Celebrate Black Catholic History Month ‘for the greater glory of God’

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By Kateri Joda Williams

“For the greater glory of God.” That is the reason all Catholics celebrate the heritage and contributions of Blacks in Catholic Christianity during the month of November. In an address to African Bishops, Pope Paul VI declared that “you must now give the gifts of your blackness to the whole church.” Established in 1990 by the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus of the United States, Black Catholic History Month honors the richness of the universality of the Church.

It is fitting that Black Catholic History Month is celebrated during the month we commemorate the saints. Many Catholics know of St. Martin de Porres, the only saint of African descent from this hemisphere. His feast day is celebrated on Nov. 3. We also celebrate the birth of St. Augustine, the first Doctor of the Church, born in North Africa on Nov. 13.

However, many Catholics are unaware of the current six African Americans proposed for sainthood. Those of us fortunate to live in Colorado should be familiar with Servant of God Julia Greeley, known as Denver’s Angel of Charity. Venerable Pierre Toussaint was born a slave, yet once freed, he became a businessman in New York City. Using his wealth, he supported charitable causes which included work against religious and racial prejudice.

In 1829, Servant of God Mother Mary Lange co-founded of the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore, the oldest religious congregation for women of color in the United States. Venerable Mother Henriette Delille, born in New Orleans, founded the second religious order for women of color, the Sisters of the Holy Family. As the education of slaves was illegal, the ministry of both these women was done under great risk.

Venerable Father Augustus Tolton was born into slavery in 1854 in the state of Missouri. Ordained in Rome in 1886, he was the first publicly recognized black priest in the United States.

Becoming Catholic at the age of nine, Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman was born in Mississippi in 1937. She was the first African American to join the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Wisconsin. After a teaching career, Sister Thea served as a special consultant for the Catholic Church, giving presentations aimed at bridging cultural divisions. I was blessed with the opportunity to meet Sister Thea after a presentation at Queen of Peace Parish, where she combined her gifts of spreading the gospel with singing, prayers and storytelling. Diagnosed with bone cancer in 1984, Sister Thea worked from her wheelchair until her death in 1990. She prayed “to live until I die — to live fully.”

It is imperative that we understand our past to live fully in the present with faith in the future. Therefore, the influence of blacks in Catholic history cannot be limited to the month of November. Father Cyprian Davis, a Benedictine priest and professor wrote the definitive account of Black Catholics in his publication, The History of Black Catholics in the United States. The Josephite Pastoral Center and the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., are also great resources from which the information for this article was obtained.

There is an opportunity for deeper reflection regarding the lives of the six Black Catholic candidates for sainthood during the Annual Black Catholic Retreat in April 2020 at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House. Come find yourself in the pages of scripture as we study “The Saints Among Us,” all for the greater glory of God.

COMING UP: Ms. Taylor: St. Louis’ fourth grade founder

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The following interview was conducted by the eighth grade class of 2020 at St. Louis Catholic School in Louisville to honor Ms. Lydia Taylor, the school’s beloved fourth grade teacher who is retiring after 20 years of teaching at St. Louis.

Our beloved fourth grade teacher, Ms. Taylor, has been working at St. Louis for over 20 years. As such, she has plenty of experience teaching in a Catholic environment. Since she is retiring this year, the 8th grade class at St. Louis decided to interview her and find out about Ms. Taylor. These are just a few of the many answers we received from her.

What are some things you wish more people understood about teaching in a Catholic School?

“I feel like we address the whole person… and [teach] life skills that can be carried on into their grown-up lives.”

Ms. Taylor feels that in Catholic schools, children receive an education that is applicable in all aspects of life, not just the academic portion. Catholic school teachers help children with social skills and independence among other skills. At public schools, teachers don’t get to know their students on a personal level, unlike Catholic schools. A personal connection with their students allows teachers to educate them on important life matters. Our Catholic faith and morals also allow our teachers to help students without having to worry about offending or insulting them.

What will you miss most about teaching at St. Louis?

“I’m going to miss the students for sure, and I’m actually going to miss the parents. I have had a lot of friendships over the years… A lot of my teaching friends have left before me, but I still keep in touch with them.”

Since Ms. Taylor was hired at St. Louis three days before the school year started, her room was a mess, and she wasn’t going to be able to clean it up in time. The parents at St. Louis saw how worried she was and stepped in to help by cleaning her room and organizing her lesson plan. She says she has met some truly incredible people here at St. Louis.

How would you like to spend your summers when you leave St. Louis?

“I think I’m going to move back East and vacation here in the summers… When I became a teacher, I thought I would have the summers to write, but I don’t, so I will probably catch up on my writing when I retire.”

Ms. Taylor has a passion for writing and even used to be a newspaper reporter. Her passion to write is still strong, and she hopes to do plenty of it when she retires.

Ms. Taylor with the eight grade class of 2020 at St. Louis. (Photos provided)

What accomplishments fill you with pride over the last 20 years at St. Louis?

“Having student teachers come back. I enjoy having my students come back wanting to pursue a job as a teacher.”

Ms. Taylor feels that she did her job properly when she inspires her students so much that they come back asking for assistance so that they can be just like her. She also enjoys hearing from students who have graduated and she can see what they are up to and how she impacted their lives.

Is there a quote/ saying that you live your life by?

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Gandhi

Ms. Taylor believes that if you want to improve the world, you will have to set a good example of how we should treat each other and how we should live our lives. Ms. Taylor sets a good example for her children in hopes that they will go out and set a good example for the rest of the world.

If you could pass on any wisdom to your students, what would you share?

“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” Ms. Taylor believes.

She thinks that people shouldn’t worry as much about the minor issues in life but focus on the things that are more important.

What would students be surprised to find out about you?

“This is kind of embarrassing, but I was actually in the Mrs. Massachusetts pageant… It was great for all my friends because they got to watch me up on the stage, but for me, it was like, “What do we do now?” and “Why am I doing this?”

Ms. Taylor also brought in a picture of a quilt she made with her class one year, which hung in the capitol building for one month. The whole class received official certificates of their work from the quilt, and the quilt sold for $2,000 at our school’s Gala.

Ms. Taylor is an incredible teacher and has been here for her students for over 20 years. We wish her luck in her further adventures and will always remember her here at St. Louis as an amazing teacher and friend.