Plenty to remember this Black Catholic History Month

By Beverly Burke
Special to the Review

A year or so after my parents married, my mom decided to join the Catholic Church. In fact, she was pregnant with me, their firstborn, when she was baptized, and I like to think I got a double dose of blessings when my own christening was performed in St. Charles Borromeo Church in New York City.
There were four more children, all save the first son with sainted middle names – Donna Marie, Alan Vincent and Janis Margaret. Dad regularly attended Sunday Mass, but chose to remain Baptist.
Richard Dean was the brother born on my second birthday – we competed over everything from high chairs to joining the Scouts. I always took the position of outranking him but at that time only boys could be altar servers, a step closer to Christ than I could get.
I held dear my middle name, Anne, the name of the mother of the one all had come to call “blessed among women.”
These were the days of racial segregation everywhere my Air Force father was stationed in the States. When Dad was sent overseas, I often thought of turning to convent life while attending Madonna High, an all-girls Catholic school in Niagara Falls, N.Y. When he returned and told us we were moving to Rome, I thought I was going to finally see the pope – who knew there was a Rome, N.Y.?
My faith came to me through my mother, who did everything with love. Sundays, she had us all lined up (Dad included) in a pew, finely dressed in clothes she made – suits and coats, too.
At home the radio was tuned to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. She loved music growing up in Montgomery, Ala., where mom’s Aunt Gladys Willis was hired by Rosa Parks and her husband to play piano in church. Mom sang along as she cooked a feast, only pausing with tears in her eyes to take in the “word” spoken by Richard L. Evans. I never showed her the picture of the bald man when his obit appeared in Time magazine, as nothing should distract from the “God-voice” image I imagined she held. 
Growing up, my wanderings took me away from the church, but on visits home mom would put me back in the habit of attending Mass, even if I just sat there. Whenever I was afraid, however, I asked for her prayers for me; I just knew she was listened to.
In her home, after her own mother died in her sleep after a heart illness, I explained the peace the Lord allowed my grandmother came from a safe and loving daughter. It just came to me. And my mother smiled.
Thank God.
I was a single mom working as a TV news anchor in Baltimore when I was called home to be with my brave father battling cancer, praying at his bedside when he died on Holy Thursday. After a purification ceremony on Holy Saturday I found there was joy in my heart that Easter Sunday for my father, who had been called home at last.
Years later, after I returned from a pilgrimage to holy sites in Spain and Medjugorje, my dear mother suddenly fell ill and had to be hospitalized. Three months later I awoke in the very early morning knowing I heard her call my name. An hour later I answered the phone to hear two words: “She’s gone.”
I thank God for my life, for my parents Sampson Dean and Gertrude Sims Burke. I thank God – in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Beverly Burke, the news director for WEAA radio, worships at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Pikesville, where she chairs the pastoral council. She is a member of the board of trustees of CRMedia, which publishes the Catholic Review.

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