November is Black Catholic History Month, and it is a time full of eye-opening information for many people.
For example, most people don’t realize that black Catholic history dates all the way back to the Acts of the Apostles (8: 26-40) with the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch by Philip the Deacon.
The National Black Catholic Congress notes the importance of this text for several reasons. First, it chronicles the conversion of the first Black African in recorded Christian history. Second, the text suggests that the man was a wealthy, literate, and powerful emissary of the Nubian Queen and also a faithful, practicing Jew prior to his baptism. Third, the Ethiopian Eunuch’s conversion takes place even before that of St. Paul.
Sister Roberta Fulton, assistant director for African American Evangelization and the former principal of St. Martin de Porres School in Columbia, said she gets excited every year about all the ways to celebrate black Catholic history and share how they have helped make the Church what it is today. A native of Kingstree, Sister Roberta noted that she is the only black religious sister from the state and is a living example of what the month is all about.
Black Catholic History Month was initiated in 1990 by the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus of the United States. November was chosen because it holds two commemorative dates for prominent African Catholics: St. Augustine, whose birthday is Nov. 13; and St. Martin de Porres, whose feast day is Nov. 3.
Every year, parishes and schools celebrate the feast of St. Martin de Porres, along with lesser known figures, such as the three African popes — Sts. Victor I, Melchiades, and Gelasius I — who led the early church through much turmoil. Several dozen saints fill the pages of history, from Monica and Augustine of Hippo to Perpetua and Felicitas. Visit https://www.ncronline.org/fea ture-series/black-saints/stories to read each of their stories.
There are also many new names up for canonization, including religious from the Oblate Sisters of Providence and Franciscan Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary, both of which served in the Diocese of Charleston.
Here is a glance at Black Catholics, by the numbers, from USCCB
- There are 3 million African American Catholics in the United States.
- Of Roman Catholic parishes in the United States, 798 are considered to be predominantly African American. Most of those continue to be on the East Coast and in the South. Further west of the Mississippi River, African American Catholics are more likely to be immersed in multicultural parishes as opposed to predominantly African American parishes.
- About 76% of African American Catholics are in diverse or shared parishes and 24% are in predominately African American parishes.
- At present there are 15 living African American bishops, of whom 8 remain active.
- Currently, six U.S. dioceses are headed by African American bishops, including the Archdiocese of Atlanta, which includes the Diocese of Charleston.
- There are 250 African American priests, 437 deacons, and 75 men of African descent in seminary formation for the priesthood in the United States.
- There are 400 African American religious sisters and 50 religious brothers.
- The Black population in the United States is estimated to be just over 36 million people (13% of the total U.S. population).
- By the year 2050, the Black population is expected to almost double its present size to 62 million, and it will increase its percentage of the population to 16%.
Here are some ways to celebrate, from the Office of Ethnic Ministries:
- Read up on the fascinating literature of Black Catholics. Some suggested titles include “The History of Black Catholics in the United States” by Cyprian Davis, which discusses the community in the Walterboro area. Also, “Oblate Sisters of Providence: A Pictorial History” by Sharon C. Knecht, or “Father Augustus Tolton: The First Recognized Black Catholic Priest in America” by Corinna Laughlin and Maria Laughlin.
- Host a discussion of “What We Have Seen and Heard: A Reflection and Dialogue on Peace”, a pastoral letter written by Bishop Edward Braxton of Belleville, Ill. (http://bellevillemessenger.org/2014/12/bishop-braxton-writes-a-letter-on-racial-divide-in-the-united-states/)
- Involve youth in discussion using the new African American Catholic Youth Bible.
- Hold a music night featuring “Negro Spirituals”.
- Feature the film “Bakhita: From Slave to Saint” during parish movie night or in class.
- Display the pictorial exhibit of the “History of Black Catholics in the Diocese of Charleston”.
- Give complimentary copies of “My Little Black Catholic History Book” to children.
Contact Kathleen Merritt, director of the diocesan Office of Ethnic Ministries, for details: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image: Composite, Black Catholic History Month