The Archdiocese of Denver recently welcomed its new director for the Office of Black Catholic Ministry and Community Outreach Specialist for the Office of Catholic Schools, Kateri Williams.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in a Catholic family, Williams moved to Colorado in the 1970s when she was still a child. She grew up attending St. Thomas More Parish, where she married her husband, Dwayne. They’ve now been married for 19 years. Her family members were some of the founding members of the parish. Williams is currently a parishioner at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Aurora but stays connected with her community at other parishes where she had previously been a member of, including Our Lady of Loreto and Church of Risen Christ.
With a master’s degree from University of Colorado in Denver and 12 years of experience at DSST Stapleton High School, Williams took over her two new positions at the Archdiocese of Denver in mid-August.
“My goal as the new director is to reflect the faces of African-Americans in the archdiocese, to increase the engagement of Black youth, and to partner with active parishioners at predominately Black parishes to provide outreach to other African-American Catholics throughout the archdiocese,” Williams told the Denver Catholic.
The Office of Black Catholic Ministry works with other Catholics by a common faith to share hope and mutual charity. Their goal is to evangelize, embrace, and engage Black Catholics in the archdiocese by sharing the rich culture and contributions of African-Americans in the history of the Catholic Church.
The ministry also serves to meet the pastoral needs of the African-American community within the archdiocese in accordance with the implementation of the pastoral Plan of the National Black Catholic Congress.
“I am most grateful for my faith foundation which was established by my parents and prepared me for the opportunity to now serve the Lord in this capacity. My immediate goal as the new director is to meet and hear the needs and suggestions of Black Catholics across the archdiocese” said Williams.
As far as her role as Community Outreach Specialist, Williams is creating an advisory group of African-American parents of students enrolled in Denver’s Catholic Schools.
“I am excited that my additional role as Community Outreach Specialist in the Office of Catholic Schools will allow me to continue to work with youth by promoting the quality of a values-driven education, which was an opportunity that I was blessed to personally experience,” she added.
The Office of Black Catholic Ministry annual events include a Black Catholic Retreat held each spring at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House in Sedalia, the St. Josephine Bakhita & Katherine Drexel Recognition Award Dinner, which honors a Catholic who has excelled in service to the Black Catholic community and has shown exceptional leadership in promoting evangelization and discipleship, and the Peace and Justice Mass held on the anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, among others.
However, activities are not limited to Catholics of African descent — Williams warmly invites the general public to participate in any of these events, or simply join the ministry.
As of today, there are no African-American saints in the Roman Catholic Church, though there are black saints from other nations.
Nevertheless, an ex-slave from Missouri who moved to Denver and became Catholic in the late 1800s, is now the first person the Archdiocese of Denver has proposed for sainthood, and she could become the first African-American saint if the Vatican approves. The Office of Black Catholic Ministry has helped to move her cause forward.
Julia Greeley earned a reputation as a woman of charity as she walked the streets of Denver at night, hauling around food, clothes and other charitable goods in a little red wagon to hand out to those in need. Despite being poor herself, she spent her life doing good deeds for the neediest. She would often do her work at night, knowing that some of the white families would be embarrassed to be seen receiving charity from a black woman.
Greeley was also known for visiting firehouses throughout the Denver area promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart by distributing pamphlets, patches and other materials to firefighters. She is a patroness of Black Catholics in the U.S., as well as of firefighters and the homeless, whom she served.
In 2016, the Archdiocese of Denver opened the Cause for Sainthood to determine whether she may someday be canonized. As part of the canonization process, her bones were exhumed in 2017 and showed that she suffered from severe arthritis, meaning this task was likely a painful one for her. Nonetheless, she persisted through the pain and still found immense joy in serving others. Her remains rest at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.
“The presence and contributions of Black and African Catholics, from the time of Servant of God Julia Greeley, to the new immigrant arrivals of today, have been a blessing to the Church in northern Colorado. I am thankful for the work of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry that serves these communities and shares their gifts with the entire Archdiocese of Denver.” said Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila.
Featured image by Daniel Petty