Black Catholic Clergy Caucus Was Milestone

In our parish hall for the remainder of the month is an impressive display of African American history. As an American, I am moved and inspired to see the images of heroes like Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Jesse Owens. As pastor, I am so grateful and honored to be stationed here, especially during Black History Month.

The following are excerpts from “The History of Black Catholics in the United States” by Cyprian Davis which gives a good summation and insights into some of the Black history and Black Catholic history in our country:

“In 1955 the blacks of Montgomery, Alabama, began a boycott of buses because of segregated seating. A young black Baptist clergyman, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., became the leader of the movement. The boycott was successful, and the African American community was galvanized across the nation. Three years later, in 1958, the American (Catholic) bishops addressed racism as a moral issue and finally took an unequivocal stand. They stated for the first time that racial discrimination was immoral and unjust…

By and large Catholics, either black or white, were not in the forefront of the civil rights movement or among the leadership of the protest organizations….The massive demonstration by whites and blacks at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963, did, however, include some Catholics of diverse backgrounds as well as some Catholic organizations, including religious communities. Archbishop O’Boyle (of Washington) wa son the platform with civil rights leaders and delivered the invocation just before Martin Luther King began his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. For the first time, the Catholic Church was significantly present at a massive public demonstration under the leadership of blacks civil rights leaders…

The real change in Catholic attitudes came with the clarion call by Martin Luther King, Jr., to all of the nation’s clergy to come to Selma, Alabama, in March 1965. The response of white Catholic priests and sisters was enormous, despite the disapproval of the bishop of Mobile-Birmingham. That same year Harold Perry, S.V.D., provincial of the southern province of the Divine Word Missionaries, was named auxiliary bishop of New Orleans by Pope Paul VI, the second black Catholic bishop in American history (James Augustine Healy was the first)…

The calling of the Black Catholic Clergy Caucus was a milestone in the history of the black Catholic community. It created a solidarity among the black Catholic clergy that had never previously existed. It was a return to the tradition of black Catholic initiative that had marked the black Catholic lay congresses and the Federated Colored Catholics. The one significant change was that this time it was the clergy that had seized the initiative. The demands of the clergy became a program that was implemented or has been in the process of implementation. It was, finally, the beginning of a change of direction on the part of the American Catholic church…”

May you know the peace of Christ,

Fr Greg