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In response to the proposal from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) that congregations focus on the dismantling of racism, the Adrian Dominican Sisters began by identifying resources that can assist us in raising our consciousness of white privilege and white supremacy, both personally and systematically.
Since January 2021, our Toward Communion: Undoing Racism and Embracing Diversity Committee and our Justice Promoters have collaborated on a project to provide information on prominent Black and Indigenous Catholics who have made significant contributions to the church and society, along with reflection questions and a prayer.
In May of 2022, Kevin D. Hofmann was named the founding Director of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion for the Congregation. With the goal of normalizing conversations about race and culture and discussing what it means to feel included and excluded, Kevin began contributing to this blog in June of 2022 and shares his unique experience of growing up Black in a white family in Detroit.
Martín was a mystic and prophet, an apostle of friendship, a healer, a pioneer social worker, a lover of God and all creation.
He was born in Lima, Peru, on December 9, 1579. His father was a noble Spanish man, Juan de Porres. His mother, Ana Velázquez, was a beautiful Black woman, born in Panama and presumably a descendant of African slaves. Martín and his sister, Juana, grew up in harsh circumstances. The children were often rejected due to the union of his father with a Black woman, whom they resembled. Their father abandoned the family, thus poverty and shame surrounded them during Martín’s childhood. But Martín grew up just opposite these circumstances.
When he was 7 or 8 years old, he was allowed to go to school. He was very bright and a quick learner. At 10, he became an apprentice barber, a trade that involved knowledge of surgery and pharmacy.
Martín started by sweeping the floor and cleaning after closing. To the surprise of his master, Martín was quick in learning. All he learned as herbalist in the pharmacy from his teacher made Martín a healer, especially to the poorest and neediest. Thus, he devoted himself to the mission of charity through healing to all ethnic groups.
In 1594, Martín decided to knock at the door of the Dominican Convent in Lima and humbly ask to enter as a donado (a term used for people who literally donated themselves to a convent, becoming simple servants without the option to become priests). He started humbly serving by sweeping the floor and gardening. Soon his many gifts were recognized and he became the barber, wardrobe, and tooth-puller. Eventually Martín was in charge of the infirmary.
Martín was very accurate in his prognosis of patients. His fame spread, thus many sought him for healing. He took care of poor, rich, and animals. His love-filled spirit was always moved by God’s compassion. Martín was known for the healing of body and spirit.
On the night of November 3, 1639, Martín died in the Dominican convent he entered 45 years earlier, surrounded by his Dominican brothers and many influential people he guided and cured.
His process for beatification began on June 15, 1656, but the Dominican Order waited more than 400 years for Martín’s canonization (May 6, 1962). He was the first Black saint of the Western Hemisphere.
Saint Martín de Porres is the patron saint of:
Article and podcast on Saint Martin de Porres from Saint of the Day website by Franciscan Media.
"Who was Saint Martin de Porres?" by Anne Fullerton, MLIS, St. Martin de Porres School, Oakland, CA. Archived on 19 October 2013.
St. Dominic's Family: Over 300 Famous Dominicans by Sister Mary Jean Dorcy, OP, 1983, TAN Books.
"Feast of St. Martin de Porres," Dominican Praise: A Provisional Book of Prayer for Dominican Women, 2005, pages 789-790.
"Fray Escoba" - Spanish movie made in 1961
"Un mulato llamado Martin" - Mexican movie made in 1975
1. Is there something in Martín’s life that moves, touches, or challenges you?
2. Martín overcame racism and discrimination by rising above his circumstances. What can we learn from his example?
3. Pause and ponder about Martín’s compassion and commitment to the care of all God’s creation: plants, animals, and the poor and rich of all races.
We praise and thank God for the gift of our brother Martín:
Loving God, you call us to oneness with you. Free us from the sin of racism and discrimination.
The poor, the suffering, and the oppressed are always with us. Open our hearts to respond to their needs with tenderness and compassion.
All women and men are created in your image. Help us to recognize your presence in people from other cultures.
Martín’s work of justice flowed from his contemplative prayer. Inspire us all to integrate action and contemplation.
O Holy one, you inspired Martín to serve the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed with humility and love. Guide us to follow his remarkable example.
(adapted from Dominican Praise, ©2005)
Theresa was the first U.S.-born African-American woman to become a religious. The child of unwed parents of mixed racial lineage, she still received an education far superior to most women of her time, thanks to the kindness of her adoptive family, the Duchemins. Her upbringing in their Haitian refugee community enabled Theresa to attend a school established for the children by Elizabeth Lange and Magdalen Baras, also of Haitian origin.
In 1829 these women formed the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first congregation of African-American women in the United States. At age 19, Theresa was one of the founding members. While serving as General Superior of the congregation, Theresa came into contact with Rev. Louis Gillet who was seeking women religious to teach in the new state of Michigan.
Theresa agreed to help Gillet found a new congregation in Monroe, Michigan: the Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. After a decade of successful ministry and growth in Monroe, a dispute over the congregation arose in 1859 between the bishops of Philadelphia and Detroit. The bishop of Detroit blamed Theresa, deposed her as General Superior, and sent her to a Pennsylvania foundation, which then became a separate branch of the IHM congregation.
Theresa struggled for years to reunite the two congregations. In an effort to remove herself as an obstacle to reunion, Theresa spent 18 years in exile with the Grey Nuns of Ottawa. During this time, the bishops of Detroit and Philadelphia forbade the IHM sisters to communicate with Theresa. Writings from both bishops indicate scorn for mixed race people and their male dominance over women’s congregations. In 1885, Theresa was allowed to return to the IHM community in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where she lived her last seven years.
What happened to Theresa is representative of the experience of thousands of women in the past. Vilified and banished for her assertiveness, for her lack of social respectability, and for her determination to remain faithful to what she believed was a God-given mandate, she saw her intentions and her community co-opted by men who thought they knew better than she what the community should be about. All this happened in the 1800s. Yet in some ways, the story and the situation are still occurring in our 21st century.
Our Founders page of IHM Sisters' (Monroe, MI) website - ihmsisters.org/who-we-are/history-and-archives/our-founders
History section of IHM Sisters' (Scranton, PA) website - www.sistersofihm.org/who-we-are/ihm-history/theresa-maxis.html
Pilgrim: Let Your Heart be Bold by Margaret Gannon (Scranton, PA: Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, 2018).
Paths of Daring, Deeds of Hope: Letters by and about Mother Theresa Maxis Duchemin edited by Margaret Gannon (Scranton, PA: Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, 1992).
"Dangerous Memory: Mother Theresa Maxis Duchemin and the Michigan Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary" in Building Sisterhood: A Feminist History of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary by Marita Constance Supan (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1997).
"Sharing a Co-Founder, IHM and Oblate Sisters Work on 20-Year Reconciliation," Global Sisters Report article by Dawn Araujo-Hawkins, September 3, 2015.
Read the poem "Christ in the Margins" by Edwina Gately (from her book, Christ in the Margins). In this poem, Edwina Gately has effectively described founders of present-day congregations.
Racism, sexism and clericalism challenged Theresa Maxis' intense call to serve God. How do we handle the tensions between church authority and congregational discernment? How do we resolve this?
Theresa Maxis had every reason to feel betrayed by church leaders and even some of her sisters. How do we rise above criticism, betrayal, and hypocrisy and stay focused on the mission?
Theresa was a true pioneer, daring to travel to new frontiers for the sake of mission. How are we breaking new ground today?
Gracious God, may the heritage we have received from our foremothers be like water flowing from a source that seeps into every part of us, touching every part of our lives, giving us life. In turn, may we become life-givers to everyone we meet.
May we burn with zeal for the call of our charism. In the spirit of our founders may we be active in our preaching so as to feed the hungry, heal the sick, make peace and challenge racism.
May we remember the spirit and courage of Theresa Maxis and Catherine of Siena as we model their service, their identification with the poor, and their commitment to the mission of Jesus.
Let us treasure always the perseverance and great faith of Theresa Maxis and all women leaders of the church.
The Stono Rebellion began on September 9, 1739, and is relatively unknown despite it being the largest uprising of enslaved people in the British colony of South Carolina. Some historians call it the most important revolt in North American history. Its story adds much to our Black Catholic heritage and the struggle for freedom and justice among enslaved people.
The rebellion began near the Stono River close to Charleston, South Carolina. The date of the rebellion was significant to the people who were Catholics from Kingdom of Kongo (now Congo) and were devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In their home country, September 8 was a day of devotions and fasting in honor of Mary for the Kongolese in Kongo and in the British colonies. She was especially invoked during times of tragedy and conflict. In 1739 the Kongolese in South Carolina celebrated September 8 as a day of prayer and fasting, as usual. The Rebellion took place invoking the Blessed Virgin Mary for liberty the next day.
The Kongolese Freedom Fighters, as they were known, raided a firearms shop and took ammunition. They went on to kill more than 20 white people, choosing to spare others. The rebels were headed south flying flags of the Marian color of blue. The group was hoping to reach St. Augustine, Florida – about 150 miles away – where fugitives were offered freedom in exchange for converting to Catholicism and serving in the colonial militia. However, the Kongolese Freedom Fighters never arrived in Florida.
The rebellion ended when whites returned fire and about 30 Freedom Fighters were killed. Others escaped, but most were captured over the next few months and then executed.
After the rebellion, harsher laws were enacted which limited the privileges of enslaved people for fear of future rebellions. They were no longer allowed to grow their own food, assemble in groups, earn money, or learn to read.
A traveling mural depicting Our Lady of Stono and 21 Black Catholics, including the rebellion leader Cato, was commissioned by the National Congress of Black Catholics in 2017.
Book by Peter H. Wood, Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670s through the Stono Rebellion (London: W.W. Norton and Co, 1974)
Information on the Stono Rebellion from the 1998 PBS series Africans in America
Article in US Catholic by Damian Costello, September 1, 2020. “Pray with Our Lady of Stono to Heal the Wounds of Slavery.”
Information on the Stono Rebellion from the Library of Congress’ “America’s Story” website
The mural commissioned by the National Black Catholic Congress featuring Our Lady of Stono
1. Did you know of the Stono Rebellion? Were you surprised?
2. What is your reaction to these Kongolese Freedom Fighters taking action with the ratio of 2-to-1 of more enslaved people than owners in the British Colony?
3. This rebellion was rooted in a deep Catholic faith, devotion to Mary and a desire for freedom. It is an example of faith and action coming together. Share more recent examples in our history where faith required action for you.
Holy Mary, Mother of all people, we ask for your guidance and assistance in seeing injustice and prejudice where they exist in our lives.
Inspire in us the hope that we can work towards true freedom for all people.
Oakland Wiki says Mary Ann Wright was “a humanitarian activist” who lived and worked in Oakland, California, and fed East Bay residents for nearly three decades. To those she served, she was simply “Mother Wright.”
Born into an African-American Catholic family in New Orleans, Mother Wright married at age 14 and had nine children with her when she fled her abusive husband and moved to California. There, she worked picking the valley’s crops and as a domestic helper during the day and in a cannery at night.
In 1980, God told her in a dream “to feed the hungry.” She started out using her $236 Social Security check to buy food for a weekly dinner in Jefferson Park. She expanded to other areas of town, trudging beneath overpasses to deliver meals “with dignity,” she said, spreading out table cloths and wrapping forks in napkins.
Eventually Mother Wright secured a warehouse out of which she fed more than 450 people a day on a annual budget of $137,000. On holidays, long lines formed outside and Mother Wright was often on the sidewalk, bullhorn in hand, leading a prayer as people picked food, toys, and Christmas trees.
Her foundation also has helped people in Russia and Vietnam and founded a school in Kenya. In 2005, Mother Wright was inducted into the Hall of Fame for Caring Americans, by the Caring Institute.
When she was 86 she said of her life’s path, “It’s a miracle,” and “I’ll be here until the Lord comes for me.”
The Lord came for Mother Wright on May 7, 2009.
Oakland Wiki article on Mother Wright
Information on Oakland’s Mother of the Year Award, given to Mother Wright in 1989
"Mother Wright, tireless advocate for poor, dies," SFGate article by John Coté, 2009
"'I Heard That': Remembering Mother Wright – Oakland’s Mother Theresa," BeyondChron article by Rochelle Metcalfe, 2009
"Mother Wright, Angel to the Hungry, Dies at 87," East Bay Times article by Angela Hill, 2009
Mother Wright and The Iron Souls Motorcycle Club – YouTube video (photos by Hogphotog, Dianne Lukash Ray)
The Homegoing Celebration for Mother Wright – YouTube video
Congresswoman Barbara Lee tribute to Mary Ann Wright – YouTube video
1. Are you aware of food resources in your local community?
2. How might you assist?
O God, you who fed the hungry and tired have gifted the people of Oakland and beyond with the life and love of Mother Mary Ann Wright.
You called her as you did St. Catherine of Siena, from the walls of her large family into the lives of families seeking food and welcome. She brought the love of your Son through her cooking and hospitality; you were made manifest in the breaking of the bread.
Inspire us to love our neighbor through word and deeds, filling hearts and minds and bodies with the gifts of your creation freely given where needed.
In Jesus’ name, we pray.
Anne Marie Becraft had an extraordinary journey in Black History and in the Catholic Church. She was born in 1805 and lived her short life in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Maryland. She was a free Black woman who devoted her life to education and faith. She lived during a challenging time for free Black people. She knew the value of education for all people and allowed nothing to deter her in providing education for Black girls.
At age 4, Anne began her own education in a school in Washington, D.C. This school was for both white and black children. This school closed in 1820 for racial reasons.
In that same year, at age 15, Anne started her own school for Black girls in Georgetown and operated it for the next eight years. She established her school in the midst of the nation’s and the Church’s slaveholding elite in Washington and Alexandria, Virginia. The school was known as Georgetown Seminary and was a declaration that Black people mattered, especially girls and women. With an average enrollment of 30-35 students, it was an academy for both Black boarders and day students. The girls were from the best Black families of the area. According to the encyclopedia Black Women in America, “she lived in a society in which slavery and racism were firmly entrenched, yet even in such a society she was able to stimulate in her students a desire for educational attainment.”
In 1831, Anne, felt called to religious life. She left the school in the hands of a promising student and moved to Baltimore to join the only religious order that would accept Black women. She became the 11th Black woman to join the Oblate Sisters of Providence and took the name Sister Aloysius.
On December 16, 1833, at age 28, Anne died from a chronic chest ailment.
Anne’s father, William, was the son of a free Black woman who worked as a housekeeper for Charles Carroll, cousin of Archbishop John Carroll, who founded Georgetown University. It is documented that William was the natural son of Charles, making Anne the granddaughter of Charles.
To honor the legacy of Anne and her dedication to Black education, Georgetown University named a building in her honor in 2017.
"The Black Catholic Nun Every American Should Know" by Shannen Dee Williams, posted March 3, 2020, at NCR's Global Sister Reports. https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/social-justice/blog/anne-marie-becraft-recognized-georgetown-university-pioneer-black-nun-early
"Highlighting Anne Marie Becraft" by Justine Wordon, posted November 13, 2020, at The Boston Pilot's Echoes.
"Viewpoint: Celebrating Anne Marie Becraft" by Melanne Verveer, posted April 18, 2017, at Georgetown University's student newspaper, The Hoya.
Video about Anne Marie Becraft by Georgetown University.
1. How incomprehensible, how amazing is it that a 15-year-old girl of color could establish a school in the 1830s in Washington, D.C.?
2. Ponder her commitment to the importance of education for girls of her race.
Holy One of justice and love, give strength to our hearts as we continue to struggle with OUR OWN sin of racism.
May Anne Marie be an inspiration to us, in doing the seemingly impossible tasks to better our world racially. Like her, may we meet courageously the struggles and inequities of our own time.
Give us the insight and vision to move forward in love and justice.
Hazel Johnson, a woman whose Catholic faith led her to a place that many feared to go, speaking truth to power, still challenges and inspires many in the environmental justice movement ten years after her death.
Here’s an account of her early life, according to a story by Brian Roewe and published by National Catholic Reporter:
“The oldest of four siblings and the only one to live past their first birthday, Hazel was raised Catholic, and at age 11, sent to a Catholic orphanage school after her mother became ill with tuberculosis, of which she died a year later. Her father, a truck driver, was often on the road and unable to take care of her.” For several years Hazel spent time in Los Angeles with her aunt, then returned to New Orleans to live with her grandmother. While working in a factory there, she met her husband, John.
The couple moved to Chicago, began a family, and she became a parishioner of Our Lady of the Garden Church, in Altgeld Gardens. She was active in the parish as a volunteer and was active in her neighborhood community.
Altgeld Gardens Homes, a South Side Chicago housing project managed by the Chicago Housing Authority and originally built to house American war veterans, was surrounded by landfills, industrial buildings, and sewage-treatment plants. Hazel began to notice the prevalence of chronic skin and respiratory issues among her children and the other children living there. Following her husband’s death from cancer in 1969, she began to take a deeper look at how the environmental conditions in her neighborhood were impacting the health of her family and neighbors.
In 1979 she founded the People for Community Recovery (PCR), that focused on fighting environmental racism as it affected the residents of Altgeld Gardens public housing project. She went on to become a leader in the environmental justice movement.
(“Hazel Johnson, the Mother of Environmental Justice, was Catholic” by Brian Roewe for Earthbeat, National Catholic Reporter, February 26, 2021. Image of Hazel M. Johnson courtesy of PCR, used with permission.)
Hazel Johnson Speaks Truth to Power
Poisoned Politics: The Ongoing Fight to Clean Up Chicago’s ‘Toxic Doughnut’
Environmental Justice and Altgeld Gardens
Fighting Her Good Fight: Hazel Johnson battles those who want to turn her Chicago housing project into a toxic dump - February 18, 1993
Los Angeles Times staff writer, Josh Getlin, interviews Hazel Johnson the organization she founded, People for Community Recovery and other venues including a visit with Robert Whitfield, Chief Operating Office of the Chicago Housing Authority.
Remembering "The Mother of Environmental Justice" - March 15, 2021
Nancy Unger, Professor of History at Santa Clara University, published “Beyond Nature’s Housekeepers: American Women in Environmental History” (Oxford University Press). In this book, Unger recognized an important theme running through the three topics, women’s history, gender, and the environment.
The Mother of Environmental Justice: Hazel Johnson the the Toxic Doughnut - May 23, 2018
Environmental Justice Institute for Sustainability, University of Illinois
Lisen Holmström was born in Stockholm, Sweden, and is finishing up a M.S. degree in Landscape Ecology at the University of Illinois. This article was researched and written for ESE 498, the CEW capstone course, in Spring 2018.
Hazel Johnson, the mother of environmental justice, was Catholic - February 26, 2021
Article written by Brian Roewe, Earth Beat: Stories of Climate Crisis, Faith and Action
1. Hazel Johnson once said, “I definitely think I've been chosen by a higher power to do this work.” Have you ever had a similar experience, that like Hazel Johnson, you knew your faith in God, a higher power, the Spirit was moving you or calling you to something special or beyond what you thought was possible?
2. Hazel Johnson had the courage to speak truth to power. She persisted even though many times she was ridiculed or criticized that she did not have the facts, or that she was just making up statistics. Hazel’s persistence models for us what fidelity to gospel values calls us do. What is Jesus calling you to do or to be?
In Solidarity With All Creation
Oh how beautiful are your ways, O God, the works of your creation. Raise our consciousness to know and feel deeply in our hearts our connectedness to all that is.
Instill in us the gift of being co-creators and sustainers of life. Teach us new and unsuspected ways of living so that current and future generations can walk humbly in beauty, love all compassionately, and live justly in solidarity with all creation.
Loving and gracious God, give us the courage to seek this transformation of self and society and the strength to see it through.
- School Sisters of Notre Dame Green Team
“We unite ourselves with Christ’s redemptive work when we reconcile, when we make peace, when we share the good news that God is in our lives, when we reflect to our brothers and sisters God’s healing, God’s forgiveness, God’s unconditional love.”
These would be the final public words of a religious woman who dedicated her life to spreading the joy of the Gospel and promoting cultural awareness and racial reconciliation.
Thea Bowman was born in Canton, Mississippi, in 1937 to middle-aged parents, Dr. Theon Bowman, a physician, and Mary Esther Bowman, a teacher. Thea was their only child and they gave her the name Bertha Elizabeth. Thea converted to Catholicism through the inspiration of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity who were her teachers and pastors at Holy Child Jesus Church and School in Canton. These religious communities nurtured her faith and greatly influenced her religious vocation.
Gifted with a brilliant mind, beautiful voice, and a dynamic personality, Sister Thea shared the message of God's love through a teaching career. After 16 years of teaching at the elementary, secondary, and university levels, the bishop of Jackson, Mississippi, invited her to become the consultant for intercultural awareness.
In her role as consultant Sister Thea, an African American, gave presentations across the country – lively gatherings that combined singing, gospel preaching, prayer, and storytelling. Her programs were directed to break down racial and cultural barriers. She encouraged people to communicate with one another so that they could understand other cultures and races.
In 1984, Sr. Thea was diagnosed with breast cancer. She prayed "to live until I die." Her prayer was answered and Sister Thea continued her gatherings seated in a wheelchair. She died on March 30, 1990.
(Diocese of Jackson, MS; Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration)
The Amazing Light of Sister Thea Bowman
Father Maurice Nutt, dear friend and biographer of Sister Thea, shares his recollections.
An amazing speech that is still so relevant to today.
On June 2, 1989, Sister Thea addressed the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Thea Bowman and Sister Jamie Phelps, OP
Adrian Dominican Sister Jamie Phelps speaks of her friendship with Sister Thea.
Are We There Yet: Sr. Thea & Mike Wallace
Father Tom Lindner shares a few observations, ideas, encouragement and challenges.
The Witness of Sister Thea Bowman
Christopher Pramuk, an Associate Professor of Theology at Xavier University in Cincinnati, wrote this essay for America magazine, June 24, 2014. It is adapted from his book, Hope Sings, So Beautiful: Graced Encounters Across the Color Line (Liturgical Press, 2013).
The Making of a Saint
The Canonization Process, explained on the sistertheabowman.com website.
In Her Own Words
Quotes from Sister Thea from the AZQuotes website.
1. “The history of Black Catholics presents us with a wondrous but too often forgotten cloud of witnesses. Could it be that the lives of these saints challenge many of us in ways that strike too uncomfortably close to home?” (Christopher Pramuk, “The Witness of Sister Thea Bowman,” America magazine, June 24, 2014)
2. Sister Thea believed that we all must work to tear down the walls of racial division in our segregated and polarized society and church by making the effort to truly be in contact with one another – to get to know another’s story, their joys, sorrows, hopes, and dreams. How are you able to tear down the walls of racial, gender, and socio-economic separations and divisions in your family, faith community, neighborhood, city/town, and nation?
Ever loving God, who by your infinite goodness inflamed the heart of your servant and religious, Sister Thea Bowman with an ardent love for you and the People of God; a love expressed through her indomitable spirit, deep and abiding faith, dedicated teaching, exuberant singing, and unwavering witnessing of the joy of the Gospel.
Her prophetic witness continues to inspire us to share the Good News with those whom we encounter; most especially the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. May Sister Thea’s life and legacy compel us to walk together, to pray together, and to remain together as missionary disciples ushering in the new evangelization for the Church we love.
Gracious God imbue us with the grace and perseverance that you gave your servant, Sister Thea. For in turbulent times of racial injustice, she sought equity, peace, and reconciliation. In times of intolerance and ignorance, she brought wisdom, awareness, unity, and charity. In times of pain, sickness, and suffering, she taught us how to live fully until called home to the land of promise. If it be your Will, O God, glorify our beloved Sister Thea, by granting the favor I now request through her intercession (mention your request), so that all may know of her goodness and holiness and may imitate her love for You and Your Church.
We ask this through Your Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ.
© 2018 Catholic Diocese of Jackson, MS. Imprimatur: Most Rev. Joseph R. Kopacz, Bishop of Jackson.
Who among us today has the courage to "battle the odds," even in our own church, to do the work God calls us to? Elizabeth Lange is a noble role model for all the obstacles we face!
Elizabeth Clarisse Lange was born about 1784 in Santiago, Cuba, in a Haitian community. Well educated, she left Cuba in the early 1800s and immigrated to the United States. By 1813, she had arrived in Baltimore where there was a large free Black population. She recognized the need for the education of their children and opened a school for them in her home.
Lange became acquainted with Father James Nicholas Joubert, SS, a Sulpician priest who was attempting to teach catechism to the Black children in Baltimore. Finding them not able to read well, he approached Lange and Marie Balas, a woman living with Lange, who were already operating a school. He suggested that they should start a religious order for this work. Lange and Balas had already felt a call to religious life but did not know how to go about becoming religious since no order would accept women of color. But, with the help of Joubert and the approval of the Archbishop, the Oblate Sisters of Providence was established. Lange and the other women who joined her experienced poverty, racism, and many other hardships. However, they persevered and their work flourished. Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange died in 1882. She is, today, a candidate for sainthood.
If Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange's story is new to you, perhaps you might consider reading her life story, Finger of God, by George A. A. Yorkman, Jr., 2019.
Learn about Mother Lange’s history and legacy in these two videos:
Mother Lange's guild and her cause for canonization, including the video “In Her Words" - www.motherlange.org
Information on Mother Lange from the Archdiocese of Baltimore
1. Can you name some of today's “women of color" who have exhibited the courage and stamina of Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange?
2. What are the obstacles still present in "today's Church" that prevent people of color from full participation?
O God, you gifted our American Church with the energy and enthusiasm of Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange.
She had many battles to win to do your work.
Help us, today, to add our efforts to make our Church a Church that welcomes all, and treasures the gifts of all.
In Jesus' name, we pray.
Pierre Toussaint was born into slavery in Haiti on a plantation owned by Pierre Berard. He spent his early life working as a house boy, and his grandmother taught him to read and write. When Pierre Toussaint was 20 years old, he, his sister, his aunt, and two other enslaved persons accompanied the Berard family when they escaped the Haitian Revolution to New York City.
Once in New York City, both Pierre Toussaint and Pierre Berard apprenticed with a leading hairdresser. Pierre Toussaint worked in the homes of rich women and brought creative skills with the complicated art of coiffure and became a wealthy man and was admired by the elite in New York City. During their appointments Pierre Toussaint would speak to his clients of Christianity, was a good listener, and gave excellent advice.
When Pierre Berard died, he was destitute and his plantation in Haiti was in ruins. Although Pierre Toussaint could have purchased his freedom at that time, he chose to remain enslaved and discretely finance widow Berard: by day he would coiffeur women’s hair and by night he would care for his invalid mistress. He paid all her expenses and supported her until she died.
After being enslaved for 41 years, Pierre Toussaint was freed by his mistress shortly before her death. He married Mary Rose Juliette Noel, whose freedom he purchased. Pierre and Mary Rose purchased a home where they sheltered orphans and helped them and others in getting an education and learning a trade. In addition, the couple aided refugees in finding jobs and assisted victims of yellow fever epidemic. Their charity was also extended to Haitian immigrants, helping them to become established in the U.S. with jobs, housing, and education.
Urged to retire and enjoy the wealth he had accumulated, Pierre responded, “I’d have enough for myself but if I stopped working, I’d not have enough for others.”
Pierre Toussaint originally was buried outside St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, where he was once refused entrance because of his race. His sanctity and the popular devotion to him caused his body to be moved to the present location of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue. Pierre Toussaint was declared Venerable in 1996.
Saints Resource article on Pierre Toussaint.
American Catholic History series (by Starquest Media) podcast on Pierre Toussaint.
“Canonizing a Slave: Saint or Uncle Tom?” New York Times article, 1992
1) What was your reaction to the fact that a slave before the Civil War could be successful, wealthy, and sought after?
2) Of Pierre’s gracious philanthropy, what touched you most?
Lord God, source of love and compassion, we praise and honor You for the virtuous and charitable life of our brother in Christ, Venerable Pierre Toussaint.
Inspired by the example of our Lord Jesus, Pierre worshipped You with love and served Your people with generosity. He attended Mass daily and responded to the practical and spiritual needs of friends and strangers, of the rich and the poor, the sick and the homeless of the 19th century New York.
If it is your will, let the name of Venerable Pierre Toussaint be officially raised to the rank of Saint, so that the world may know this Haitian New Yorker who refused to hate or be selfish, but instead lived to the full commandments of heaven and the divine law of love – love for God and for neighbor.
By following his example and asking for his prayer, may we, too, be counted among the blessed in heaven.
We ask for this through Christ our Lord.
Julia Greeley was born into slavery on a Missouri farm sometime in the 1840s. As a slave, she was physically abused and became permanently lame. She lost an eye in a beating given to her mother.
After the Emancipation Proclamation, Julia was brought to Colorado by a wealthy woman, a Mrs. Dickerson, who later married William Gilpin, the first territorial governor of Colorado. Mrs. Dickerson was a Catholic and influenced both her husband and Julia herself to become baptized. Julia worked for the Dickerson family as a housekeeper and nanny.
In addition to her job with the governor's family, Julia was a familiar sight on Denver’s streets. She wore a floppy black hat and pulled a little red wagon, filled with food, clothing, and firewood for those in need. She used her weekly salary to buy these items, and when she ran short, she begged for items for her wagon. Julia was dedicated to the poor and had a special love for firefighters.
Julia was known for her Catholic Faith, and attended daily Mass at her parish, Sacred Heart Church. She had a deep love and devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Therefore, it was fitting tribute that she died on June 7, 1918, the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And it was in Sacred Heart Church, her parish, that her funeral was held which attracted large crowds of mourners. Julia Greely was buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery.
After her death in 1918, Frances Wayne, a Denver Post reporter wrote, that her legacy included “eighty-five years of worthy living ... unselfish devotion ... and a habit of giving and sharing herself and her goods.” In late 2016, her heroic life was officially recognized by the Catholic Church, which began the canonization process to declare Julia a saint. Her body has been moved to the Denver Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Today her official name is Servant of God Julia Greeley.
Learn more about Julia Greeley and see a short video about her at www.JuliaGreeley.org
Black Catholics in the American Catholic Church
Sister Jamie T. Phelps, OP, discusses Black Catholics in America with Dr. Paul Lakeland for Fairfield University's "Voices of Others" video series: https://youtu.be/nTiNC7j-mZQ
African-American Catholicism and St. Elizabeth Catholic Church, Chicago, Illinois
Ninety years ago, St. Monica’s Catholic Church, the precursor of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church, was the first Black Catholic Parish in the United States. Learn more in this news broadcast: https://youtu.be/hzr9L9KOBzo
1) How many more “people of color” who lived lives of holiness are hidden from our history?
2) How can these stories be “uncovered” and made known to today's Catholics?
3) Are you aware of how the rigid lines of separation and discrimination continue to maintain white supremacy in our society?
This prayer was approved on June 29, 2017, by Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver for private use:
Heavenly Father, your servant Julia Greeley dedicated her life to honoring the Sacred Heart of your Son and to the humble service of the poor.
Grant to me a generous heart like your Son’s, and if it be in accordance with your holy will, please grant this favor I now ask through Julia’s intercession (insert intention)…
I pray this through Christ our Lord.
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Black Catholic Project posts
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Printable bookmark of African Americans on their Way to Sainthood (PDF)
Black Catholic History page by Seattle University
Timeline from the National Black Catholic Congress
Sister Jamie T. Phelps, OP, discusses Black Catholics in America with Dr. Paul Lakeland for Fairfield University's "Voices of Others" video series
News report on one of the oldest Black Catholic parishes in the U.S., St. Elizabeth Catholic Church (formerly St. Monica) in Chicago, Illinois