By Therese Wilson Favors
The date was Jan. 4, 1889, the occasion the last day of the four-day meeting of what was the first Black Catholic Lay Congress in the nation’s history. A visit to the White House and reception with President Grover Cleveland was the climax of what had been a triumphant meeting of black Catholics, where as a body they deliberated, voiced their opinions and made decisions regarding their church and their place within it.
This visit to the White House was surpassed only by the cablegrams from Pope Leo XIII’s secretary of state Cardinal Rampolia which made known to the delegates of the Congress that the pope had sent them his apostolic blessing. Less than a quarter of a century after the end of slavery, a Roman pontiff had given his approbation and blessing to a nationwide assembly of black Catholic men. Thus a new age for the black Catholic community had emerged.
The one individual responsible for this new development among black Catholics was Daniel A. Rudd, a figure who for a long time was not well known in American Church history. Benedictine Father Cyprian Davis, Ph.D, states that “Daniel Rudd is one of the most important figures of the 19th century for black Catholic history since he published the newspaper and envisioned and promoted the Colored Catholic Congress movement.”
How was it that such a man in his 30s was so engaged in faith, so empowered to chisel out a plan, a vision which became known in latter days as a goal, “To forward God’s project to restore the dignity of all of God’s people through the Catholic Church.” School Sister of Notre Dame Addie Lorraine Walker, Ph.D., has done extensive research on the thinking and faith formation of Rudd which resulted in a new age of planning and discernment. Eventually his vision became the National Black Catholic Congress movement.
The following notes are taken from a February 2009 presentation by Sister Addie at St. Mary’s Spiritual Center in Baltimore.
In the 1880s, during the historic Reconstruction period, social challenges loomed for both blacks and whites in the United States. Rudd’s vision within the Catholic Church was to forge “a more perfect union with no deviation of the authentic Catholic teaching.”
Sister Addie further explored that Rudd’s philosophy was that “all humans have a common origin – GOD. We are all stamped in the image of God. Jesus came to save all of humanity. Therefore human rights rest in the equality of God and God’s sacred rubies are justice. The ‘more perfect union with no deviation of the authentic Catholic teaching’ in Rudd’s mind was to restore black people in their dignity as people of God, through faith formation in the Catholic faith and morally the church would be elevated to its authentic Catholic teaching.”
In doing so all would be restored to their original dignity by God. In this, Sister Addie said, Rudd’s thinking captured the notion that people of color became agents toward the salvation of the church and not merely objects of challenge in the church.
In keeping with the spirit of Daniel A. Rudd, and in preparation of the National Black Catholic Congress, the Office of African American Catholic Ministries will hold a Day of Reflection May 9, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Oblate Sisters of Providence Motherhouse on Gun Road. Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden will call the meeting to order and lead the discussion of the Congress. A $1 donation is requested to register for the Day of Reflection.
All dioceses are asked to review a National Black Catholic Survey, organized and published by the Congress Office and Notre Dame (Ind.) University. If you cannot attend the Congress in July please make every effort possible to attend the Day of Reflection. Your participation and interest is encouraged as the survey discusses the engagement of Black Catholics. The survey also gives insights on areas of evangelization for the future. Let’s come together and make a difference in our time.
For more information, contact the Office of African American Catholic Ministries at 410-625-8472.
Therese Wilson Favors is the director of the Office of African American Catholic Ministries