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.

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.

 

Equity and Inclusion Project

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Black Catholic Project: Respond to Our Survey

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.
 
Now, 24 historic and contemporary influential Black Catholics have been profiled on this page. Have you been introduced to people you never knew were Catholic? Have you been introduced to people who have inspired you? Have these profiles motivated you to learn more?
 
Our group of writers wants to hear from you about the impact of this series and they invite your feedback through this short survey. Click on the link below to participate in the survey, which should take about 6 minutes to complete. We thank you in advance for your feedback.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/SKP7Z8C

The survey is open until December 16, 2022.


 


Kobe Bryant in Lakers uniform with basketball on the court

Black Catholic Project: Kobe Bryant (1978-2020)

Seen as a legend and hero in the sports world, Kobe Bryant is not projected as the devout Catholic that he was. His great success, through discipline and hard work, inspired many. At his core, he was about faith and family.

Kobe was born in Philadelphia in 1978 in a sports-minded family. Both his father and uncle were NBA athletes. Kobe’s involvement in the sport began at age 3.

His father retired from the NBA when Kobe was 6 years old and the family moved to Italy, where his father played on different Italian teams. Kobe reported that the first of those seven years in Italy were difficult for him. Initially, he didn’t speak Italian so had no friends. It was lonely. It was through basketball he was able to make friends and make connections.

He worked to improve his basketball skills through constant practice and hard work. This developed the character and discipline that were part of his outlook and motivation in life.

The Bryant family returned to Pennsylvania, when Kobe was a junior in high school. He continued his devotion to basketball training and his disciplined practice brought great success to his school, whose team became state champions.

Although Kobe was religious, he was not known for making religious statements. His faith was his guiding light that was revealed extensively after his death. He was not "known for wearing his religion on his sleeve," but he did wear his religion on his arm and body through his tattoos, many of which were religious symbols.

His devotion to the Rosary was primary in his life. Before the helicopter crash that killed him and his 14-year-old daughter, Gianna, he talked about adding a tattoo of the rosary. He didn’t live to fulfill that wish. Two hours before Kobe and his daughter took that fatal flight they both attended Mass.

After his tragic death on January 26, 2020, a Catholic parish neighbor to his made multiple rosaries for parishioners of Kobe’s home parish – Our Lady Queen of Angels – in hopes that they would bring healing and help the grieving process.

But the story doesn’t end there. During his career he accumulated great wealth. Kobe believed in the statement, "To whom much is given, much is expected." Kobe supported many charitable causes including his own family foundation dedicated to improving lives of youth and families in need.

 

Portrait of Kobe Bryant by Archie McPherson, age 13

Kobe Bryant
Painting by Archie McPherson, age 13 - Part of the 2020 Black Catholic Heroes Project
Images of Black Catholics painted by students employed by the College for Creative Studies’ Detroit Neighborhood Arts Corps
(used with permission)

 

Resources

"Religion in the Life of Kobe Bryant" by Michal Mazurkiewicz, Journal of African American Studies, volume 25, pages 324-338 (2021).

Kobe Bryant - Inspirational Video by Mateusz M
https://youtu.be/JHVMW3U5BZE

"Once Upon a Time..." | Kobe Bryant by NBA
https://youtu.be/spll56K7ZNg

 


Reflection Question

1. What most impressed you about Kobe Bryant?

2. What was your reaction to the facts that he was a devout Catholic and committed to charitable works?

3. What other professional athletes can we admire for their character and inspiration?

4. Kobe was motivated by discipline and hard work. What motivates you in your life?

 


Prayer

Giver of all gifts, we praise and thank you for all the talents given to each of us.

May we be inspired by Kobe’s determination to use his athletic talent to the best of his ability.

May we have generous hearts and remember and help those in need.

Amen.

 


Sister Jamie Phelps, OP

Black Catholic Project: Sister Jamie Phelps, OP,
A Story of Faith

Sister Jamie Phelps, OP, is the pioneer African American woman who felt a deep call to join the Adrian Dominican Sisters — an all-white Catholic congregation of religious sisters. Her decision resulted in many blessings as well as challenges. This story of a Black woman joining a white congregation reveals the unwavering strength, the deep faith, and the power of a soul firmly committed to her God.

In her own words, the paragraphs below share some of Jamie’s life. A fuller version of her story was published in the Congregation’s 2021 publication for members, Reckoning with Racism: A Lenten Journey.

 


I was born a “Free Negro” in 1941, the youngest child of six born to Alfred and Emma Phelps in Pritchard, Alabama, near Mobile. I am an African American religious woman who as a child had to be taught by her parents to overcome the interpersonal and structural racism she would encounter in her life journey.

I am not sure when, or if, my great grandparents had been enslaved. My ancestry traces predominantly to Africa with vestiges of Northwestern European ancestors, including Irish. My grandparents on both sides of the family believed that owning property and providing their children with a college education would guarantee our freedom.

My parents were both born free in 1911 and met as students attending Alabama A&M College (now University), in Huntsville. They married after graduation and began their family of six children, William, Alfreda, Marionette, Julius, Alfred Jr., and me, Jamie.

About a year after my birth and baptism, my parents migrated to Chicago. There, my father established a moving company, bought our first home on the West Side, and invested in rental real estate. My father and his siblings all started their own businesses; it was both a family tradition and a way to deal with the racism that strictly limited opportunities for African Americans. My siblings and I were enrolled in St. Matthew’s, a Roman Catholic parish and school staffed by Irish Catholic priests and the Adrian Dominican Sisters.

We were encouraged to go to college and pursue whatever field interested us. My parents told us that God had gifted us with talent and intelligence and we were to develop these gifts for the benefit of the community. I remember, as a 4-year-old, noticing there were three “helping” professions: Teachers, nurses, and telephone operators! (This was before cell phones.)

After making first confession and communion as a 7-year-old at St. Matthew’s, I began to go to daily Mass and went to confession weekly. I used the occasion to talk with the priest about my relationship to God and how I could serve God. I decided that while a telephone operator could help with emergencies, a “Sister” was concerned about God and the souls of people. To me this was a higher calling – and it had nothing to do with blood, like nursing! I was attentive to the joy and excellent teaching the Adrian Dominicans embodied.

I thought I should answer God’s call to the sisterhood by writing to Mother Gerald Barry, OP, to ask if I could enter the Adrian Dominicans when I graduated from eighth grade. I recall that her first inquiry was, “Are you Catholic?” She suggested that I might want to go to two years of high school before coming to join the Adrian Dominicans. She let me know that the congregation was “all white” and suggested that I might need to be more mature to adjust to living in an “all-white congregation.” I was disturbed and disappointed by what seemed like a racially prejudiced response.

As I approached high school graduation, I again applied to the Adrian Dominican Sisters. I prayed to God: “I’m trying to do your will, but if they say ‘no’ a second time, you know it is the Sisters who are blocking your will. I can only say, ‘I tried.’ We will simply have to seek another way for me to serve you.” The second time, I received a “yes” from Mother Gerald.

My Postulant Mistress welcomed me and treated me the way she treated the other women: when she was tough on the others, she was tough on me and this “equality of treatment” was welcomed. At my first mission it was soon noticed that the superior there had no use for African Americans. I was called to the Motherhouse to discuss the situation and I was reassigned to my second mission, a community where we enjoyed working as an educational team together. A spirit of comradery prevailed.

As an Adrian Dominican religious woman, by the power of God acting in and through me, I have served the Church and larger human community as an educator teaching at all levels or education: elementary to doctoral. I have participated in God’s healing and empowering ministries as a psychiatric social worker and community organizer, helping my clients discover and use their God-given power and gifts.

As a theologian and spiritual director, I have mediated God’s presence sacramentally and helped my students, who in their theological research sought to use their God-given power and gifts for the well-being of all the People of God, in our rich racial, gender, economic, geographic, and social diversity.

I give thanks to my family, those Adrian Dominican Sisters who guided me through my early years, my formation directors, and all those who befriended and accompanied me in our mutual intellectual and spiritual journey as members of the Dominican Order and the National Black Catholic Sisters’ Conference and other Black Catholic and Catholic institutions and organizations.

I praise God who did not abandon me and my call to the Adrian Dominican religious congregation because of these initial rejections. The racism we have encountered in the Catholic Church and society has not triumphed because the God who dwells in us helps us “do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine!”


 

We Adrian Dominican Sisters have been blessed by Jamie’s spirit, hope, humor, and faith for nearly 60 years. Over and over she has risen; over and over she has graced our lives and enriched our vision. Jamie, we love you and thank you profoundly for all the ways you have shared this journey of faith and diversity with us.

- Sister Nancyann Turner, OP

 

Portrait of Sister Jamie Phelps by Archie McPherson

Sister Jamie Phelps
Painting by Archie McPherson, age 13 - Part of the 2020 Black Catholic Heroes Project
Images of Black Catholics painted by students employed by the College for Creative Studies’ Detroit Neighborhood Arts Corps
(used with permission)

 

Resources

Racial Justice and the Catholic Church by Bryan N. Massingale (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Press, 2010).

Subversive Habits: Black Catholic Nuns in the Long African American Freedom Struggle by Shannon Dee Williams (Duke University Press Books, 2022).

A Sister's Story: Sister Jamie T. Phelps, OP - Adrian Dominican Sisters

 


Reflection Question

In the October 30, 2020 issue of America Magazine, Bryan Massingale wrote, “Every Black Catholic priest, sister, brother, deacon and lay pastoral leader can relate experiences of how our presence in the church was met with wariness, hostility or incredulity ('You’re Catholic?'); our leadership abilities were doubted or dismissed; our vocations were denied or challenged; and our Catholicism was deemed suspect."

1. Was there a time in your life when you failed to relate to others because of their race or culture?

2. Have you grown in your appreciation of racial, cultural, and gender diversity?

3. How does racial/cultural marginalization contradict God’s universal and unconditional love for all — and the church’s call to community?

 


Prayer

God our Father and Mother, imbued by the power of your spirit and liberated by the redemptive life and death of Jesus, help us welcome into our community and church all peoples, regardless of race, gender, class, culture or nationality. 

You have enriched each person and each culture with gifts and talents to be shared for the common good. 

Help us to recognize your presence and action in all your sons and daughters. 

Help us continue as a people of faith, hope, and love as we prepare to receive the gift of your Reign.

Amen.

 


Artistic renderings of the three African Popes

Black Catholic Project: Liturgical Dance
and African Popes

A recent article in the online newsletter Black Catholic Messenger recounts how when a Black Catholic Parish in Mobile Alabama tweeted a video of a teenage parishioner using her gift of dance to praise God during Mass "the reaction from Catholic Twitter was swift – and it was ugly." Most of these comments were decrying the violation of the beauty and sanctity of the Roman Liturgy, born in the Latin Mass of old. It would probably surprise many of the "tweeters" that the Roman Liturgy and the Latin Mass that they so revere is African in origin – brought to Rome by the early African popes.

While it can seem to the contemporary mind that the Roman Church and the papacy is a purely European institution, the early popes, in fact, reflected the diversity of the early Church – a Church that was born in the Middle East and spread around the Mediterranean basin, from Greece to Rome and the Iberian Peninsula and with great success to North Africa. "North Africa was the Bible belt of early Christianity," said Christopher Bellitto, a Church historian at Kean University in New Jersey, "and Carthage was the buckle," he added, referring to the city located in modern-day Tunisia (Religion News Service).

So it should be no surprise that three early popes hailed from that region: the 14th pope, Victor I (circa 189-198 A.D.); the 32nd pope, Miltiades (311-314 A.D.); and the 49th pope, Gelasius I (492-496 A.D.). All three of these popes are saints in the Roman Church.

Pope Victor I

The earliest known African to become pope was Victor I, who was born and raised in the Africa Proconsularis of Rome, which today includes Tunisia, Libya, and Algeria. Pope Victor is best known for setting the date of Easter on a Sunday. Prior to this, there had been disputes about whether to celebrate the feast on Passover — the 14th of the Jewish month of Nisan — or on the Sunday closest to that date. And Pope Victor’s great innovation was encouraging the use of his native Latin as the language of worship in the city of Rome, as opposed to Greek, the language of the New Testament.

Pope Miltiades

Pope Miltiades was born in Africa and was the first pope to have an official residence in Rome, thanks to the Emperor Constantine and his mother, St. Helen. Miltiades is said to have lived in the Lateran Palace, making it the first official papal residence. It remained so for 1,000 years and was the site of the signing of the Lateran Treaty in 1929. This treaty formed the Vatican City State. Miltiades is considered the founder of the Basilica of St. John Lateran and was the last pope to be buried in the catacombs in Rome.

Pope Gelasius I

Pope Gelasius was the 49th pope and is believed to have been either born in Rome or in Africa, but was definitely a Roman citizen of African descent. He was devoted to the Mass and wrote many hymns and prayers and even arranged a missal. He also ordered that the Eucharist be received under both species. The Gelasian Sacramentary from the eighth century is named in his honor. During a time of famine and unrest, Pope Gelasius showed distinct leadership in demanding the affluent Romans donate money for the relief of the poor of the city.

 

One last note for those inclined to dance in church:

In 1988, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments approved the "Roman Missal for the Dioceses of Zaire." Today, the Congolese Rite is the only enculturated rite approved for use by the Catholic Church. Dancing, especially during the offertory, is a key part of this rite. Pope Francis said in Dec. 2020, "The experience of the Congolese rite of celebrating the Mass can serve as an example and model for other cultures."

So dance on happy feet and thank our African sisters and brothers for this rite of praise.

 

Resources

General

"African Popes," St. Benedict the Moor Parish, Milwaukee, WI

"Has there ever been a black or African pope?" Religion News Service, March 1, 2013

"PROFESSING FAITH: Catholic Church had three African popes in early centuries," by Redlands Daily Facts, September 24, 2014

"Were there any Black popes?" By Patricia Kasten, The Compass, February 2, 2022

"A tweet in time: Black Catholics in the age of liturgical shaming," by Nate Tinner-Williams, Black Catholic Messenger, August 12, 2022

The Zairean Rite

"Explainer: What is the Zaire rite—and why is Pope Francis talking about it now?" America Magazine

"Pope Francis: The Zairean Rite is a 'promising model' for the Amazon," Vatican News

Video: "Holy Mass in the Zaire Rite, with Pope Francis on the 1st Sunday of Advent 1 December 2019"

 


Reflection Question

Africa has given the Church more than popes, saints and the Latin language, Africa and Africans give the Church a deep heritage of the wholeness of mind, body and spirit; the goodness of creation; and the centrality of community.

Where do you treasure the influence of Africa in your life?

 


Prayer

Please read the "Great Spirit!" prayer by Rozwi of South Africa, from An African Prayer Book by Desmond Tutu.
(After clicking the link, scroll halfway down the page to find this prayer.)

 


Sister Cora Marie Billings, RSM

Sister Cora Marie Billings, RSM

Sister Cora Marie Billings has dedicated the past six decades of her life to rooting out racism, and she has no plans to slow down. She traces her roots in the church to her great-grandfather, who was a slave for the Jesuits at Georgetown University. He was raised in the Catholic faith and in accord with his wishes, Catholicism was retained through generations of her family. Eventually the family moved to Philadelphia where Sister Cora Marie was born and grew up.

Sister Cora Marie's upbringing in the Roman Catholic Church was at times very challenging due to the treatment she received within her white Catholic school and community as an African American Catholic. Withstanding these obstacles, her faith did not waiver; she responded to her call to religious life and in 1956 she became first African American woman accepted for membership within the Mercy Sisters of Philadelphia.

She had been encouraged to become a woman religious because of the example of two of her aunts who were already members of the Oblate Sisters of Providence of Baltimore, Maryland, a religious order established by, and for, women of African descent to teach enslaved children.

In 1968, Sister Cora Marie became a founding member of the National Black Sisters' Conference, which brought together Black nuns nationwide to assert their voices in the Catholic Church — and to urge it to confront more effectively "the sin of racism."

Serving as the campus minister of Virginia State University, she began working full time in the Diocese of Richmond under Bishop Walter F. Sullivan in the mid-80s. It was Bishop Sullivan who appointed her in 1990 to the pastoral position at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church, a predominantly black parish that had lost its priest.

After 61 years, Sister Cora Marie remains active in the Sisters of Mercy’s reconciliation and social justice ministries. "If there is ever a chance for me to impact or help people to see what I feel is justice and the rights of people, then I will do whatever I can," she said. "I will always say 'yes' if I can, if I feel I can effect change."

 

Resources

Articles

First African-American nun to serve as a pastoral coordinator, Sister Cora Marie Billings continues to serve,” by Mark Robinson, Richmond Times-Dispatch, December 25, 2017.

Challenging and Healing Racism: Two Black Sisters of Mercy Share Their Stories,” by Catherine Walsh, Features Writer, November 16, 2021. 

Q & A with Sr. Cora Marie Billings on Black Catholicism and her life of 'firsts’,” by Sydney Clark, Global Sisters Report, November 30, 2021.

Nonviolence Critical Concern Community Feature: Sr. Cora Marie Billings,” by Kelsey Steines, Catherine McAuley Center, March 21, 2021.

Videos

An Evening Conversation with Sister Cora Marie Billings, R.S.M.,” Villanova University, February 12, 2019 - A "fireside chat" with Sister Cora Marie Billings, who received her B.A. in Humanities from Villanova in 1967.

Sister Cora Mare Billings - Finding Tomorrow: Experiences in Black Leadership,” Finding Tomorrow Project (FindingRVA), June 15, 2014. Interview directed by Marc Cheatham and Darrian P. Mack.

Sister Cora Marie Billings' reflection for Black Catholic History Month,” Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, November 25, 2019.


Reflection Questions

Cora Marie Billings speaks of her experience of racism in church and society.

1. Have any of your cultural-racial ancestors been the targets of bigotry or discrimination?

2. What forms of institutional racism have you witnessed and/or participated in?

3. What have you done to root out anti-Black, anti-Hispanic/Latino, anti-Asian racism in your interpersonal and institutional experiences?


Prayer

"Shake Us From Our Slumber"
Prayer adapted from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When our eyes do not see the gravity of racial justice, shake us from our slumber and open our eyes, O Lord.

When out of fear we are frozen into inaction, give us a spirit of bravery, O Lord.

When we try our best but say the wrong things, give us a spirit of humility, O Lord.

When the chaos of this dies down, give us a lasting spirit of solidarity, O Lord.

When it becomes easier to point fingers outwards, help us to examine our own hearts, O Lord.

God of truth, in your wisdom, enlighten Us. God of hope in your kindness, heal Us. Creator of All People, in your generosity, guide Us.

Racism breaks your heart; break our hearts for what breaks yours, O Lord.

Ever present God, you called us to be in relationship with one another and promised to dwell wherever two or three are gathered. In our community, we are many different people; we come from many different places, have many different cultures. Open our hearts that we may be bold in finding the riches of inclusion and the treasures of diversity among us.

We pray in faith.

Amen.

 


Samuel Henderson

Irmandade de Boa Morte
(Sisterhood of the Good Death)

by Cheryl Liske, OP

In 2013, at the Con/Vida exhibit Bandits & Heroes, Poets & Saints, organized by Sister Barb Cervenka, OP, and Mame Jackson, I spied a small video screen playing a news reel on the "Sisterhood of the Good Death." I must have watched it through several times.

Who were these women and why had I never heard of them before?

I checked Wikipedia:

The Sisterhood of Our Lady of the Good Death (Irmandade da Nossa Senhora da Boa Morte) is a small but renowned Afro-Catholic religious group in the state of Bahia, Brazil. Founded in the early 19th century as a (Catholic) Church-sponsored beneficent Sisterhood for female African slaves and former slaves.

What I remember from the video was that this was one of the first "sisterhoods" birthed in the New World (early 1800s) and that one of their original and most subversive missions was to pool resources to buy persons out of slavery and hence provide for them the "good death as a free person."

Their three-day celebration of Our Lady of the Good Death (August 13-15) came to have social significance as it allowed slaves to gather, maintain their religiosity in a hostile environment and shape a corporate presence for defending and valuing of individuals. It became, for all of these reasons, an unrivaled means of celebrating life.

However, in 1989 the local bishop forbade the local priest to allow the Sisterhood access to the images of the virgin used in the festival. The Sisterhood did two things. First, to maintain their Catholic religious connection, they sought priests from the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Brazilian National Catholic Church. Second, they hired a lawyer and sued the church – and won. In 1999, with legal victory in hand and with a change in bishops, the local priest welcomed the sisterhood back into the parish church where they remain to this day.

Sister Barb said this:

"… the sisterhoods were Catholic and the women in them were also believers in the African practices. They celebrated for generations in the Catholic Church (until a few clergy got uptight) and they always conclude their celebration with the Mass of the Assumption of Mary. I have many photos of the women with rosaries in their hands. I think we are the ones that keep thinking that you can’t hold two precious things in your mind and heart at one time."

 

Resources

Video

"Our Lady of the Good Death: Afro-Catholicism and the Brazilian Cultural Heritage” - Lecture by anthropologist Stephen Selka, given October 23, 2013 at the College of the Holy Cross. This lecture tells the Sisterhood story, including the 10-year struggle with the institutional Church.

Articles

Intimate Portraits of Boa Morte, Where the 'Sisterhood of the Good Death' Honors Afro-Brazilian Ancestors” by Tarisai Ngangura, September 6, 2018. Beautiful photographs, a bit of the history and the sisterhood today, still involved in justice work.

The Sisterhood of the Good Death – Black female resistance and entrepreneurship in the 19th century,” interpreted by Jess Vieira. An online slide show. 

Sisterhood of the Good Death” – July 16, 2019 post on the blog Nomadic Noni: Connecting Africa + Diaspora

Fighting Poverty, Plagued By Violence: Why 10,000 Black Women in Brazil Marched for Their Rights” by Kiratianan Freelon, posted on the website of American’s Black Holocaust Museum on November 24, 2015.


Reflection Question

Are we of a mindset that Catholic and African are mutually exclusive? Or can we hold two precious things in our minds and hearts at one time?


Prayer

Mary, your daughters of the Irmandade da Boa Morte celebrate the Feast of your Assumption as God’s affirmation of your grace and Earthly life.

Their sisterhood from the earliest days was dedicated to the liberation of the enslaved of their time.

Teach us to liberate our minds from prejudice and fear and show us the glory that is in all humanity lived in the liberation of Christ.

Amen.

 


Samuel Henderson

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.

 


The Healy Family

An Extraordinary Family: The Healys of Georgia

The Healy Family story begins in 1818 when Michael Morris Healy immigrated to the United States from County Roscommon, Ireland. Mr. Healy acquired acreage in Georgia through a government land giveaway and turned his land into a very productive and successful cotton plantation. Like many of his fellow Georgia cotton plantation owners, he also bought 49 enslaved people to work his fields, and among them was Eliza Clark Smith who he took as his common-law wife. Together they raised nine children.

Neither Eliza nor the children could be freed by Michael Healy, so to enable the children to receive the kind of education a prosperous family would want, Michael found schools in the North for his children to attend. The direction of the family changed when by chance, Michael Healy met Bishop John Bernard Fitzpatrick on board a ship traveling from New York to Boston. The bishop told Mr. Healy of a new school that was opening: the College of Holy Cross, which initially offered elementary school education. In 1844, James, 14, Hugh, 12, Patrick, 10, and Sherwood, 8, went to Massachusetts where they were baptized by the Jesuits of Holy Cross and began their studies. Young Michael Healy followed his brothers to Holy Cross in 1849.

James, Sherwood, and Patrick would become priests and all three of the daughters entered religious life in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The oldest daughter, Martha, would leave the convent and marry a prosperous Irishman in Boston. James became the second Bishop of Portland, Maine; Patrick, a Jesuit, was the second President of Georgetown University, and Sherwood was appointed Professor of Moral Theology and Director of Student Discipline at St. Joseph's Provincial Seminary in Troy, New York. Sherwood's career in the priesthood was cut short by his death in 1875 at the age of 39. Amanda Josephine joined the Religious Hospitallers of Saint Joseph and would also at die at age 39. Eliza followed Martha into the Congregation of Notre Dame and went on to become a superior in the order. 

What is so extraordinary is that although some people, including the bishop knew of their origins, the Healys did not widely identify as Black in their lifetimes, but achieved many “first” accomplishments. 

 

Resources

Articles and Books

"The Healy's [sic]: An Extraordinary Family" on the website Footnotes to Irish History in the Americas (posted April 25, 2012)

James M. O’Toole, Passing for White:  Race, Religion, and the Healy Family, 1820-1920. University of Massachusetts Press (August 1, 2002)

"The Healy Family," from the website of the St. Joseph Catholic Church, Largo, Maryland

James Augustine Healy: The First African American To Be Ordained a Roman Catholic Priest,” Virginia Commonwealth University Social Welfare History Project  

"In the beginning, there were Black Catholics," U.S. Catholic article published on October 12, 2021, that details a 1993 interview with Father Cyprian Davis, OSB

"Celebrating the Contributions of Black Catholics" by Michael R. Heinlein on CERC (Catholic Education Resource Center), reprinted from Simply Catholic (February 1, 2022) Reprinted with permission from Simply Catholic.

"The Non-Racist Healy Family," by Larry Peterson on Catholic 365 (March 15, 2019)

Videos

"Passing in Boston: The Story of the Healy Family" talk by author and history professor James O'Toole
https://youtu.be/qPeM69lFwzE

“BLACK | IRISH - The Saga of the Healy Family in America,” trailer for documentary on the Healy Family by the African American Irish Diaspora Network
https://youtu.be/XcP0521S_Ns

“Who Was James Augustine Healy? A Black History Biography” by Shalone Cason, December 3, 2020
https://youtu.be/7zFEAT5rw8A

“The Life and Biography of Patrick Francis Healy” by the Knowledge Video Channel, March 3, 2022
https://youtu.be/QFpTO3vAyoI

 

Reflection Questions

1. What is of most significance to you in learning about this extraordinary family?

2. The relationship between Michael Morris Healy and Eliza Clark was not the kind of relationship we think of when considering relationships between a slave owners and enslaved women. Was Michael Morris Healy a man ahead of his times in his relationship with Eliza Clark? What are the implications of how they lived for other mixed race couples?

 


Prayer

For the Diversity of Races and Cultures


O God, you created all people in your image.

We thank you for the astonishing variety of races and cultures in this world.

Enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of friendship, and show us your presence in those who differ most from us, 
until our knowledge of your love is made perfect in our love for all your children; 
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Amen.
 

From the Lutheran Book of Worship and the Book of Common Prayer


Dr. Lena Frances Edwards

Dr. Lena Frances Edwards

Lena Frances Edwards was born in Washington, D.C., on September 17, 1900. Her father, Thomas W. Edwards, was a dentist and a professor at Howard University. Her mother, Marie Coakley Edwards, was a homemaker.

Lena graduated as valedictorian from Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C., and went on to earn an undergraduate degree at Howard University in three years. She completed her medical training at Howard Medical School in 1924.

In 1926, Lena and her husband, Keith, also a doctor, entered medical practice in Margaret Hague Hospital in Jersey City, New Jersey. Because of her race and her gender, Lena was prevented from being given a residency in obstetrics and gynecology until 1945. When she finally decided to sit for the National Board Examinations, she had to fight to garner the necessary hospital endorsements. Obstacles to her advancement were always in front of her, and with prayer and grit, she always seemed to knock them down.

In addition to her work with patients, Lena began a career speaking on public health and natural childbirth while serving the European immigrant community. In spite of this demanding work, she raised six children who would later serve in the roles of physician, social worker, military officer, and in church ministry.

In 1954, Lena returned to Washington, D.C., and took a position at Howard University teaching obstetrics. In due time she was offered the job as a department chair, but she rejected the offer because of her strong objections to abortion.

In 1960, Lena moved to Hereford, Texas, to help start Our Lady of Guadalupe Maternity Clinic for Mexican migrant women. She served there until 1965 when a heart attack cut her career short. Inspired by the ministry of the Franciscan Friars, Lena, at the age of 60, helped found Our Lady of Guadeloupe Maternity Clinic in Hereford, Texas, a mission serving the Mexican migrant families. Not only did she provide much of the funding for the building of the clinic, she also worked there without pay until her heart attack forced her to move back to Washington. After her heart attack, she went back to Washington and resumed work at the Office of Economic Opportunity and Project Head Start.

While in Jersey City, she had focused on treating the Eastern European immigrants. Now, in the nation’s capital, she turned her attention to working with African-Americans. She became part of the Urban League, the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, the Social Work Advisory Committee, and the Catholic International Council. She also served on boards for unwed mothers and local maternal welfare organizations. In 1970, she was forced to retire because of a weakening heart condition.

Lena was a lifelong Catholic. She became a lay Franciscan in 1947. Her son, Thomas Madison, joined the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement in 1953 and was ordained as Father Martin in 1962 as the order's first African American priest.

Lena received a number of awards during her lifetime. In 1955, she was named Medical Woman of the Year by the New Jersey district of the American Medical Women's Association. She also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. and was awarded an honorary degree from St. Peter's College, New Jersey (1966), and the Poverello Medal as one whose life exemplifies the ideals of St. Francis of Assisi in 1967. This remarkable woman, mother, and physician died on December 3, 1986.

 

Resources

Smith, Deborah (1994). "Edwards, Lena Frances (1900–1986)" in Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. pp. 387–388.

Article on Dr. Lena Frances Edwards for "Changing the Face of Medicine," an exhibition of the National Library of Medicine.
https://cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov/physicians/biography_96.html

Video: "Spotlight: Dr. Lena Edwards" by Jersey City TV, February 7, 2022.
https://youtu.be/CeqGI7HokgM

Ebony Magazine article, "Lady Doctor to Migrant Workers," February 1962, pages 59-68.
https://books.google.com/books?id=LNcDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA59;source#v=onepage&q&f=false


Reflection Questions

Why is it, do you think, that Lena Frances Edwards is relatively unknown to most Catholics?

How could you bring Lena Frances Edwards to the awareness of your church community?


Prayer

O God,

We are awed by the example of Lena Frances Edwards in her pursuit of a place in our society where she could exercise her gifts of generosity and healing.

We ask for the same gifts of perseverance and care for others as we walk our way in our world today, a world so in need of the physical and spiritual healing that she practiced so earnestly.

Give us, too, the strength and courage to be witnesses of your love and mercy as we struggle with all the injustices that still exist in our world today.

We ask this in the name of your son, Jesus.

Amen.

 


Nicholas Black Elk, Lakota Holy Man and Catechist

Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk:
Lakota Holy Man and Catechist

We have investigated racism in light of outstanding African Americans who were known for their deep faith and commitment to Catholicism. This month we focus and reflect on the horrors of racism regarding our indigenous brothers and sisters. We reflect on Black Elk or Heȟáka Sápa, which is his Lakota (Sioux) name. Black Elk was known as a visionary of the Oglala Lakota tribe, a traditional healer (Medicine Man) and is a candidate for canonization in the Catholic Church.

What took place in the 400 years between Christopher Columbus’ arrival in what became the United States and the birth of Black Elk was horrific. Land grabbing and forced exile by the newly arrived colonists were key to life in the New World. Greed dominated transactions. Treaties were made between the Natives and the colonists and were quickly broken or disregarded. It was commonly thought that only Christian people were fit to inhabit the New World.

Black Elk was born in what is now Wyoming. Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, and part of both Dakotas were then known as Lakota Territory. Like his father, Black Elk was a warrior. He participated in both the Battle of Little Big Horn and the massacre at Wounded Knee. After Wounded Knee, his tribe was forced to live on a reservation. The Lakota became impoverished and prisoners on their own land that had been granted them by a treaty.

At age five, Black Elk had the first of two visions. It was revealed to him in his visions that he was destined to become a powerful leader. He believed that he was commanded to save his people and the planet.

Black Elk grew up participating in indigenous religion. His first wife converted to Catholicism; in 1904, shortly after his wife’s death, Black Elk was baptized and raised his children as Catholics. The story of his baptism is told that as a Lakota Medicine Man (healer), Black Elk, along with a local Jesuit missionary, were both called to the tent of a seriously ill young boy. Black Elk, using his drum and tobacco, began to sing, calling on the spirits to heal the boy. In the midst of the tribal ceremony, Father Joseph Lindbender, SJ, arrived. He was horrified of the pagan ways of this ceremony. The sick boy had been baptized. The priest did his healing ritual and invited Black Elk back to Holy Rosary Mission.

Two weeks later Black Elk was baptized Nicholas Black Elk. Nicholas Black Elk continued as a Lakota Medicine Man and as a Catholic Catechist. He was known to use both his pipe and his rosary on a regular basis while praying. He was able to integrate both the Lakota and Catholic religions into his spirituality.

In 2016, Nicolas Black Elk’s grandson, George Look Twice, petitioned a bishop to consider him for canonization.

 

Resources

Black Elk cannonization website
https://blackelkcanonization.com

Film on Black Elk
https://blackelkcanonization.com/black-elk-documentary/

Historia Magazine Article by Alec Marsh, 25 October 2021
https://www.historiamag.com/black-elk-lakota-sioux-holy-man-warrior-survivor/

Lecture by Greg Salyer, PhD (President of the Philosophical Research Society) for series “Voices of Wisdom from Native Cultures”
https://youtu.be/5mdgv2kfqTs

Lecture by historian Damian Costello “The Legacy of Nicholas Black Elk.” Costello is also author of the book Black Elk: Colonialism and Lakota Catholicism (Orbis Books)
https://blackelkcanonization.com

Knights of Columbus Article
https://www.kofc.org/en/news-room/columbia/2021/september/knights-of-the-heights.html


Reflection Questions

1. What interests you most abut the life of Nicholas Black Elk?

2. Name other noteworthy Indigenous people you are aware of.

3. If you have ever visited a Native American reservation, recall what life was like for our Indigenous brothers and sisters.


Prayer

Prayer of Nicholas Black Elk

Grandfather, Great Sacred One,
  you have been always,
  and before you nothing has been.
There is nothing to pray to but you.

The star nations all over the universe are yours,
  and yours are the grasses of the earth.
Day in and day out, you are the life of things.
You are older than all need,
  older than all pain and prayer.

Grandfather, all over the world
  the faces of the living ones are alike.
  In tenderness they have come up
  out of the ground.
Look upon your children
  with children in their arms,
  that they may face the winds,
  and walk the good road to the day of quiet.

Teach me to walk the soft earth,
  a relative to all that live.
Sweeten my heart and fill me with light,
  and give me the strength to understand
  and the eyes to see.
Help me, for without you I am nothing.

Amen.

© Diocese of Rapid City. Used with permission.

 


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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