Six African Americans Still Sojourning on the Road to Sainthood

By Delores A. Moore, Associate 2014

It’s hard to fathom that even after the emancipation of slaves on September 22, 1862 and the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, the assassination of Nobel Peace Prize civil rights leader, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that even in this twenty-first century many of our churches and society are still segregated. In 1957-1958 when addressing integration in Catholic schools, the Church pronounced publicly, “We have two policies, excommunication or integration.” In 2020 Pope Francis spoke out against ongoing racism in the United States in response to the death of George Floyd. 

This sense of separate and disparage permeates the minds and hearts of Black Catholics and non-Black Catholics alike. We ask ourselves, given our long history beginning with being subjected to human trafficking, through slavery until today why do we still have “firsts and onlys” in the Diocese of Baltimore the seat of Catholicism in North America: The first order of Black nuns in America, the Oblate Sisters of Providence; the first Black priest ordained in this diocese, Fr. Donald Sterling pastor of New All Saints Church; and the first African American Catholic church in America Historic St. Francis Xavier. 

The Social Justice Committee of St. Ann Church, which is the home parish of several of our beloved SSND Sisters, were confronted with the realization that there was yet another category of disparity, “not even one”! There are eleven (11) saints from the United States and not even one is an African American yet there are six (6) African American Catholics who have collectively been dead for more than 714 years, who are “on the road to sainthood”. To our chagrin, the overwhelming response to this commentary from many Catholics was, “Really, I didn’t know that. Who are they?” 

Who are the six candidates who ask?: Venerable Pierre Toussaint (1766-1853 former slave, laity New York); Venerable Henriette Delille (1812-1862 founder, Sisters of the Holy Family New Orleans); Venerable Augustus Tolton (1854 -1897 former slave, first African American priest from U.S. Illinois); Servant of God Mary Lange (1784-1882 founder of first order of African American nuns in the U.S. the Oblate Sisters of Providence Baltimore; Servant of God Julia Greeley (1833/48 former slave, laity Denver); and Servant of God Thea Bowman (1937-1990 Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration Mississippi.

These responses prompted us to bring national awareness, education, and advocacy for canonization “santo subito” via a letter writing campaign to Pope Francis for the causes of all six candidates. (This goal and the importance of November 1st, the first day of Black Catholic History Month and All Saints Day pressed upon us the “urgency of now.” We shared this vision with the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s newly appointed Urban Vicar, Bishop Bruce Lewandowski, who agreed with our mission and enthusiastically volunteered his support, blessings and participation in the overall effort and to serve as Celebrant at the All Saints Day Mass at St. Ann Church. The Mass was attended by a few hundred consisting of 7 priests/con-celebrants, congregants from Baltimore City and surrounding counties various parishes, religious, Black Catholic Leaders, Oblate Sisters of Providence, Josephite seminarians, Racial Justice Circle members, SSNDs, news reporters and photographers. Several hundred letters were signed and included in the offertory.

The letter writing campaign is ongoing and your participation is welcomed and may be achieved in several way:

Please feel free to write your own personal letter in support of the canonization of these six:

  • African American candidates to: His Holiness Pope Francis - Saint Martha House - 00120 Citta del Vaticano, Vatican City.
  • To request a copy of our letter for signing please email Ralph Moore or Delores Moore (no relation) at Ralph Moore vpcs@yahoo.com or deloresmoore1949@gmail.com. (Local pickup is also available for large quantities of letters which would result in hefty postage, arrangements can be made for local pick up. Signed letters should be emailed directly to Ralph Moore at vpcs@yahoo.com.
  • An online sign-in petition of the letter is available via https://chng.it/7cWXNZXh6M  (St. Ann, Historic St. Francis Xavier and St. Wenceslaus parishes make up the Pastorate of East Baltimore)

* Portraits of the six candidates may be obtained by contacting: Alecia Bloodworth Office of Black Catholic Ministries 7887 Walmsley Avenue New Orleans, Louisiana 70125.
* The booklet "Black Catholics on the Road to Sainthood" ISBN: 978-1-68192-792-3,  you might find to be a handy resource

 

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