(Editor’s note: The thoughts and ideas in the following brief column are drawn from Cyprian Davis’ “The History of Black Catholics in the United States” and the National Black Catholic Congress’ “Black Catholic Monthly” features article, History, Heritage and Truth.)
A 1984 Pastoral Letter on evangelization titled “What We Have Seen and Heard” by Black bishops of the United States noted that “the Black Catholic Community in the American Church has now come of age.”
As Black Catholics in the American Church, we have come to know, appreciate and celebrate our history, heritage and the truth about who we are and our mark on Christendom. We have come to know that our ancestors, against the myth that they were heathens with no past, no history, no God, and no religion, were in fact among the first set of Christians to accept the Gospel about Christ.
Before the conversion of St. Paul, the great apostle of the Gentiles (Acts 9:1-19), was the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch, a Black African (Acts 8:26-40). The Ethiopian Eunuch was a wealthy, literate Black African and a convert to Judaism before his conversion to Christianity.
We have also come to know, against the myth that Catholicism is a “white Church,” that some of the Church’s earliest popes, mystics, monastics and martyrs were Black. Pope St. Victor I, St. Cyprian, St. Anthony of Egypt, Monica and Augustine, Perpetua and Felicity, and many more were all Africans who helped to shape the Church in their lives and teachings.
The Black Catholics in the American Church have truly come of age. Prior to the 20th century, no American Black could aspire to the priesthood in the American Church. The first publicly known Black priest, Augustus Tolton, could not study for the priesthood in the U.S. He studied in Rome and was ordained a priest there. His ministry in Chicago helped pave the way for the Black Catholic involvement in the hierarchical structure of the American Church.
Therefore, we cannot overlook the courageous efforts of the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart (Josephites). Their community undertook the risky ministry of training and ordaining priests within the United States when such training was literarily “prohibited.” As a result, Father Charles Uncles was the first priest of color trained and ordained in the U.S.
This Black Catholic history inspired the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus on July 24, 1990 to designate November as Black Catholic History Month with the aim of telling, appreciating and celebrating our history and heritage.
The St. Martin de Porres Society of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport welcomes you to celebrate National Catholic Black History Month as we strive for racial unity in today’s society through education, love and prayer.
— St. Martin de Porres Society of Sacred Heart Cathedral, Thomas A. Mason IV, president/chairman.