Black Catholic History Timeline – Black History Month 2021
Here’s a good timeline of Black Catholics throughout US history, a great part of Black history.
Composed by Fr. Cyprian Davis, OSB. Some highlights:
1565-1899: St. Augustine, Florida
Blacks, both slave and free, help to found this oldest town in the United States. In 1693 Spain offers freedom in Florida to slaves who convert to Catholicism.”
1829: Oblate Sisters of Providence
A handful of women from Baltimore’s Haitian refugee colony begin to educate local children in their homes. With the support of the archbishop, in 1829 they create the Oblate Sisters of Providence. The first superior is Elizabeth Lange, born in Cuba of Haitian parents.
1842: Sisters of the Holy Family
Founded by Henriette Delille and Juliette Gaudin in New Orleans, the Sisters of the Holy Family become the second religious order for black women. Biracial and of African descent, the founders are free people of color, at that time a separate class and culture above the slaves. The order ministers to poor blacks, educating and tending the sick.
This follows an earlier attempt by Frenchwoman Marie Aliquot to start the Sisters of the Presentation, soon dissolved for violating Louisiana’s segregation laws because the white Aliquot sought black women to join her. Aliquot is not allowed to join the new Sisters of the Holy Family because she is white.
During an outbreak of yellow fever, the nuns heroically nurse the sick and are thus granted public recognition. But they are not allowed to wear their habit in public until 1872.
1875: James Augustine Healy, First Black Bishop
Although James Healy and his nine siblings–all fathered by a Georgia plantation owner–are officially slaves, their father brings them north for education and freedom. Three of the Healy brothers–James, Patrick, and Alexander–become the first African American priests in the U.S., although they do not identify with being black and never speak out on behalf of blacks.
Bishop John Fitzpatrick of Boston, a friend of their father, encourages the boys to attend Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts. James studies for the priesthood in Paris and is ordained bishop of Portland, Maine in 1875.
His brother, Patrick Francis Healy, a Jesuit who conceals his African origins for much of his career, becomes president of George-town University in 1874 (ironic because Georgetown admitted no black students until the mid-1900s).
James would not ally himself with black Catholic leaders nor agree to address meetings of black Catholics, once citing Saint Paul’s admonition that there shall be no Greek nor Jew in Christ.
1889: Daniel Rudd Calls Black Catholic Congress
In January 1889 almost 100 black Catholic men meet with President Grover Cleveland on the last day of the first black Catholic lay congress in U.S. history.
Daniel Rudd, a journalist from Ohio and founder of the American Catholic Tribune, becomes a leader of black laity.
Fiercely proud of the Catholic Church, Rudd claims the church is the one place of hope for black people.
Rudd recruits delegates to the first Black Catholic Congress, hoping to “let them exchange views on questions affecting their race; then uniting on a course of action, behind which would stand the majestic Church of Christ.”
The delegates’ statement calls for Catholic schools for black children, endorses temperance, appeals to labor unions to admit blacks, advocates better housing, and praises religious orders for aiding blacks.
Rudd also helps organize the first lay Catholic congress of the entire U.S. in 1889, where he insists that blacks be treated as part of the whole, not as a special category.
At the fourth Black Catholic Congress in 1893, Charles Butler decries prejudice and discrimination within the Catholic Church, asking, “How long, O Lord, are we to endure this hardship in the house of our friends?” The congress calls attention to the church’s failure in its mission “to raise up the downtrodden and to rebuke the proud.”
1916: Committee for the Advancement of Colored Catholics
Led by Thomas Wyatt Turner, the Committee for the Advancement of Colored Catholics forms during World War I to care for black Catholic sevicemen, neglected by both the Knights of Columbus and the black YMCA.
After the war, the group broadens its focus. Its advocacy gives birth to a new national forum for black Catholics. Its purpose: “Collection of data concerning colored Catholics, the protection of their interests, the promotion of their welfare, and the propagation of the faith among colored people.”
The U.S. bishops, despite requests from Rome to act on behalf of blacks during the race riots and lynchings of 1919, avoid the topic at their first annual meeting.
In response, the committee publicly urges the bishops to denounce discrimination and consult with black Catholics, saying, “at present we are neither a part of the colored world (Protestant), nor are we generally treated as full-fledged Catholics.”
1920: First Seminary for Blacks
The Society of the Divine Word in Greenville, Mississippi, with the blessing of Pope Benedict XV, opens St. Augustine’s, the first seminary for blacks. Some American bishops are still not convinced of the merit of a black priesthood.
1958: Denunciation of Racism
American bishops denounce racial prejudice as immoral for the first time.
The rest of the timeline.
Image: Screenshot from cover image in the link. Fair Use.