Sister Thea Bowman (Courtesy of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration) and Venerable Augustus Tolton / Credit: New York Public Library
CNA Staff, Nov 6, 2023 / 10:15 am (CNA).
Arlington, Virginia, Bishop Michael Burbidge is urging Catholics to “reflect on the faithful witness” of Black Catholics during the Church’s annual Black Catholic History Month observed in November.
The Virginia bishop said in a statement on his diocese’s website that the month is “an important time” to review “the critical roles” that Black Catholics play in the life of the Church.
The National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus (NBCCC) first established Black Catholic History Month in 1990. The NBCCC had itself been founded in 1968 shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Burbidge in his statement noted that many Black Catholics “have walked the path to holiness, showing through example how to grow close to Our Lord despite tremendous adversity.”
“Their lives have also contributed to the growth and mission of the Church in the United States, yet they have been underappreciated,” Burbidge said.
He pointed to six African American Catholics whose causes for canonization are underway in Rome: Venerables Pierre Toussaint, Mother Mary Lange, Henriette DeLille, and Father Augustus Tolton, as well as Servants of God Julie Greeley and Sister Thea Bowman.
Burbidge pointed out that in the Diocese of Arlington, in the northern part of Virginia, Venerable Mother Mary Lange — who was active in Baltimore in the 19th century — had “a positive influence on the African American Catholic community.”
“She faced numerous challenges, including violence and racism in Baltimore in the mid-19th century,” Burbidge wrote. “Despite these difficulties, she continued to educate and house the poor and needy. She founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence in 1829, the first religious order for African American women.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops notes on its website that Lange and her order gave homes to orphans and undertook the education of freed slaves; they also “nursed the terminally ill during the cholera epidemic of 1832, sheltered the elderly, and served as domestics at St. Mary’s Seminary.”
Burbidge in his statement wrote that he “encourage[d] all in the diocese to learn more about the lives” of those Black Catholics, praying “that their witness will inspire and motivate you to grow in zeal for Christ and his Church.”
“May Our Lord continue to bless the ministry and lives of Black Catholics throughout this great nation, and may their witness inspire each of us to grow in relationship with God, no matter our circumstances,” the bishop wrote.