Timeline of Black Catholic history
1565-1899: St. Augustine, Florida
Until 1763, these freed slaves live in a community northeast of St. Augustine. Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, or Fort Mose, established in 1738, thus becomes the first free black town in the United States.
1781: Los Angeles
Meanwhile, Maryland's black Catholic population grows to 3,000 as a result of Jesuit evangelization in the region.
1829: Oblate Sisters of Providence
A later archbishop dismisses the need for an order of black religious, but the sisters find new advocates among the Redemptorists and in Saint John Neumann, then archbishop of Philadelphia. Their ministry spreads to Philadelphia and New Orleans.
1839: In Supremo Apostolatus
Bishop John England of Charleston, South Carolina defends the American domestic slave trade, arguing that Pope Gregory's apostolic letter refers only to slaves imported by the Spanish and Portuguese. Though claiming he is not personally in favor of slavery, he says it was a "question for the legislature and not for me."
1842: Sisters of the Holy Family
This follows an earlier attempt by Frenchwoman Marie Aliquot to start the Sisters of the Presentation, soon dissolved for violating Louisiana's segregation laws because the white Aliquot sought black women to join her. Aliquot is not allowed to join the new Sisters of the Holy Family because she is white.
During an outbreak of yellow fever, the nuns heroically nurse the sick and are thus granted public recognition. But they are not allowed to wear their habit in public until 1872.
1766-1853: Pierre Toussaint
When BĒrard dies penniless, Toussaint financially supports BĒrard's wife, nursing her through emotional and physical ailments. She grants him his freedom in 1807. His stable income allows him to buy freedom for his sister and his future wife, and to be generous with many individuals and charities, including an orphanage and school for black children. He cares for the ill when yellow fever sweeps the city and opens his home to homeless youth, teaching them violin and paying for their schooling.
A case for his beatification has since been opened in Rome. He would be the first black American saint.
Bishop John Fitzpatrick of Boston, a friend of their father, encourages the boys to attend Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts. James studies for the priesthood in Paris and is ordained bishop of Portland, Maine in 1875.
His brother, Patrick Francis Healy, a Jesuit who conceals his African origins for much of his career, becomes president of George-town University in 1874 (ironic because Georgetown admitted no black students until the mid-1900s).
James would not ally himself with black Catholic leaders nor agree to address meetings of black Catholics, once citing Saint Paul's admonition that there shall be no Greek nor Jew in Christ.
1889: Daniel Rudd Calls Black Catholic Congress
Daniel Rudd, a journalist from Ohio and founder of the American Catholic Tribune, becomes a leader of black laity.
Fiercely proud of the Catholic Church, Rudd claims the church is the one place of hope for black people.
Rudd recruits delegates to the first Black Catholic Congress, hoping to "let them exchange views on questions affecting their race; then uniting on a course of action, behind which would stand the majestic Church of Christ."
The delegates' statement calls for Catholic schools for black children, endorses temperance, appeals to labor unions to admit blacks, advocates better housing, and praises religious orders for aiding blacks.
Rudd also helps organize the first lay Catholic congress of the entire U.S. in 1889, where he insists that blacks be treated as part of the whole, not as a special category.
At the fourth Black Catholic Congress in 1893, Charles Butler decries prejudice and discrimination within the Catholic Church, asking, "How long, O Lord, are we to endure this hardship in the house of our friends?" The congress calls attention to the church's failure in its mission "to raise up the downtrodden and to rebuke the proud."
Thus black Catholics made the social implications of Catholicism into a primary feature of the faith, a new and bold approach for the time.
1909: Knights of Peter Claver
1916: Committee for the Advancement of Colored Catholics
After the war, the group broadens its focus. Its advocacy gives birth to a new national forum for black Catholics. Its purpose: "Collection of data concerning colored Catholics, the protection of their interests, the promotion of their welfare, and the propagation of the faith among colored people."
The U.S. bishops, despite requests from Rome to act on behalf of blacks during the race riots and lynchings of 1919, avoid the topic at their first annual meeting.
In response, the committee publicly urges the bishops to denounce discrimination and consult with black Catholics, saying, "at present we are neither a part of the colored world (Protestant), nor are we generally treated as full-fledged Catholics."
1916: Handmaids of Mary
In 1929 they affiliate with the Franciscan Third Order, becoming the Franciscan Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary. Still active in Harlem, their ministries have spread elsewhere in the United States.
1920: First Seminary for Blacks
1958: Denunciation of Racism
1965: March in Selma
1968: First Black Clergy Caucus
1985: Today's Black Catholic Congresses
Source: The History of Black Catholics in the United States, by Cyprian Davis (Crossroad)
Tara K. DixAll active news articles