Equity and Inclusion


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.

From January 2021 through June of 2023, our Toward Communion: Undoing Racism and Embracing Diversity Committee and our Justice Promoters 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. He shares his unique experience of growing up Black in a white family in Detroit and educates on topics of equity and inclusion.

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Black Catholic Project: Father Cyprian Davis

Black man with a bald head, gray beard and moustache, and black glasses wearing a hooded Benedictine robe

Black Catholic Project: Father Cyprian Davis

“In the beginning, there were Black Catholics.” This is how Benedictine Father Cyprian Davis began an interview with the editors of U.S. Catholic to talk about Black Catholic history and the future of the Black Catholic Church.

It is most appropriate that for the month of February, the Black Catholic Project would choose for its subject Cyprian Davis, a Benedictine monk and priest of St. Meinrad Archabbey, a spiritual writer, historian, and advocate for the vibrant presence of African American Catholic leaders. More precisely, Father Cyprian Davis is the foremost historian of the Black Catholic Church in America and his award-winning book, The History of Black Catholics in the United States, is a classic, recognized as the preeminent book on Black Catholic Church history in the United States.

He was born Clarence John Davis on September 9, 1930, in Washington, D.C. As a teenager he converted to Catholicism and became interested in being a priest and monk. Many seminaries and religious orders were not accepting African American candidates at the time, but St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana welcomed him and he became the community’s first Black novice on July 31, 1950, taking the monastic name Cyprian. He was ordained to the priesthood on May 3, 1956.

Father Davis received advanced degrees in theology and church history at Catholic University of America and Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, respectively. Returning to the United States in 1963, which was at the time embroiled in the Civil Rights Movement, Father Davis participated in the March on Washington and heard Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech and later marched with Sister Mary Anton Ebo and others from Selma to Montgomery. These events led Father Davis to speak and write about the place of African Americans in the Catholic Church.

Of this time, Father Davis writes: "All those times were in ferment, especially in regard to civil rights, and that’s when I began to realize its importance. People began to come and ask me about being Black and Catholic. 'What is my place in the church?' That’s when I began to realize that this is important…. That’s when I began to do my own research."

In 1999 Father Davis was interviewed by Catholic News Service (CNS). He said he thought the mentality of many Black Catholics has been that "we are a people who are almost like still on a mission." But he added, "Black Catholics have made significant contributions far beyond having nice music and ... wonderful liturgies." Continuing he said: "We're an integral part of the church, and we're not negligible."

Cyprian Davis wrote a number of books including the definitive biography of Henriette Delille, the black foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Family in antebellum New Orleans; Christ's Image in Black: The Black Catholic community before the Civil War; Taking Down Our Harps: Black Catholics in the United States; and Stamped with the Image of God: African Americans as God's Image in Black.

At the time of Father Cyprian Davis’s death in May of 2015, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops described Father Davis in these words: "Most of all, Father Cyprian was a humble child of God who sought in an unassuming way to live a life of holiness and to place his considerable talents at the service of Christ and his church."

 

Reflection Questions

This profile begins with the words, "In the beginning there were Black Catholics." Are you surprised that Blacks have always been members of the Catholic Church and have also been some of the earliest leaders of the Church as bishops (St. Augustine, for example) and popes?

Father Davis, in relation to Black Catholics, said: “We are an integral part of the church … and we are not negligible.” Reflect on what you have learned about Black Catholics that makes Father Davis’ statement true.


Prayer

Lord, Lord, Open Unto Me

Howard Thurman, in Meditations of the Heart (Beacon Press, 1999)

Open unto me, light for my darkness
Open unto me, courage for my fear
Open unto me, hope for my despair
Open unto me, peace for my turmoil
Open unto me, joy for my sorrow
Open unto me, strength for my weakness
Open unto me, wisdom for my confusion
Open unto me, forgiveness for my sins
Open unto me, tenderness for my toughness
Open unto me, love for my hates
Open unto me, Thy Self for myself
Lord, Lord, open unto me!

 

Resources

Articles

Interview - "In the Beginning there were Black Catholics," U.S. Catholic, 1993. 

"A History of Black Catholics in the United States" by Cyprian Davis, OSB, America, May 3, 1980. 

"In Memoriam: Cyprian Davis, OSB" American Catholic Studies Newsletter, Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, University of Notre Dame, Fall 2015. 

"Benedictine Fr. Cyprian Davis, top chronicler of black Catholic history, dies" by Catholic News Service, published in National Catholic Reporter, May 20, 2015. 

Take the "Fr. Cyprian Davis Pledge" by Dr. Kimberly Baker, St. Meinrad Seminary Blog, June 11, 2020. 

Videos

"Cheryl Archibald speaking about Fr. Cyprian Davis," St. Francis Xavier College Church, November 14, 2020. 

"November 18th - Fr. Cyprian Davis" by Richard Lane Ministries - Profile of Fr. Cyprian Davis for Black Catholic History Month 2020. 

"Father Cyprian Davis, Church Historian - A Personal Reflection by Sister Jamie T. Phelps, OP" - Adrian Dominican Sisters, February 17, 2023.

"Fr. Cyprian Davis, OSB Death Toll Bells" by Fr. Simon Herrmann, OSB, May 18, 2015. Listen to the Bells of St. Meinrad Archabbey toll for Father Davis.

 

Feature photo courtesy of Saint Meinrad Archabbey

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Avatar  Nancy Murray 9 months agoReply

Jamie,
It was so clear that Cyprian made an impact on you through his insights, personality and friendship.
He also had an impact on the Catholic Church through his teachings. Thanks to SPeg, too, for doing the interview!



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People of African Descent on the Path to Sainthood

Printable bookmark of African Americans on their Way to Sainthood (PDF)

U.S. Black Catholic History Links

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