joy later in life when you get up in age. (They) become people who love you, are concerned about you, want to be part of you life. People who adopt get more out of it than the children."

Diocesan priests like him often band together at retirement homes for priests late in life, but that can't compare, Clements said.

"A priest does have the companionship of older priests," he said, "but if I had a choice, I'd rather be around younger people whom I've been nurturing for years and years who have a vested interest in making me happy."