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.

Equity and Inclusion Project


Click here to return to the latest update

Graphic with quote from and an image of Dr. C. Vanessa White

Black Catholic Project: Dr. C. Vanessa White

Dr. C. Vanessa White comes from a family of ministers of various faith traditions. She has known from a young age that she was being called by God and that God was close to her. As a young child, her mother read to her from a Bible storybook and Vanessa found that she loved hearing the stories of men and women of great faith and courage.

She was baptized as a young child into the Catholic faith, and at 16 years old she embraced her first ministry as lector. She attributes her love of Scripture as well as her love of liturgy and service to her mother, Doris Foster, and her aunt, Vivian Reed.

Currently, Dr. Vanessa White, D. Min., is a tenured Associate Professor of Spirituality and Ministry at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and Director of the Certificate in Black Theology and Ministry. She holds a dual appointment as Associate Director of the Master of Theology program at Xavier University’s Summer Institute for Black Catholic Studies.

As a womanist practical theologian, her research is focused on the intersections of spirituality and praxis and is attentive to issues of discernment, health, women’s spirituality, racial justice, diversity/intercultural dialogue, leadership development, spiritual and ministry formation, spiritual practices, lay ministry, adult faith formation, and issues pertinent to the life of Black Catholics.

She also serves as an advisor/consultant for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Subcommittee for Certification of Ecclesial Ministry, which approves the standards for various ministries throughout the U.S. She was also a member of the advisory team for Fetzer Institute’s Study on American Spirituality, published in 2020.

In February of 2023, Vanessa became the first lay woman invited to preach a nine-day solemn novena in honor of St. Jude at the National Shrine of St. Jude, which was live streamed globally. Her articles and essays have appeared in New Theology Review, U.S. Catholic, America Magazine, and National Catholic Reporter. Her reflection on the Feast of Pentecost can found in Catholic Women Preach (Volume 1) that was published by Orbis Books (2022).


Reflection Questions

1) How do you (we) affirm, encourage, and collaborate with our congregational ecclesial members, family, friends, and colleagues, to continue the Mission of Jesus Christ in today’s ecclesial, social, and global contexts?

2) How have you encouraged Black and non-Black young adults, adults, and elders to participate in the evangelization, social justice, and ecological ministries of our church?

3) How have we Adrian Dominicans encouraged Black Catholic youth, young adults, and elders to collaborate with us in our ministries within the Black-American, Hispanic-Latinx American, Asian-American, European-American other local and global ethnic-racial Catholic and non-Catholic communities?



God of justice, in your wisdom you create all people in your image, without exception.

Through your goodness, open our eyes to see the dignity, beauty, and worth of every human being.

Open our minds to understand that all your children are sisters and brothers in the same human family.

Open our hearts to repent of racist attitudes, behaviors, and speech which demean others. 

Open our ears to hear the cries of those wounded by racial discrimination, and their passionate appeals for change.

Strengthen our resolve to make amends for past injustices and right the wrongs of history.

And fill us with courage that we might seek to heal wounds, build bridges, forgive and be forgiven and establish peace and equality for all in our communities.

In Jesus’ name we pray.


– Excerpted from Prayer for Racial Healing, Catholic Charities USA




A Portrait of Black Catholicism: Celebrating 40 years of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium, C. Vanessa White, America Magazine, January 9, 2018 

An Interview with C. Vanessa White, M.T.S., D.Min., Gordon Nary, Profiles in Catholicism, October 14, 2018

Authentically Black and Truly Catholic, C. Vanessa White, CNN, September 5, 2010

Augustus Tolton: Pioneer Pastor, C. Vanessa White, U.S. Catholic, February 14, 2014


Black Spiritual History: A conversation with Dr. C. Vanessa White - National Black Catholic Congress, December 3, 2021


Dr. C. Vanessa White: Discipline Leads to Freedom - Messy Jesus Business Podcast, January 27, 2022

On Care for Our Common Home' Podcast: Dr. C. Vanessa White - September 19, 2019
Podbean: https://learnatctu.podbean.com/e/on-care-for-our-common-home-podcast-dr-c-vanessa-white/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdf55MSXdKc


Graphic with quote and an image of Bishop Braxton

Black Catholic Project: Bishop Edward K. Braxton

Bishop Edward Braxton was born on June 28, 1944, in Chicago, the third of five children of Mr. and Mrs. Cullen Braxton. After elementary school, Edward attended Quigley Preparatory Seminary for high school and then Niles College Seminary and St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois. His first Mass was celebrated at St. Philip Neri Parish (staffed by Adrian Dominican Sister) on May 17, 1975, where his family lived and his sister attended grade school.

His early years of priesthood were spent at a number of parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago, and following these ministries he earned a PhD and an Doctor of Sacred Theology degree at the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium. Bishop Braxton continued his studies with a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Chicago, and then spent time at Harvard and the University of Notre Dame. His next assignment took him to Cleveland to become Chancellor for Theological Affairs to Bishop James Hickey of Cleveland at the request of the Archbishop Jean Jadot. From there he spent time in Rome as the Scholar in Residence at the North American College.

Bishop Braxton’s ministries and travels didn’t end here. His skills and expertise have taken him to Africa, Europe, Central and South America and a variety of locations in the U.S. In 1995 he was appointed to be Auxiliary Bishop of St. Louis; one week later his father died. Bishop Braxton has served as Bishop of Lake Charles, Louisiana, and then as Bishop of Belleville, Illinois, where he retired in 2020.

Despite his many accomplishments Bishop Braxton has not been able to escape the prejudice imbedded in the American white population. He was moved around different dioceses at the request of priests and some archbishops. And his experiences as a “Black man” reflect the common treatment often foisted upon non-whites. He recalls one time he was stopped by the police for “driving while Black” and was interrogated (probably because he was not wearing his Roman collar). Perhaps his critics would not have been so hard on him had he been a “white bishop.”

Bishop Braxton’s preaching and writing skills are widely known. In his latest work, The Church and the Racial Divide: Reflections of an African American Catholic Bishop (Orbis Books), Braxton wrestles with this racial divide within the U.S. Catholic Church. He urges readers to recognize their own complicity in the racial divide without judging others and while remaining open to the Holy Spirit’s call to justice. He reminds the reader:


The racial divide is apparent to this day in many people’s systemic and systematic treatment of people of color as inferior and undeserving in this country. This leaves Black Americans at a disadvantage as they seek a good education, meaningful employment, decent housing, health care, and every other form of social advancement and benefits. All these instances of the racial divide are examples of racism.


Reading this work would expand all our thinking about the existence of racism with the Catholic Church in the United States.


Reflection Questions

1) If a Black priest were appointed to be your pastor, how would you feel?

2) Bishop Edward Braxton has gifted the Catholic population of the United States with much wisdom. Have you read any of his articles or his book?

3) What is “our Adrian history” of including non-white candidates in Adrian Dominican life?



O God, help us to rid ourselves of the prejudices we carry, some on the surface, some hidden deep within our hearts.

Give us the strength to see all others as you see them.

Give us the sensitivity to work toward an eradication of all forms of racism and prejudice that are in our hearts, on our lips, or present among those to whom and with whom we minister.

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




https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Braxton - Wikipedia entry on Bishop Edward Braxton

https://www.diobelle.org/bishop-emeritus/biography - Biography of Bishop Braxton by the Dioceses of Belleville, Illinois

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/author/312/bishop-edward-k-braxton - Articles written by Bishop Edward Braxton on the Catholic News Agency website


Graphic with quote and an image of Toni Morrison from 1970

Black Catholic Project: Toni Morrison (1931-2019)

Our Black Catholic of interest this month is Toni Morrison. She is one of the great American authors whose novels are overflowing with spiritual overtones and an exploration into the richness of gender and race. Toni Morrison was a Princeton professor and an American author. Her literary awards were numerous. She was a Pulitzer Prize Winner and author of 11 deeply significant novels. Although her novels were not of religious content, her books reflect her spiritual depths. She is considered one of our great Catholic authors.

Toni was born Chloe Wofford in 1931 in Lorain, Ohio. During the first few years of her life, she was raised in her mother’s African Methodist Episcopal Church. This experience, especially the music, had influence on her as a person and as an author. Toni had Catholic relatives and became especially close to a cousin. This relationship, in part, led her to Catholic baptism in 1943, at the age of 12, at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Lorain, Ohio. In confirmation she took the name Anthony after the patron of her church. During college she changed her name to Toni (after St. Anthony) because many people had difficulty pronouncing “Chloe.”

Toni had difficulty with Vatican II. She suffered greatly when the Latin Mass was replaced. She felt that much “structure” was removed as a result of the Council and this was difficult. For her, Latin was the unifying and universal language of the Church. By 2007 Toni identified herself as a lapsed Catholic, but her admiration and respect for Pope Francis remained strong.

As a Black woman, Toni knew and professed the value of Black stories. She grew up in the Midwest in a family that possessed an intense appreciation and love for Black culture. Storytelling, songs and folk tales were a deep part of her childhood. The central theme of her novels is the Black American experience, particularly the Black female experience within the Black Community. Her novels talk about an unjust society and her characters struggle to find themselves and their cultural identity. She blatantly exposes racism, violence, and sexism.


Reflection Questions

1) If you have read any of Toni Morrison’s novels, which one(s) inspired you the most?

2) In what ways do fictional stories/novels teach us about real-life experiences?



Gracious, generous God, inspire Black authors to deepen our awareness of the evil of racism in our own personal world through their writings.
May their stories enlighten and inspire us to act to combat racism.



Black Catholic Messenger “Reflection: Too Few People Recognized the Contributions of Black Catholics-From Toni Morrison to Homer Plessy” - November 11, 2021, by Nadra Nittle

Literary Hub “On the Paradoxes of Toni Morrison’s Catholicism” March 2, 2020 by Nick Ripatrazone

MSNBC Black History, Uncensored: Toni Morrison Knew of “Unspeakable Things” - February 7, 2023 by Ja’han Jones

Toni Morrison Remembered by Writers - August 10, 2019, by The New Yorker


Black man with extremely short hair smiling and wearing a white shirt with black jacket

Black Catholic Project: Father Clarence Rivers

While the energy to produce the Lead Me, Guide Me hymnal was the energy of Servant of God Thea Bowman, the hymnal itself is dedicated to Father Clarence Rivers, "who paved the way for liturgical inculturation and inspired Black Catholics to bring their artistic genius to Catholic worship."

According to the Lyke Foundation website:

Born September 9, 1931, in Selma, Alabama, into a family that was not Catholic, Clarence Joseph Rufus Rivers was enrolled in the fourth grade at St. Ann School following the family’s move to Cincinnati. Eventually, the entire family became Catholic, and Clarence discerned a call to the priesthood while still in high school. At the time of his ordination in 1956, he was the first Black priest in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and quickly confronted the reality of racism when the parishioners where he was initially assigned refused to accept him. Following his transfer to St. Joseph Church, the 32-year-old assistant pastor sought a way to promote more active congregational participation in the liturgy.

In the U.S. Catholic Historian article "Freeing the Spirit: Very Personal Reflections on One Man's Search for the Spirit in Worship," published by Catholic University of America Press, Father Rivers wrote:

"Brothers and Sisters in Christ: Although some sayings may be hard for us to hear and bear, we have been told to be open to the liberating truth. And the truth is that worship in most of our churches, most of the time, is dull and uninspiring."

He went on to say, given the transformative nature of the faith worshipers should be "exuberant proclaimers of the Joy of Life" and the "congregation a dramatic dance of life."

These insights prompted him in 1963 to develop and record "An American Mass Program," a series of compositions blending the call and response and rhythmic and melodic elements of the Negro spirituals with Gregorian chant. Father Rivers led the singing for the first official high Mass in English in the United States at the National Liturgical Conference in St. Louis in 1964. "God Is Love," which was to become Father Rivers' most beloved hymn, was the communion song for that Mass. The measure of the song's impact was that it received a 10-minute standing ovation. The success of "An American Mass Program" helped spark a liturgical music revolution in American Catholicism, finding acceptance in parishes across the country.

Upon Father Rivers’ death, November 21, 2004, at age 73, then Bishop Wilton Gregory said, through his music, Father Rivers "brought the church closer to African-Americans while at the same time enriching the Catholic church with a spiritual vibrancy and artistic expression that crossed all racial barriers." He characterized Father Rivers as "a pioneer musician, liturgist, and cultural treasure."

Image courtesy of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Archives


Reflection Question

Singing, Dancing, Procession, and Art – How can you use these culturally inclusive elements to help you be "exuberant proclaimers of the Joy of Life" and part of the "dramatic dance of life"?



Psalm 149:1-4, ESVUK

Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise in the assembly of the godly!
Let Israel be glad in his Maker;
let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
Let them praise his name with dancing,
making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
he adorns the humble with salvation.




Music on YouTube - Immerse yourself in Father Rivers' soul

God is Love Father Clarence Rivers American Mass Program 1966 (6:36)

Bless The Lord Father Clarence Rivers American Mass Program 1966 (8:08)

American Mass Program (39:45) 

Clarence Rivers, The Feast of Life CBS Special (20:26) 

Biographical Resources

Lyke Foundation information on Father Clarence Rivers – The Lyke Foundation cultivates, celebrates, and commissions leadership to develop powerful and effective Black Catholic worship.

Father Clarence Rivers' Obituary, Gilligan Funeral Home

“Freeing the Spirit: Very Personal Reflections on One Man's Search for the Spirit in Worship,” Clarence-Rufus J. Rivers, U.S. Catholic Historian, Vol. 19, No. 2, African American Spirituality and Liturgical Renewal (Spring, 2001), pp. 95-143 (49 pages), Catholic University of America Press


Meet Father Rivers - Listen via podcast homepage on Libsyn | ApplePodcasts | Spotify | Amazon | Stitcher


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.


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!




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. 


"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

Collage of all the people and topics featured in this blog the past two years

Black Catholic Project: Summary of Survey Results

Thank you to all who completed our survey inviting your feedback on the 25 profiles and contributions of Black Catholics. We value your opinions. Here is a summary of the responses and, because we could not resist, we have included some reflection questions and a prayer at the end of this posting.

Forty-two persons responded; 34 Sisters; five Associates; one “friend” and two unidentified. At the end of the survey, 33 respondents wished the series to continue; five said no to this question.

Forty-three percent of respondents read most if not all the profiles and 75% responded that they learned something new about Black Catholics. Here are some sample responses.

  • I have seen how very important it is to see how structural racism has limited the stories and profiles of Black people accessible to read and experience.
  • There were folks I didn’t know were Catholic.
  • (I have) Grown in understanding the powerful and persistent role that Black Catholics have played in the Church – and how critical it is that this history is shared and known.
  • Yes, there is much more diversity among "Black Catholics" than I thought – from the Sisterhood of the Good Death to the enslaved Catholic persons from the Congo who led the Stono Rebellion.
  • I really had no thought about the faith of many of them. It was enlightening to do that.

Of the 25 profiles presented over the last two years, respondents were most inspired by Servant of God Thea Bowman but nine other profiles were listed as inspiring, including Kobe Bryant, our own Jamie Phelps, Nicholas Black Elk, Samuel Henderson, and Julia Greeley. Here are some sample comments.

  • Thea Bowman – Her courage to stand firm and inspire justice in the face of racist dismissal of her as a person. Thea's optimism and the light of her presence was able to pierce the very real racism in our church and in our world.
  • Kobe Bryant – went to weekday Mass. How much good he did with being so humble!
  • Jamie Phelps – Her determination and passion for sharing and living the Gospel.
  • Black Elk – A man of courage, faith, and integrity.
  • Samuel Henderson – His devotion to the Dominican friars during a plague and to the people who were also suffering
  • Julia Greeley – How she had too little herself but helped those less fortunate and preserved their dignity by doing so at night.

Respondents were most "surprised" by the Kobe Bryant profile. This comment was typical: "Did not know he was Catholic but impressed by his faithfulness and passing on his faith to his children."

Here are a couple answers to the question; "Has the Black Catholic Project impacted your knowledge of Black Catholics?"

  • I never realized there were so many Black Catholics. Growing up in a white society I was not exposed to anyone of color. What a loss for me as a child!
  • Broadened my understanding of the significance of Black Catholics in the life of the Catholic Church since the very beginning of the U.S.

To the question, “Has reading the profiles made you feel differently about Black Catholics?” Most said no – 22; 16 said yes. Some comments on the yes-side were:

  • I am more aware of how structural racism has built in a segregated vision of who are God's people.
  • More aware of others on the journey that have been not selected as beacons to be lifted in the darkness.
  • Prouder to be Catholic.
  • Maybe just making me more aware of the gifts so long overlooked by the Church. I also feel more comfortable with the variety of ways to worship (other than the stoic European model).

Those who answered “no” to this question noted that these profiles simply reinforced previous positive experiences.

  • I have known for a long time now what a powerful group of people they are. These profiles just strengthened my feelings.
  • I attend a church where a significant number of parishioners are African American so I already recognized some of the gifts of being in a diverse parish, but these profiles open me up to the importance of more education for all of us in our parish.



"The History of Black Catholics in America: The Black Catholic Movement reinvigorated the church, with liturgical innovation, new preaching styles and activist scholarship" by Matthew J. Cressler, Smithsonian Magazine, June 7, 2018 (also published at Zócalo Public Square).

"In the beginning, there were Black Catholics," a US Catholic interview with the late Rev. Cyprian Davis, December 12, 2020.

Black History Timeline, National Black Catholic Congress.

"Black Catholics in America," by Jeff Diamant, Besheer Mohamed and Joshua Alvarado, Pew Research Center, March 15, 2022.

The Overlooked History of Black Catholic Nuns, KETV Omaha, Apr 30, 2022.

The History of the Black Catholic Church in Detroit, American Black Journal, Detroit Public TV, April 26, 2022.

Reflection Question


As you reflect on the results of this survey, what questions do you still have? Please feel free to put those questions in the comment box (If you don't see the comment box below, click on the "Read More" link to see it).


God of Diversity,

Help me to be curious;

help me to question what I know;

help me to seek you in faces unlike my own.

Help me to love.


Kwanzaa kinara with colored candled lit and harvest produce

Black Catholic Project: Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa, celebrated from December 26 to January 1, is a time for families and communities to come together to remember the past and to celebrate African American culture. Created in 1966 by Maulana Ron Karenga, Kwanzaa is an African American and Pan African holiday that incorporates history, values, family, community, and culture. The ideas and concepts of Kwanzaa are expressed in the Swahili language, one of the most widely spoken languages in Africa, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

A Brief History of Kwanzaa

Ron Karenga, an active participant in the Black Power Movement in the 1960s, conceived Kwanzaa in the aftermath of the Watts riots in Oakland, California. He described Kwanzaa as a way for African Americans to celebrate themselves and their history. By the end of the 1970s Kwanzaa began to move into mainstream America with the publication of an article in Essence Magazine in 1979, followed by articles in Jet and Ebony Magazines in 1983. The Smithsonian Museum hosted its first Kwanzaa celebration in 1988 while some school systems, including the Catholic School system in Chicago, began to develop curriculums to teach students about Kwanzaa.

In the 1990s Kwanzaa became more widespread especially when, in 1997, President Bill Clinton gave the first declaration marking the holiday. The United States Post Office issued the first Kwanzaa stamp in 1997 and a second stamp was issued in 2004. Although Kwanzaa is primarily an African American holiday, it is also celebrated outside the United States, especially in Caribbean countries. Kwanzaa is not a religion, but was conceived as a nonpolitical and non-religious holiday and it is not a substitute for Christmas.

The Seven Core Principles or Naguzo Saba

Dr. Karenga created seven guiding principles to be discussed during the week of Kwanzaa. The seven principles represent seven values of African culture that help build and reinforce community among African Americans. Each day a different principle is discussed, and each day a candle is lit on the kinara (candleholder). On the first night, the center black candle is lit, and the principle of umoja, or unity, is discussed. On the final day of Kwanzaa, families enjoy an African feast, called karamu.

The seven principles are:

  1. Umoja: Unity – To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
  2. Kujichagulia: Self-Determination – To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
  3. Ujima: Collective Work and Responsibility – To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and solve them together.
  4. Ujamaa: Cooperative Economics – To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
  5. Nia: Purpose – To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
  6. Kuumba: Creativity – To always do as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
  7. Imani: Faith – To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.



World’s Largest Kwanzaa Kinara to be in Downtown Detroit during celebration by ClickOnDetroit Local 4 News. The Kwanzaa Kinara is set to be unveiled during the Motor City Kwanzaa Kinara Lighting at Campus Martius on December 26, 2022.

What is Kwanzaa and How is It Celebrated? - Video by Inside Edition

A Brief History of the Kwanzaa Holiday and Six Amazing Facts - Video by Matter of Factx

Christianity and Kwanzaa by Professor Adam Clark, December 30, 2011 on KineticsLive.com

Official Kwanzaa Website


Reflection Question

Have you ever had the opportunity to experience a Kwanzaa celebration? What did you find most meaningful?

Kwanzaa is rich in ritual, symbols, and values embraced by the African American community. As you reflect on this (if you identify as white), what can you and your community learn from our African American brothers and sisters?


A Prayer for Kwanzaa by Rev. Addae Ama Kraba
Used with permission

O come all you faithful, rejoicing and victorious.

Come, let us embrace the mystery in the spirit of life, as we celebrate the goodness of Kwanzaa and the the African American heritage.

Come and give thanks for companions on the journey in the struggle for freedom and justice.

Our roots in the soil and soul of Mother Africa reach far and wide.

Creator of all, lead us to be true to our nature with respect and dignity for life, from conception to its natural end at death.

Bless and keep us in solidarity one to another.



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.


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)



"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

"Once Upon a Time..." | Kobe Bryant by NBA


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?



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.



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)



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?



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.



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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