1961 – 2014 (October 9)
John Francis Thornton Payne was born on June 27, 1961 in Washington, D.C., the son of Ellis Augustine Payne and Gloria Bernice Thornton, and the youngest of their five children. He was educated at Abram Simon Elementary School, Assumption School and, in 1979, graduated from Archbishop John Carroll High School. The following year he entered the formation program of the Province attended Villanova University, from which he received his B.A. degree in English. He was received as a novice on August 16, 1983 and made his first profession of vows on August 4, 1984. From 1984-1987 he attended the Washington Theological Union and earned an M.A. in systematic theology. He made his solemn profession on May 15, 1988, and was ordained to the priesthood on November 18, 1989 by Bishop John H. Ricard, S.S.J. at St. Augustine Parish, the Mother Church of African Americans. At this time he had already been ministering at St. Augustine and remained there as associate pastor until 1996. He was responsible for the widely-known music and liturgical traditions of the parish, and co-authored several pieces with the renowned songwriter Leon C. Roberts. During this period he was a member, of the Augustinian College Community in Washington. Later he became a member of St. Ezekiel Moreno Friary in Silver Spring, MD, and was assigned to St. Thomas of Villanova Friary, Villanova from 2008 until his death.
In 1995 Father Payne became Director of the He Rose Project at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. He helped to increase scholarship opportunities for young men of color and worked to raise college acceptance rates. He also developed the Ennis Cosby Learning Center for parents and students, with a focus on introspection, empowerment and concrete goal setting.
In 2000 he was named Dean of Students at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and in 2007 Director of Student Affairs. In 2014, the Board of Directors appointed him Head of School, with an effective date of August 1, 2014. After a few short months in this latest position, Father John collapsed on Thursday, October 9, of an apparent heart attack, at the school. He was rushed to the hospital but died shortly after.
As the chancellor of Washington's public schools stated, "(Father Payne) had an abundance of faith in his students, showed them love every single day, and set an example that created a welcoming and thriving school community."
A wake was held on Sunday, October 19, 2014 at St. Augustine Church in Washington D.C.. His funeral Mass was celebrated at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in Washington, D.C., on Monday, October 20, 2014, with 4,000 people in attendance. A memorial Mass was celebrated at the church of St. Thomas of Villanova on Friday, October 24, 2014. The celebrant was Father Michael Di Gregorio, O. S.A., Prior Provincial. Fr. Payne is buried in the Augustinian Plot at Calvary Cemetery, Conshocken, Pa.