Samuel Henderson Samuel Henderson was born into slavery in the early days of the 19th century. His life as a Catholic probably began in Memphis shortly after the Civil War. Nothing of Samuel’s early life is known, but after his arrival in Memphis as a freed slave he began a ministry with a small Baptist community. Down the road from this church was Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church (usually called St. Peter’s). Samuel would often go to St. Peter’s and listen to the sermons preached by the Dominican priests and then go back to his own church and preach the Gospel to his community. Eventually, Samuel and his wife converted to Catholicism and joined St. Peter’s, a predominantly Irish parish, as a member and handyman. His work for the people of this church lasted for 30 years, endearing himself and his family to the Dominicans who ministered there and to the Irish population who worshipped there. This period of Memphis life was one of the most difficult in the city’s history. For years in the 1870s, yellow fever spread through the city and more than 7,000 citizens died from the disease. Life in Memphis was a struggle for all who lived there. Huge numbers of the white population, mostly wealthy and Protestant, fled Memphis until federal troops blockaded the exits from the city. Most parts of the government, including the police, collapsed. Schools became hospitals and later morgues. Most of those who remained in Memphis were the poor; many of them were former enslaved people, Jewish people, or Irish immigrants. Samuel became the protector of the Dominicans as they responded to the needs of the sick and the dying. He escorted them through the streets of Memphis, lighting their way with his lamp. This took unusual courage since he was a Black man and a Catholic in a city known for its racism and anti-Catholic bigotry. He also went into the homes of the dying, knowing that he could easily be struck with disease. He cared for the Dominican priests, often being the one to robe them as they were prepared for burial. Samuel lived another 30 years as a faithful member of St. Peter’s parish and died in 1907. The only known photo of Henderson is found in St. Peter’s. He is remembered today by the name that appears on his monument in the "Negro Section" of Calvary Cemetery, "St. Peter’s Sam." Resources Most of this material is taken from an article in the Black Catholic Messenger which is based on work done by Morris Butcher and published on March 9, 2022. Reflection Questions What opportunities in my life, both past and current, call me to go beyond my comfort zone and respond to the needs of others? How have I responded in the past? What added strength do I need to face future calls? Prayer Good and gracious God, Now and then in our lives we come in contact with some truly giving persons who reflect so clearly your graciousness and goodness. Samuel Henderson was one of these true followers of your Son. Help us to imitate his willingness to give and not count the cost, to stand in the midst of danger and not retreat, to see in the faces of those who suffer, your reflection and grace. Help us learn through his life what it means to be truly a follower of your Son. We ask this in the name of your Son, Jesus. Amen.