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Diocese News 11.8.2023

Black Catholic History Month Begins

During the month of November, the Catholic Church celebrates Black Catholic History Month to honor our rich African-American heritage.

The month of November has been set aside as Black Catholic History Month.

The Catholic Diocese of Dallas along with the Interracial Task Force created a novena to be prayed during the month of November at any time.

Black Catholic History Month Novena

The month is also a time to remember those saints of African descent who have been canonized and those on the road to canonization. Of those that are saints, there are only 937 saints of African descent, and no Black Americans have been canonized to date. This month, we focus our attention on Black American Catholics who ministered in the United States and who are currently under formal consideration for canonization.

Venerable Father Augustus Tolton, was the first Black Catholic priest in the United States. He was born a slave and later was ordained in Rome in 1886, and assigned to the Diocese of Alton in Illinois, Tolton first ministered at his home parish in Quincy, Illinois, before opposition from local white Catholics caused discord. Reassigned to Chicago, Tolton later led St. Monica’s Catholic Church as a Black “national parish." The church was finished in 1893 and is located on Chicago’s South Side.

Venerable Henriette DeLille, founded the Sisters of the Holy Family of New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1836 and served as their first Mother Superior. She was noteworthy for her care of the sick and the dying during the Yellow Fever epidemic. Mother DeLille also spent time teaching free Blacks and the children of the enslaved how to read by teaching them the catechism. At the time, that was against the law. In 2001, a movie based on her life called The Courage to Love, starring Vanessa L. Williams premiered on Lifetime.

Venerable Mother Mary Lange, founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first order of African-American nuns in the United States. Mother Lange was also the founder of St. Frances Academy in Baltimore, Maryland. She immigrated to the United States from Cuba in the early 1800s. She didn't care for the lack of education for the children of her fellow Black immigrants so started teaching children from her own home with her own money to offer free schooling to Baltimore's African-American children. Pope Francis advanced the sainthood in June 2023 when he recognized Mother Lange's heroic virtue.

Venerable Pierre Toussaint, was born enslaved in Haiti and died a freeman in New York City. Toussaint was a hairdresser but also a generous donor and instrumental in raising funds for the first Catholic orphanage and began the city’s first school for Black children. During a Yellow Fever epidemic, while many people fled New York City, Toussaint stayed and cared for the sick and the dying. He died more than 170 years ago but is considered one of the more fascinating characters of American Catholicism. He was the first layperson to be buried in the crypt below the main altar at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Servant of God Julia Greeley, OFS, was an African-American philanthropist and Catholic convert. An enslaved woman from Missouri, she wore floppy hats and oversized shoes and was often seen pulling a reg wagon of goods to deliver to the poor and homeless. She was one of many slaves freed by Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Despite her own poverty, she collected food, clothing, and other goods for the poor. She would work at night because she knew some of the white families would be embarrassed to be seen receiving charity from a black woman.

Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman, was a Black Catholic religious sister, teacher, musician, liturgist, and scholar who made major contributions to the ministry of the Catholic Church toward African Americans. She became an evangelist among her people, assisted in the production of an African-American Catholic hymnal, and was a popular speaker on faith and spirituality in her final years, in addition to recording music. She  taught young people about the joy of being Catholic.