We have chosen to honor four of the most influential African-American Catholics in the history of the United States during Black Catholic month. Three of them have canonization causes opened: Julia Greeley, Father Augustus Tolton and Mother Mary Lange. Pray for their intercession and cause. All portraits were painted by Anthony VanArsdale.
Known as “Denver’s Angel of Charity,” Julia Greeley was born into slavery between 1833 and 1848. As a child, Greeley’s right eye was permanently damaged from her salve master’s whip, as he beat her mother. After gaining freedom, she moved from Missouri to the Midwest. In Denver, she entered the Church and gave of herself heroically. Greeley spent many nights providing necessary supplies for people in need, silently. She walked everywhere, despite her arthritis, and carried all the supplies in a little red wagon. Her pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Denver considered her the most fervent promoter of the Sacred Heart he had ever seen. Hundreds of people assisted her funeral to pay respect to the Godly woman. For more details, see juliagreeley.org.
Julia answered Jesus’ call to tell others about his love… with a humble simplicity and a sense of humor.” – Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
Father Augustus Tolton
Father August Tolton was the first black Catholic priest in the United States. Father Tolton was born to two slaves in 1854. After being rejected by every seminary in the United States, his bishop helped him enter seminary in Rome, at age 26. Upon ordination, he was appointed to his home diocese in Illinois. Father Tolton experienced much racism from fellow priests and superiors. After several requests, he was transferred to the diocese of Chicago, and was considered a failure. With all African-Americans to his care, he worked tirelessly to acquire help for the poor and build a church for his community. He died at age 43, after fatigue and exhaustion had become his companions. For more information, visit toltoncanonization.org.
The Catholic Church deplores a double slavery – that of the mind and that of the body. She endeavors to free us of both.” – Father Augustus Tolton
Mother Mary Lange
Mother Mary Lange Founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first religious congregation for African-American women. Born Elizabeth Lange in Cuba, around 1794, she received an excellent education as a child – a privilege that would allow her to teach many children and orphans of color after moving to Baltimore. Elizabeth joyfully accepted a priest’s invitation to establish a religious congregation devoted to the education of African-American girls. She took the name Mary, in a time when many Catholics thought that black religious women were a disgrace. Through many oppositions, Mother Mary kept her faith in Providence, giving herself and all material possessions for the well-being of those whom she served. See www.oblatesisters.com for more details.
She overcame so many obstacles… She founded the order before the Emancipation Proclamation. She had to deal with racism… Yet she cared so much and was so strong.” – Sister Mary Alexis Fisher, O.S.P., superior general
Daniel Rudd was a Catholic layman, civil activist and son of former slaves. Born in Kentucky in 1854, Rudd proclaimed that the Catholic Church welcomed African-Americans, in a time of declared segregation among Christians. He founded the first newspaper by an African-American, the American Catholic Tribune, in 1886. The paper would become a stepping stone for Rudd’s real vision: In 1889, he held the first National Black Catholic Congress in Washington, D.C. A talented journalist, speaker, and teacher, Rudd would become one of the most influential African-American Catholics in U.S. history.
[The Catholic Church] is the only place on this Continent where rich and poor, white and black, must drop prejudice at the threshold and go hand in hand to the altar.” – Daniel Rudd