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March 22, 2022, Baltimore, Maryland – As the United States and the world come to grips with the evil of racism, Black Catholics in the United States have been involved in a letter-writing campaign to correct a blatant form of racial discrimination in the Catholic Church. No Black Catholics from the United States have been canonized as saints.
A CNN video describes the activism of Ralph E. Moore Jr., a lay man who grew up in an African-American Catholic parish in Baltimore in which all of the priests were white, and no Black images were included in the church. Moore organized the letter-writing campaign to canonize six African Americans. Some 1,500 letters were sent to Pope Francis in December 2021.
The six U.S. Black Catholics recommended for canonization are: Servant of God Mother Mary Lange (1794-1882), founder of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, Baltimore, Maryland; Venerable Pierre Toussaint (1766-1863), a philanthropist who, in spite of raising funds for St. Patrick Cathedral in New York, was not allowed to attend the dedication because of his race; Venerable Sister Henriette DeLille (1812-1862), founder of the Sisters of the Holy Family, New Orleans; Servant of God Julia Greeley (c. 1833-1918), of Denver, a philanthropist with special concern for the poor; Venerable Father Augustus Tolton (1854-1897), of Chicago, the first recognized African American priest in the United States; and Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman (1937-1990), of Jackson, Mississippi, an educator, evangelist, and social justice activist who spoke out against racism in the Catholic Church.
In the Catholic process of canonization, a Servant of God is one whose cause for canonization has begun. Once a person is recognized by the pope as having lived a life of “heroic virtue,” he or she is named Venerable. The next step, Beatification, requires an arduous investigation into the candidate’s life and writings and one authenticated miracle resulting from prayer to the candidate. Full canonization requires two miracles.
More information on the six candidates for sainthood – as well as on other prominent Black Catholics – can be found on the Black Catholic Project Equity and Inclusion page of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ website. The page is organized by the Toward Communion: Undoing Racism, Embracing Diversity Committee formed in response to the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ 2016 Enactment on Racism and Diversity.
Feature photo: Depicted on a bookmark are African American candidates for sainthood, from left, Father Augustus Tolton, Sister Henriette DeLille, Julia Greeley, Pierre Toussaint, Mother Mary Lange, and Sister Thea Bowman.