As we usher in November, Black Catholic History Month, so many memories come to mind, such as vivid thoughts of Servant of God, Oblate Sister of Providence Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, serving God’s people, catechizing and evangelizing throughout the streets of Baltimore. November is a time to increase our prayers for her canonization and to remember those who carved a way of faith for us of today.
Thoughts wander to the Holy Family Society, where noted members such as Mother Lange and John Noel convened. The mission of the society was to bring together black Catholic families for worship, catechesis and outreach to the poor. The first Holy Family Society was established in 1827, with the assistance of Sulpician Father James Hector Joubert. History reports that an interruption occurred before 1843, and that the society was reinstated with the pastoral support of Father John F. Hickey that same year.
The heroic and pastoral ministries of two Josephite priests, Father Charles Uncles and Father John Henry Dorsey, bring to mind the struggle for acceptance and the challenge to overcome racism as they served God and God’s people. The Josephites, the Oblate Sisters and the Holy Family Society remained faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ. Through those Baltimoreans, we celebrate that we have come this far by faith.
Some of us still remember Oblate Sister Mary Paul Lee, an advocate for justice and the continual existence of St. Frances Academy in east Baltimore. The oldest black Catholic high school in the United States, it was founded in 1828.
Memories surface of Deacon Americus Roy, ordained as the first permanent deacon for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. His strong outreach in prison ministry influenced many. We recall those other black pioneer permanent deacons who have gone to glory. They served in various ministries of outreach, service to the poor, visitation of the sick and shut-ins, and through their preaching and teaching. Deacons John Briscoe, Watson Fulton, Clifford Lonesome, Joseph L. Neale, Alexander Smith, Walton Smith, Malcolm Thompson, Thomas A. Wilson and Thomas H. Yorkshire made a difference.
God is calling other men in the role as deacon to take the keys of the kingdom throughout our community (There is an inquiry session of those interested in the diaconate on Saturday, Oct. 23, St. Mary’s Seminary. For more information, call 410-547-5550).
We remember educator Dr. Rebecca E. Carroll and lay leaders such as Charles G. Tildon, Roberta March, Melville Pugh, Katherine Brown, Charles Dorsey, Irene McNamara, Dr. Hilbert T. Stanley, Marian B. Dixon, Ella Johnson, J. Albert Maddox, Frank Sewell, Charlotte Sullivan, Theodore Wilson, Anna Johnson, Virginia Young and so many more. They extended their voices and muscles to further the kingdom, working for justice, sharing the good news and making the Catholic Church real in their families and the wider community. Their names are mentioned so that we may remember their enormous contributions and that we too must complete the assignments given to us by God.
There is always something to be done in building the kingdom of God. As we celebrate Black Catholic History Month, let’s make some history of our own by mentoring a young one, leading outreach efforts in our community, advancing Operation Faith Lift and evangelization, as well as catechetical efforts or taking on a leadership role where needed in the church.
In the meantime, know that the Office of African American Catholic Ministries will hold it’s annual Black Catholic History Tour to Southern Maryland on Saturday, Nov. 13. Our tour guides are Agnes Kane Callum and Oblate Sister Reginald Gerdes, noted historians and researchers. For more information, call 410-625-8472.
Therese Wilson Favors is Director of the Office of African American Catholic Ministries.