They called her the “Amen lady.”
At the end of homilies or Masses at St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church in Westbury, Anne Josey would let out a loud “Amen!” — not the typical response at most, more subdued Catholic churches.
But the exclamation by the Georgia-born African-American woman would always prompt the rest of the congregation to respond with their own boisterous “Amen!” ending the Mass on a particularly high note.
Josey, as she was known to most locals, was a critical bridge between African-American and other groups at the multiethnic parish, church leaders said. She died March 18 at 82 in a hospice facility in Port Washington.
“She was one of the spiritual giants of the church,” said Eric Bauman, a longtime lay leader at St. Brigid’s. “She was different. She brought a Baptist-type spirituality into the conservative Catholic Church . . . We need that, we need more of that. Nobody ever came after her like that. There’s nobody yelling ‘Amen!’ anymore.”
The Rev. John White, who served at the parish for years, called Josey “a major community figure. . . . She was a natural born leader who had limitless energy for service to others and good works. She moved with ease among the Italian, Filipino, Latino, Haitian and African-American communities and was much respected and loved.”
“She was quite simply an extraordinary human being,” he said.
Estelle Peck, a longtime parishioner at St. Brigid’s, said Josey was a trailblazer.
“She was one of the first people to help us appreciate the African-American culture,” Peck said. “She felt this freedom to be who she was and express it.”
Her “Amen!” exclamations with the rest of the congregation joining in “became very natural to us,” Peck said. “It broke down a lot of barriers. I think she was critical in that, unknowingly perhaps.”
Josey was born in heavily Baptist Savannah, Georgia, where she grew up and raised her children Catholic, said one of her daughters, Veronica Hines of Massapequa. At one point when Josey suffered health problems, some of her children moved into a Catholic boarding school run by nuns in Georgia, Hines said.
Josey moved to New York in the early 1960s, settling in Westbury. She had seven children and raised them as a single mother for most of their lives. One daughter, Elsie, died about two decades ago from health issues.
For many years Josey worked as a cook in a local Head Start program. She also belonged to a local chapter of the National Council of Negro Women, a group started by the legendary educator Mary McLeod Bethune, an adviser on minority affairs to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Hines said.
Still, it was Josey’s interjections at the Masses at St. Brigid’s that perhaps left her most lasting mark.
When parishioner Frank Pesce became a deacon in 2000, he did not feel he had fully ascended to the post until Josey interjected at the end of his homily during his first Mass.
“When it was over and she shouted ‘Amen!’ in my heart and my mind I said, ‘Now I’ve arrived.’ It wasn’t the ordination ceremony, it wasn’t the first time I vested,” putting on the liturgical garments used during Masses.
“It was when I heard her say, ‘Amen!’ ”
In addition to Hines, Josey is survived by five other children: Cynthia Josey of Huntington Station; Gerald Josey and Christopher Josey, both of Westbury; Clarence Josey of Coral Springs, Florida; and Jonathan Josey of Carson, California.
After a funeral Mass at St. Brigid’s on March 25, she was buried at the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury.