Russell Winston Martin de Porres Best, Jr. was born on May 14, 1957 to Russell W. Best, Sr. and Viola L. (Hargrow) Best. He is survived by three sisters, Eleanor L. Best, Denise T. Best, and Janice E. B. Waters, brother-in-law David Waters , a niece Neiima Edwards, and grand nieces and nephews Amina, Rodney Jr., Russell and Autumn Edwards, a cousin Edward Harris and his wife Claire and children Brandon and Nicole, and dear 'sons' March Subjects, Jose Fernandes, Eric Burns, and Horatio Mays.
He attended the Joshua Bates elementary school and Cathedral Grammar and High Schools where he received an award for his work on the Student Council. Some of you might remember him in "The Boyfriend" put on by his senior class on March 4th & 5th 1975. He had a very respectable baritone and some acting chops as well.
Consenting to his parents wishes that he get his degree before entering the seminary, he enrolled at Boston University taking pre-med classes for a year and a half, but the call of his vocation was too strong so he left B.U. and entered St. John's Seminary, and was ordained on June 7, 1986, an historic ordination, since he was the first, Boston-born, African-American to be ordained in the Archdiocese of Boston in the previous 25 years, and 33 years later, there's not been one since. While at St. John 's, Fr. Best twice served with the Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle in Piura, Peru. Special to him in this apostolate, was the bonds he formed with the afro-peruanos he encountered. On the occasion of St. John Paul II 's visit to Boston, seminarian Russell Best was an acolyte at the Ceremo ny for Receiv ing His Holiness. He also sang in the Archdiocesan Papal Choir for the Mass on Boston Commons.
In 1987 Fr. Best was assigned Parochial Vicar at St. Patric k's & St. Joseph's Parishes, which reunited him with Pastor Walter J. Waldron who, when Fr. Best was in the 4th grade, trained him as an altar server.
He was installed as the 11th Pastor of St. John-St. Hugh, (now St. Katherine Drexel) on 9/1/2001, the first African-American pastor in the Archdiocese for the last 125 years. At St. John-St. Hugh he had been Deacon before ordination to the priesthood, and Parochial Vicar after ordination. He would refurbish the church with those beautiful red doors, a new roof, updated lighting and the clear protective coverings that 'lets the sun shine in' through the stained glass windows. It has to be mentioned that he made a lot of friends who watched him say Mass on BCTV for many years.
He delighted in his long-time position as Chaplain of the Challenge Youth Detention Center, shepherding these young men spiritually and sometimes assisting them legally with amicus briefs. In 1988 he was honored at Challenge with an Appreciation Night and the young men presented him with a beautiful chest they had built and hand-tooled. He also served as chaplain at Matignon and Cathedral High Schools.
Fr. Best loved St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, MA. All his retreats were spent there. He became fast friends with the Trappists there. He seriously considered entering the community and in 2005 spent three months there as a resident, sharing their prayer, liturgy and labor, making those preserves. After serious consideration, he realized that as priest, he needed his flock, but of his experience he wrote:
" Being here is like being a spoiled child of God, spoiled BY God. I get to be with him all the time. See him whenever I want. Talk to him always and bother him when I want." He was given the privilege of saying Mass for the community on two occasions.
In 2000, the Archdiocese of Boston's Office for Black Catholics organized a trip to Rome for the Canonization of St. Katherine Drexel. Fr. Best went, accompanied by his mother Viola and both had an audience with St. John Paul II . Fr. Best had the privilege of saying Mass in St. Peter's Basilica. In 2009, Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley presented the Bishop James Augustine Healy Award to Fr. Best.
Our mother was rightly inspired to have him baptized Martin de Porres, because like the namesake he emulated, he was a man who strived to be a good and faithful servant. A beautiful, long-suffering individual who never lost his smile, nor failed to be ready with a joke despite his long years battling cancer. Fr. Best was a man who would persist in faith and vocation, not despite but through and from his personal crosses. He met this challenge and kept on loving and laughing and doing what work was possible.
He was supported and loved by unknown numbers of you, many we never met, with names my family cannot recite, but heard countless times. We hope you know how very much it meant to Fr. Best, how it buoyed him and strengthened him and lightened his heart, when you called regularly, came to visit, showed your caring, performed some service, taught him braille, helped him get control of his space, brought food, took him out to eat, brought him to your homes, took him to get a pair of shoes or a haircut. Please know, that on hearing about you, we gave you our silent blessings. His family can never thank you enough. God bless each and every one of you.
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