During November, the Catholic Church in the United States celebrates Black Catholic History Month to remember, honor, and celebrate the gifts Catholics of African heritage bring to the Church. Black Catholic History Month started in 1990 when the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus of the United States decreed that there needed to be a time set aside to acknowledge and appreciate the accomplishments of Black Catholics. At Dominican, the following members of Students for Human Dignity & Diversity in Action are sharing their reflections about some of the Black women and men who are celebrated for their contributions.
Nov. 9: Sr. Servant of God Thea Bowman
On the road to sainthood, Servant of God Thea Bowman converted to Catholicism as a child through the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity teachers at her elementary school. After high school, she joined the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in La Crosse, Wisconsin becoming Sister Mary Thea Bowman earning a doctorate degree in English and linguistics.
While teaching at Xavier University’s Institute for Black Catholic Studies here in New Orleans, Sister Bowman reunited with a childhood friend – Mary Queen Donnelly, a columnist for the Times-Picayune. Ms. Donnelly wrote a play based on her interviews with Sister entitled Thea’s Turn. It was first performed here at Dominican High School in 2011. The play featured our very own Mrs. Peyton along with Idella Johnson and Tione Johnson.
The same year that both of her parents died, Sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. Vowing to “live until I die,” she did not let her disease or appearance deter her from witnessing about her love of God. During this time, she gained national recognition advocating for more diversity within the Catholic Church; Sister Bowman addressed the U.S. Bishops at the 1989 annual meeting having what she called a “heart to heart” conversation with her brothers. After sharing African American history, spirituality, and what it means to be African American and Catholic, Sister Bowman and the bishops with tears in their eyes sang “We Shall Overcome.”
The Students for Human Dignity and Diversity in Action ask each of you to seek intercession for guidance while serving as an ally for more diversity in the Catholic Church in honor of Servant of God Thea Bowman’s unfailing love for Christ.
Nov. 11: Archbishop Wilton Gregory
It’s a powerful affirmation of the presence of African American Catholics – of our faithfulness in the church…
-Father Bryan Massingale
Archbishop Wilton Gregory is one of 13 new cardinals Pope Francis announced on Sunday, October 25, 2020. He becomes the first African American cardinal during the formal ceremony at the Vatican on November 28, 2020. Archbishop Gregory will be one of the 128 cardinals under the age of 80 eligible to elect the next Pope. Almost 60% of these cardinals were elevated by Pope Francis which may likely guarantee our next Pope will uphold his policies and initiatives.
As a Black bishop and in the name of Black Catholics across the country, to know that someone who looks like us is going to have direct access to the mind and heart of the pope, I think that’s a tremendous, tremendous gift.
-Bishop Shelton Fabre, Houma-Thibodaux Parish
The new cardinal reached national figure status around 2002 serving as the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It was in this role that he helped develop the church’s zero tolerance policy for the U.S. Catholic Church’s response to its sexual abuse crisis. His policy set a precedent for the Catholic Church throughout the rest of the world. Moreover, as we deal with unparalleled racial injustice, Archbishop Wilton Gregory has worked for better race relations in the Catholic Church. In his own words during a mass commemorating the March on Washington, he stated: “We are at a pivotal juncture in our country’s struggle for racial justice and national harmony.”
The Students for Human Dignity and Diversity in Action ask each of you to join us in becoming allies for justice and harmony in our Dominican community and our country.
Nov. 12: St. Martin de Porres
The Catholic Church celebrates Saint Martin de Porres’ Feast Day on November 3rd each year during Black Catholic History Month. St. Martin de Porres was beatified by Pope Gregory XVI on October 29, 1837 and canonized by Pope John XXII on May 6, 1962 for his many miracles in medicine and caring for the sick everywhere. He is also the patron saint for people of mixed race.
Even though Martin knew he would be restricted from taking vows in the Catholic Church due to his race, he sought admission into the Dominican Convent of the Rosary in Lima. He was accepted and after many years, Martin received the privilege to take his vows as a member of the Third Order of Saint Dominic by Prior Juan de Lorenzana, disregarding the law restricting him on the basis of race.
Becoming a Dominican lay brother in 1603 at the age of 24, Martin was praised for his unconditional care of all people. When many friars in the Convent became ill during an epidemic, they were locked away from the others. Martin did not follow the set rules. He cared for all of the friars. After finally being disciplined Martin replied, “Forgive me my error, and please instruct me, for I did not know that the precept of obedience took precedence over that of charity.” Martin was given full liberty to follow his heart in mercy.
The Students for Human Dignity and Diversity in Action asks each of you to honor Saint Martin de Porres by following your heart in mercy!
Nov. 16: Bishop Joseph Perry
Perry was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana on October 9, 1916. Raised in a devout Catholic and French speaking home, he entered the seminary of the Society of the Divine Word in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi at the age of 13. Perry took his vows as a member of the Divine Word Society in 1938 and was ordained to the priesthood on January 6, 1944.
In 1960, Father Perry joined the National Catholic Council for Interracial Justice which led to his active work within the civil rights movement. In the Interracial Review, he wrote: “Catholic institutions could have won great respect among Southern [African Americans] if they had dropped segregation long ago. In many instances, segregation continues up to and including the Communion rail. We have missed a real opportunity to impress [African Americans] with the true attitude of the church.”
By 1963 President John F. Kennedy invited Father Perry to the White House to discuss peaceful desegregation. He also delivered the opening prayer in Congress becoming the first African American clergyman to do so in 1964. In 1965 Father Perry was the first African American of the modern era to become a Catholic bishop. He was appointed titular bishop of mons in Mauretania and auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New Orleans by Pope Paul VI. Bishop Perry received his episcopal consecration on January 6, 1966, from Archbishops Philip Hannan, Egidio Vagnozzi, and John Cody serving as co-consecrators.
White protestors held a demonstration outside his consecration, and one woman described it as God will destroy the “another reason why God will destroy the Vatican.” In answering the racism that you faced, Bishop Perry said, “If I would have reacted with anger and spoke without holiness, it would have taken many years for another black to become bishop. I was the trailblazer, sent as a trial.”
The Students for Human Dignity and Diversity in Action ask each of you to honor Bishop Perry by being an equity trailblazer.
Nov. 18: St. Augustine
Aurelius Augustine was born in 354 at Tagast, Algeria, in Northern Africa. While his father was a non-believer, his mother – Monica was a devout Catholic. After living a pagan life that was not successful in Rome, the example, prayers, and influence of Monica his mother prevailed. He was baptized at the age of 33 by Bishop Ambrose of Milan. Augustine’s decision to embrace the Catholic faith was at the same time a commitment to spend the remainder of his life as a “servant of God.” He then set out for his native town where he wished to pursue a monastic lifestyle with others who experienced a radical conversion to faith.
Augustine was called to become a priest after three years. Although this was not his wish, he accepted God’s will. Succeeding Bishop Valerius as head of the diocese in Hippo, he wrote many writings and sermons: over two hundred books and nearly a thousand sermons, letters, and other works. The most important of which are Confessions and The City of God. Bishop Augustine is formally recognized in Roman Catholicism as a doctor of the church. He is one of the Latin fathers of the Church and perhaps the most significant Christian thinker after St. Paul. After falling ill, he prayed the penitential psalms until his death in the year 430.
“Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.” ― Saint Augustine
The Students for Human Dignity and Diversity in Action ask you to be a servant of God by doing what is right while not justifying wrongdoing.
Nov. 20: Bishop Shelton Fabre
Bishop Shelton Fabre was born in New Roads, Louisiana on October 25, 1963. He attended Saint Joseph Seminary College in St. Benedict, Louisiana for an undergraduate degree and attended a Belgium University for his Master of Arts degree in Religious Studies. He was ordained a priest in 1989 and served as pastor of several parishes in Louisiana.
Father Fabre was consecrated as bishop on February 28, 2007 in New Orleans. In 2019, Pope Francis appointed Bishop Fabre to lead the Roman Catholic Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux. He ministers to 125,000 registered Catholics, 30 churches and a number of chapels, missions, and communities.
As the Chair of the Ad-Hoc Committee Against Racism under the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Fabre released Open Wide our Hearts, The Enduring Call to Love, a pastoral letter that addresses ongoing racism issues facing the United States and a Catholic’s call to response. The ad-hoc committee not only addresses racism in the Catholic Church and the wider community, but it is also charged with becoming a part of the solution in eliminating racism. In the wake of the recent racial injustices and national protests in our country, Bishop Fabre along with the Chairs of other USCCB committees issued a statement and released a video with a special emphasis on the Solemnity of Pentecost and the call to pray and work toward a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In his words, Racism is a sin with a long legacy and deep roots. It requires the grace of God to overcome it.
The Students for Human Dignity and Diversity in Action ask each of you to pray to the Holy Spirit for the Spirit of Truth to touch the hearts of everyone in the United States and for God to heal our deeply broken view of each other.
Nov. 30: Leah Chase
Mrs. Chase was known as the ‘Queen of Creole Cuisine.’ She accomplished it with a combination of hard work and her Catholic faith. This faith goes back to her Catholic father’s three rules for good living. “When you get up in the morning,” her father told her, “you pray, you work, and you do for others.”
Mrs. Chase’s willingness to do for others is not only serving up a bowl of gumbo to customers. She and her husband’s commitment during the civil rights era to provide an upstairs meeting room at her famous Dooky Chase restaurant for civil rights leaders such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, Rev. A.L. Davis, Thurgood Marshall, Judge Revius Ortique, and Dutch Morial among many others was not a common occurrence during those times. It was in that room where plans for voter registration, sit-ins, and civil disobedience were planned. The restaurant was one place in the city where blacks and whites could meet together without fear of the police. Freedom Riders always stopped at Dooky’s to eat gumbo and strategize. The normal threats of those times such as violence and arrests did not deter them from changing the course of America over a bowl of gumbo.
Mrs. Chase exuded warmth, a mastery of the culinary arts, a love of African American art, and the desire to do as Jesus did every time He fed the people. She didn’t just serve presidents, singers, and actors at Dooky Chase Restaurant. Mrs. Chase and her husband fed and served the everyday people of New Orleans while making each person feel just as important as the dignitaries. With each award and there were many, Mrs. Chase remained a humble servant of God who has gone on to meet her maker. I wonder if God knows He will gain lots of weight from all the cooking Mrs. Chase will do!
The students for Human Dignity and Diversity in Action ask each of us to honor Mrs. Leah Chase by praying, working hard, and doing what you can for others as her father taught her over 96 years ago!