Honoring two distinguished black Catholic women

Last week, Father James Goode, O.F.M., from the National Black Catholic Apostolate for Life sent me the obituaries from Gertrude Morris’ and Ellen Tarry’s funeral. Over the decades, many black Catholics have come to know these two women or have benefited from their ministry. They made their mark and shed the light of faith within the church. Today, we honor them in this short article about their lives.

Gertrude E. Morris, a leader in the African-American Catholic community for decades, died on Aug. 18, 2008, in San Francisco. She was 83.

Ms. Morris was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Dec. 20, 1924. Ms. Morris joined the “International Grail Movement” in 1957 and formally dedicated herself to the community of vowed lay members in 1961. As a Grail Member, Ms. Morris served as the director of evangelization for the National Office of Black Catholics in Washington and was the editor of “Free in the Spirit,” a national publication for black Catholics.

As a leader in the black Catholic revival movement, Ms. Morris coordinated more than 20 revivals. She became the first African-American recipient of the U.S. Conference on Evangelization Award for evangelization and helped establish the organization “I’m Black and Catholic – and I’m Proud.”

A Memorial Mass was celebrated at St. Paul of the Shipwreck Catholic Church in San Francisco on Aug. 24. In addition to this celebration, a national Memorial Mass was held at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in Brooklyn on Sept. 28.

Ellen Tarry, noted African-American Catholic writer, lecturer and activist, died in New York City on Sept. 23, a few days short of her 102nd birthday. A native of Birmingham, Ala., born on Sept. 26, 1906, Ms. Tarry was an author of several classic children’s books, as well as biographies of St. Katharine Drexel and Venerable Pierre Toussaint.

After graduating from Alabama State College, Ms. Tarry entered the teaching profession. In 1929, she came to New York City to follow her dream of becoming a journalist. During the height of the Harlem Renaissance, she joined the Negro Writer’s Guild, befriending such writers as Claude McKay, Sterling Brown, James Weldon John and Langston Hughes. Ms. Tarry was subsequently hired as a writer for the New York Amsterdam News in the World War II era.

Throughout her life she maintained a strong commitment to Catholic social justice teachings, working with Harlem’s Friendship House and its counterpart started on the south side of Chicago. Ellen Tarry was a charter member of the New York Coalition of 100 Black Women and a contributing board member of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (New York Public Library).

The mother of one daughter, Elizabeth Tarry Patton, Ms. Tarry was an original commissioner of the Archdiocese of New York Office of Black Ministry and a driving force of the New York Catholic Interracial Council.

Acknowledging a long life of faith, dedication and public service, she was recognized by Pope John Paul II with the Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice Medal. In addition, Ms. Tarry received the Pierre Toussaint Medallion from the Catholic Archdiocese of the city of New York, an Honorary Doctor of Letters Degree from Spring Hill College (Mobile, Ala.), and a Distinguished Achievements Award from the University of Alabama. Ms. Tarry leaves behind a loving circle of extended family, friends and loved ones to cherish and share her memory.

Therese Wilson Favors submitted this article through communications rendered by Father James Goode, O.F.M.

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.