Welcome to my blog!
My name is Dolores Foster Williams. I'm an author, a lifelong educator, and despite my constructive criticism of the Catholic Church, a loyal Catholic going back to my childhood. Do follow my blog and add your voice to the growing dialog which I hope will one day open the eyes of Church hierarchy to the need for change.
My most recent book, Institutional Racism and the Catholic Church, is an attempt to bring to light another "sin" of the Church that unfortunately has been swept under the rug of scrutiny, avoiding the moral progress of our times that has led to integrating our society's institutions.
This book is available at:
My first book, Saint Benedict the Moor, is an honest history of the boarding school I went to as a child. It includes details about how the school came to be and talks about many of the students and staff that attended and taught at the school. The book is available at:
From Institutional Racism and the Catholic Church
TABLE OF CONTENTS
About the Author
The Perpetuation & Extension of the
Black/White Catholic Racial Divide
Father Augustus Tolton-A Saintly Personality
African American Clergy- Equality Issues
Roots of Catholic Racism
Sexism and the Roman Catholic Church
Institutional Racism and the Catholic Church will challenge the stereotypical labels attached to Americans of African descent. Institutional Racism and the Catholic Church is a memoir, reflective of the experiences of countless Americans of African descent who suffered under the regressive grip of institutional racism perpetuated by a Christian organization that supposedly was dedicated to justice and equality.
Americans of African descent succeeded in spite of the racism encountered throughout society and their communities and which was unfortunately also entrenched within the walls of the institutional Catholic Church. Institutional Racism and the Catholic Church will attempt to shine light on and open up a discussion long buried by Catholic evangelism policies that were not inclusive. The roots of this racism go back centuries.
As early as the 1600s Catholic evangelism strategies involved converting peoples of color in ways that did not respect their native cultures or values. The result, whether in churches or schools, people of color were often subjected to the stereotypical misconceptions of the day. The clear message—if you want to live a successful life you must become one of us, follow our White ways and practice our traditions of Catholicism. As if this blatant racism was not bad enough, there were unspoken, even more despicable forces at work.
All over America, the Catholic Church began an evangelism outreach to members of the African American community by opening churches and schools for them exclusively. The same thing was going on to support a diverse group of other White ethnics. Over time, the African American churches and schools began to close, the victims of ongoing racism and because of that racism, their members lacked the financial resources to support a thriving church. How did the Catholic Church react to this trend?
Instead of instituting more inclusive policies, they allowed the closures to continue. When neighborhoods began to change, when Blacks moved in, the Catholic churches located in those neighborhoods were allowed to deteriorate. Without institutional policies promoting inclusion, the African American presence in the Catholic Church today is insignificant. Catholic schools are almost exclusively homogeneous—predominately White, predominately Hispanic, or predominately African American, as is church membership. The number of Black Catholic priests, nuns and brothers is insignificantly small.
How can an institution promoting Christian values have buried their heads in the sands of racism so completely, for so long, as to have allowed this blatant social cancer of institutional racism to have become so entrenched?
As in the case of the pedophile priests, by admitting what has gone on in the past in the area of racism, it is the hope of the author that the Church will put in place programs and policies to make sure all the remnants of racism still affecting Church policies will be banished forever and replaced with the inclusive racial harmony our Christian heritage intended for all peoples of all racial and religious and gender backgrounds.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dolores A. Foster Williams was a boarding student at St. Benedict the Moor School from 3rd grade through high school. Commuting by public transportation to and from his job as a clerk in Chicago's main post office, coupled with his hours of employment resulted in too much unsupervised time for his children. To manage this problem, her single-parent father enrolled Dolores and her three siblings in the boarding school because of his inability to secure adequate supervision for them during the day.
Dolores earned her B.A. Degree from St. Xavier University, Chicago (then St. Xavier College for Women) in 1951 and her M.Ed. Degree from Loyola University, Chicago in 1967. Between 1951 and 1967 she completed 36 hours beyond her M.Ed. for the purpose of further developing her classroom, counseling, and administrative skills. Areas of her employment during her 36 years with the Chicago Public Schools were as a kindergarten-primary teacher, an adjustment counselor, a National Teacher Corp team leader (on loan from the Chicago Public Schools) and the head teacher in a preschool center. After retiring from the Chicago Public Schools, for 12 years she was a counselor at Chicago's Holy Trinity High School, a school with a diverse population of Caucasians, African Americans, Africans, and Latinos.
Widowed after 44 years of marriage, she is the proud mother of her only child, Judith A. Williams-Thomas, and her son-in-law, Bob Thomas, both of whom are Federal Government employees.
This book is a sequel to Saint Benedict the Moor, A Legacy Revisited. Interspersed in that book were descriptions of blatant instances of racial discrimination experienced by some students and some other persons associated with St. Benedict the Moor from the time of the inception of the church and school. Institutional Racism and the Catholic Church will revisit those mirrors of Catholic racism, along with accounts of past acts of racism experienced by other black individuals, acts of racism, whether intentioned or unintentional which were perpetuated by Catholic “royalty” (popes, bishops, priests, nuns, lay ministers, etc.) Institutional Racism and the Catholic Church will question the validity and promise of current attempts to bridge the White/Black Catholic racial divide and to propose suggestions that Catholic decision makers can institute to realistically actuate their words and directives in making the Catholic Church a healing force in the 21st century.
My first perceptive inkling of early Catholic racism was within the context of the first recording of an evangelization movement in Milwaukee, a movement that was led by Mr. Charles Boettinger, a Caucasian member of St. Gall’s Church. Mr. Boettinger was eventually “run out” of Milwaukee by the Jesuits who felt that his evangelization activities among “Negroes” were out of the Jesuit purview. Black Catholics during this period who claimed parish membership were relegated to Catholic Church balconies during the Masses.
After Mr. Boettinger’s banishment from Milwaukee in 1893, there does not appear to have been any appreciable efforts on the part of the Catholic leadership to evangelize Black Milwaukeeans until Mr. Lincoln Charles Valle, along with his wife, Julia, relocated to Milwaukee for the express purpose of establishing a Black Catholic Community.
Following protocol, Mr. Valle visited Milwaukee’s Archbishop Sebastian Messmer and shared his plan with him. The Archbishop demonstrated his approval of Mr. Valle’s plan by giving him a letter of introduction to the Reverend N.D. Becker, the pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church. A chain of events led to the establishment of store front chapels rented specifically for Blacks with Mr. Valle being at the forefront of organizing a Black Catholic Community. A permanent chapel was later erected.
Mr. & Mrs. Valle eventually had conflicts with White volunteers who later provided service to the Mission. Believing disparaging charges made against Mr. & Mrs. Valle, church officials banned them from Mission premises without giving them credit for the invaluable service they’d rendered. Also, there was no recorded evidence that the Valles were given a hearing to address the charges leveled against them. A legitimate question to consider is: would Mr. & Mrs. Valle have been so shabbily treated had they been of the White race?
Archbishop Messmer made a strategic move in having ownership of the Mission transferred to the Capuchin Order of Franciscan Priests after it was apparent that some Caucasians were against the location of the Mission which was in a prime real estate location. There was a perceived threat that influential Milwaukee residents, including the mayor the city, would withhold funds from the diocese if their wishes were not honored. On the other hand, the Capuchin Franciscans were in a position not to be beholden to those city donors. Procedures transferring ownership of Mission properties to the Capuchins were made with the approval of the Pope.
Father Stephen Eckert, OFM, OM, the Mission’s first resident priest, followed by Father Philip Steffes, OFM, Cap. were instrumental in bringing stability to the Mission. The name, St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Colored Mission, eventually became known as St. Benedict the Moor Church and School.
Internal racist labels first surfaced before the tenure of Fathers Stephen and Philip when Mission students were referred to as “piccaninnies,” “niggers,” “darkies,” and “heathens.” One recalcitrant student was even described as “foaming at the mouth.” Other early references described the students as having come to the Mission lacking in morals and having bad habits, and that the task of Mission teachers was to rid them of these unfavorable traits.1
Marquette University’s blatant discrimination against its premier Black athletes (Ralph Metcalfe, and Linwood and Norbert Rayford, brothers) who earned undergraduate degrees from the University, was a shameful blot on the University. When I penned Saint Benedict the Moor, A Legacy Revisited, I was not aware of the snub rendered Mr. Metcalf during his student days at Marquette University.
While still a student at Marquette, Mr. Metcalf became known as Marquette’s sensational “Negro” sprinter and one of the world’s speediest. (See page 108, Saint Benedict the Moor, A History Revisited) However, it was later brought to my attention that Marquette University would not finance Mr. Metcalf’s expenses to Los Angeles for the 1932 Olympics. It was reported that Mr. Metcalf worked as a porter to get to Los Angeles where he finished a close and disputed second to Eddie Tolan of Michigan. It was later revealed that Mr. Metcalf’s lane “was incorrectly measured and that he had run an extra yard.” Metcalf was reported to have graciously accepted the silver medal. This act of true sportsmanship is said to have prompted the distinguished New York sports writer, Grantland Rice, to comment, “There might be a nobler person in this world than Ralph Metcalfe, but I don’t know who that would be.” 2
Linwood Rayford was 16 when he enrolled in Marquette University. Even though he entered Marquette as a premier High School basketball player, he was denied admittance to the University’s basketball team, the reason given was that the Black members would not be allowed to travel with the team to the South. After earning his undergraduate degree from Marquette, he was denied admittance to Marquette’s medical school. No reason was given. Linwood later earned his Doctor of Medicine Degree from the prestigious and all Black Howard University in Washington, D.C. and became a distinguished staff surgeon at several hospitals in the Washington, D.C. area as well as the author of numerous medical articles. Linwood’s younger brother, Norbert, also enrolled at Marquette. He recalled that some of his White classmates refused to greet him in the classroom in response to his greeting them and if they chanced to see him on the street, they would look the other way. 3
During the social period of a Sodality meeting on St. Benedict the Moor campus, a White female member from another Milwaukee school and Kermitt Killogg, a St. Benedict the Moor student, spontaneously took to the floor with other St. Benedict the Moor couples and began doing the jitterbug dance. A newly assigned Dominican sister frantically appealed to her partner moderator of the event, Sister Ada Marie, to stop them. Sister Ada Marie brushed off her concern implying that the dancing was harmless. The concerned sister backed off but the expression on her face remained skeptical.4 This Sister’s concern mirrored a White population taboo regarding the mixing of the races.
The final questions to be addressed in Institutional Racism and the Catholic Church are:
What are the prospects for inclusion as a result of the institutional Catholic Church’s current response to the Black/White racial divide?
Will the Black/White racial divide remain separate and unequal?
“As a child, I saw life from a perspective of innocence and naiveté.With age, education and experience,
I gained wisdom.Some of the things I know now I couldn’t possibly have understood as a child.
Some of my wisdom, however, has been gained not by experience, but by tapping into a greater source of wisdom within . . . the Wisdom of God . . .”
a quote from the Daily Word, Sunday, June 5, 2011
The Perpetuation & Extension of the Black/White Catholic Racial Divide
Chicago/New Orleans Connection
ONE OF THE MOST memorable days of my childhood was the Sunday I took my First Holy Communion. How proud I was to be wearing a new dress, and all my own. That never happened to me before. I usually got my older sister’s worn clothes.
I soon shot up taller than my older sister, I outgrew her hand-me-downs, but I’m not sure I will ever outgrow problematic aspects of the legacy of my experience as a Catholic school student attending Saint Benedict the Moor Church and Boarding School in the 1940s in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
I still have the picture of me in my brand new First Holy Communion dress, primarily because I don’t want to forget what I experienced during that period in my life. Not knowing any better, I cherished my years as an African American, a girl, attending Catholic school. My child’s growing faith was stirred by the stories from the pulpit of the brave men and women written about in the Gospels and Epistles. My family roots date back to New Orleans.
My siblings and I were born in Chicago, but our parents called New Orleans home. It was a time of unbending segregation in the deep South. After the death of their parents, my mother and her brother were brought to Chicago by their maternal aunt, the first of her family to migrate to Chicago. My mother and her brother attended the all-Black St. Monica Catholic Elementary School during the early 1900s.
In 1890, St. Monica’s Church was founded by Father Augustus Tolton, who has been recognized as the first Black to be ordained a priest in the U.S. Father Tolton died in 1897. However, in 1924 St. Monica’s merged with St. Elizabeth’s Church. (The details of the merger will be outlined in Chapter 3) Baptized as an infant, my mother was a “cradle” Catholic, whereas my father was Catholic convert. My father’s youngest sister shared stories about life in New Orleans for the Foster family.
My father left New Orleans as a young man and, with the help of his parents’ influential White contacts, became an employee on the Railway Mail cars. He eventually became a clerk at Chicago’s main post office. My parents were married in 1925 in St. Elizabeth’s Church.
A New Orleans native, Mrs. Annabell Jourdan, who now resides in Chicago, recalls a humiliating experience she had attending church in the 1950s while visiting her grandmother in Point Coupee Parish, Lakeland, Louisiana.
Mrs. Jourdan’s complexion is dark brown while her daughter’s complexion is of a light hue. Attendees were seated based upon the color of their skin. White participants in the front pews, those identified as mulattoes were seated in the middle pews, while those of a dark complexion were seated in the last pews. The ushers attempted to seat Mrs. Jourdan’s six-year-old light complexion daughter in the middle pews. When Mrs. Jourdan objected, they relented and allowed her daughter to sit with her in the section with the dark complexion worshippers.
This was Mrs. Jourdan’s first experience attending a so-called mixed-race church. She was a member of an all-Black Catholic Church in New Orleans and accepted without question the racial status quo, the segregation patterns within the Catholic Church, and the main stream segregation patterns in society.
Mrs. Barbara Bourgeois Montgomery, who from her appearance would be labeled a mulatto and who has been mistaken for White, is a cradle Catholic. She vividly describes her childhood experiences in New Orleans. She grew up in a neighborhood, as did Mrs. Jourdan, where she had White neighbors. She describes the neighborhood as having a “family” atmosphere.
Her best friend was a White girl. Her friend attended the Whites-only Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School while she attended the all-Black St. Joan of Arch Catholic School. Her teachers were Black nuns of the order of the Sisters of the Holy Family. The pastor of the church and school was white. When any Blacks chose to attend the White church, they were given designated seating where a sign read, “For Our Colored Patrons.” After the school day, and after church services, Mrs. Montgomery and her White friend would meet at a designated place and go home together. Mrs. Montgomery stated that she was young and she just accepted the segregation patterns without question.
It seems that during the early 1900s, when my family and the Jourdan and Bourgeois families were living in New Orleans, segregation patterns were so institutionalized that they were not questioned. It also seems that Blacks just accepted the racial patterns as a way of life. Needless to say, the situation was eventually challenged by Black historical figures who surfaced during the late 1900s—Freedom Riders, lunch counter sit-ins, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mrs. Rosa Parks, the brutal murder of Emmet Till, etc.
The Civil Rights protesters were young, many of whom were Black college students who challenged the status quo that had been accepted by the older generations of Blacks. However, many Black families left behind the cruel, blatant institutional and cultural racism that weighed them down in the South. Moving to the North, life was better, but the cruel reality of institutional racism was also alive and well north of the Mason Dixon Line.
Permeated throughout this book are manifestations of institutional Catholic racism, the core of which has not yet been addressed. There have been instances where hierarchical Church figures have referenced institutional racism practices, but they have been remiss in attacking the core cause of the problem.
For example, Church leaders have been tenacious in attacking the abortion issue, irrespective of any anticipated or active backlash. There is no doubt about the Catholic Church’s position on abortion. Not so regarding institutional racism.
THE CORE CAUSE OF INSTITUTIONAL RACISM IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IS THE GENERAL ENTITLEMENT GIVEN WHITES IN ALL COUNTRIES OVER MINORITIES, EXPECIALLY AFRICAN AMERICANS.
Father Bryan N, Massingale, in his book, Racial Justice and the Catholic Church, supports this view and has written an exhaustive analysis of the difference between what I consider the manifestations of racism and the core cause of institutional racism. These behavioral expressions of racist attitudes include personal attacks on Blacks, such as name-calling (nigger, coon), refusals to interact with Blacks, subtle attempts to exclude Blacks from restaurants, private clubs, and restrictions from decision-making positions within the Catholic Church.
Milwaukee Summary Reiteration
Before the establishment of St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Colored Mission, Blacks who attended Catholic Church services were relegated to church balconies. In Milwaukee, these Blacks formed the nucleus of a group organized by Mr. Lincoln Charles Valle when he founded St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Colored Mission. The storefront leased by Mr. Valle was later supplanted by the permanent facility of St. Benedict the Moor Church, authorized, sponsored, and paid for by the Milwaukee Archdiocese, and built specifically for Blacks.
The storefront as well as the church afforded Blacks the dignity of worshiping their God without suffering the indignity of being assigned seating that was less favorable than that assigned to their White counterparts. The transition of St. Benedict the Moor Mission into a permanent church and school is well documented in St. Benedict the Moor, A Legacy Revisited. Worth reiterating are examples mentioned in the book of the manifestations of institutional Catholic racism.
The religious order of the Province of St. Albert the Great that was located in River Forest, Illinois, rejected the applications to the priesthood of two former St. Benedict the Moor students, Mr. Kermit Killogg, a 1947 graduate of St. Benedict the Moor High School, and Father Reginald Kellogg, OFM, Conv., who attended St. Benedict the Moor Elementary School. The reason given for rejecting Mr. Killogg’s application involved a requirement for admission to the Order’s novitiate. Three generations of an applicant’s family had to be of the Catholic faith, a reason that was found to be questionable. Father Kellogg did not go on record as to why his application was rejected. Both Mr. Killogg and Father Kellogg later entered other seminaries. Father Kellogg was accepted by the Order of Franciscan Friars Minor Conventual at Mt. St. Francis, Indiana. He was ordained a priest by the Order in 1956.
The situation was different for Mr. Killogg. He applied for admission to the novitiate of the Capuchin Franciscans, the order of priests that staffed his school, St. Benedict the Moor in Milwaukee. His application was rejected. Although he was later accepted by the Cincinnati, Ohio Franciscans, he did not escape the fangs of Catholic racism. Mr. Killogg recalled being referred to as “the nigger” by one of his classmates. He was accused by his superiors of “wanting to be noticed” as he walked the Order’s grounds along with his White classmates as they said the prescribed daily prayers.
This accusation was not leveled against the other novitiates. After five years of study at the Cincinnati, Ohio Franciscan Seminary, Mr. Killogg was summarily dismissed, given $40.00 and sent home to Detroit. He was told that he did not have what it takes to be a priest. Mr. Killogg’s many other exemplary academic and professional accomplishments are documented in St. Benedict the Moor, A Legacy Revisited.
Brother Booker Ashe, OFM, Cap., who became a Capuchin Franciscan brother, also experienced the sting of racism. As a novice he was assigned to read to a blind Capuchin priest. During one reading session he mentioned that he was a “Negro” to which the blind priest replied, “You can’t be serious . . . the Capuchins would never let a darky in.”
The aforementioned perpetuators of Catholic racism were not alone in promoting the Black/White Catholic racial divide. In addition, Catholic religious personnel in Chicago, Illinois are also examples of how blatant racism festered within the confines of the institutional Catholic Church.
Just as during the early 1900s when Black Milwaukeeans who worshiped their God in Catholic Churches were relegated to the balcony, my siblings and I had similar experiences in the mid 1930s in Chicago. After my family moved into the attendance area of Holy Cross Church and School, located on 65th Street and Maryland Avenue, my siblings and I were sent by our father to Holy Cross Church to attend Sunday Mass because Holy Cross was the closest to our home, while our father continued his active involvement at Corpus Christi parish.
Upon entering Holy Cross Church, we were relegated to seats in the last row BEHIND THE ADULTS. The White children were seated in the front of the church with their elementary school classes. Had we remained in the Holy Cross attendance area, we logically would have expected to enroll in Holy Cross School. However, our father chose to enroll us in St. Benedict the Moor Boarding School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is questionable as to whether we would have been accepted at Holy Cross School had my father chose to attempt to enroll us in the school because in 1942, it was reported that there were no “Negro” children in Holy Cross School and that “Negro” applicants were referred to the all-Black St. Anselm’s parochial school. We were enrolled in St. Benedict’s in 1938.
Before our experiences at Holy Cross Church, my parents separated and divorced. During the break-up, along with the dismantling of the apartment we all shared, my siblings and I were placed in St. Joseph’s Home until an agreement could be worked out as to which parent could most adequately care for their four children.
St. Joseph’s Home was established as a temporary placement for homeless children until permanent placement arrangements could be made. Some children stayed for only a few days, others stayed longer. St. Joseph’s was, at that time, located in Chicago, Illinois on East 35th Street near the railroad tracks. My mother, who was 20 years my father’s junior, took original custody of us. However, when she later remarried and started another family, my father took final custody of his four children.
Our placement at St. Joseph’s proved to be a nightmare! At that time, I was seven years old, my sister was nine, one brother was eleven years old, and my other brother was three. My three-year-old brother was placed in the nursery and we older siblings were placed in the general population. Upon being admitted to St. Joseph’s we were immediately confronted with the harsh reality of the depth of the outgrowths of Catholic institutional racism.
We were assigned a special table in the dining hall, a table that was placed in a location some distance away from the tables assigned to the White children. White boys, who were assigned as waiters, had the responsibility of placing family style containers of food on the tables. They would slop the serving dishes on our table and sparingly give us second helpings, if we got second helpings at all. We complained about this situation to our father who confronted the administration. The situation improved somewhat for a short period of time, but later the servers reverted to their original unchecked behavior.
During one period of time, head lice became rampant in the girls’ quarters. The nun in charge relayed either verbally, or by her attitude toward my sister and I, that the head lice originated with us. Actually, during those days it was a given that Black girls did not get head lice because of the type of hair treatment they received—the straightening of the hair with hot combs, and the scalp treatment that Black girls received at their hair salons, as well as the follow-up treatment the girls gave themselves.
During our stay at St. Joseph’s, my mother paid a beautician to come to the Home to dress our hair. We continued with the follow-up care of our hair after the beautician’s visit. During this lice epidemic, the White girls avoided contact with my sister and I by walking at a distant radius around us as we sat alone on a bench in the recreation room.
One evening as the girls were lining up to leave the recreation area and go to the dormitory, one White girl became ill and regurgitated on the floor. The White girl monitor searched the line until her eyes focused on me. She ordered that I clean up the vomit. When I refused, she reported me to the nun in charge, who also ordered that I clean up the vomit. After I continued to refuse, I was ordered to stay in the area until I did as I was ordered. All of the lights were turned off and I was left in the dark while the other girls were marched to the dormitory.
Being by myself in the dark, in this huge room was traumatizing. To get out of this predicament, I swallowed my justified pride, hurriedly swiped the vomit with the rag I was given, dropped it right back on the floor, and ran to the dormitory. I was fearful that the nun would make me return to that room to completely clean-up the vomit, but she did not. It was at this point that I began wetting the bed.
After the nun discovered my wet bed, she would focus on my bed, holding me up for ridicule. My bed wetting stopped after my sister would wake me during the night and send me to the bathroom.
On another occasion, after feeling sick, I attempted to lie down on a bench in the recreation room. The nun in charge would prod me and make me sit up. After a few days of her observing my listlessness and my repeated attempts to lie down, she sent me to the infirmary where I was diagnosed with scarlet fever. Had she touched my forehead, she would have known that I was feverous.
My sister and I were at St. Joseph’s for about 2 months. Ironically, many years later, when I was a probation officer at the Juvenile Court of Cook County, I had occasion to visit St. Joseph’s to follow up on a child dependency case. As I entered the building, I had a flashback of my experiences and was able to envision the entire layout of the building. The visiting room to which I was directed was eerily familiar to me.
In Their Own Words
Examples of other Chicago residents, and there are many more, who were and are the victims of the outgrowths of Catholic institutional racism, include Marie Rodney Davis, Jewell E. Diemer, and Frances Thomas Spain.
Institutional racism, as defined by Father Byran Massingale in his book, Racial Justice and the Catholic Church, encompasses an underlying set of cultural meanings and values that interprets skin color differences, that allows White Americans to enjoy a privileged social status, that gives them access to advantages and benefits to the exclusion and detriment to persons of color, the core of which defends “racially based white social privilege.”
Examples throughout this chapter are the OUTGROWTHS of Institutional racism. Feeling the pressure of the changing times in society, to some extent these outgrowths have been haphazardly addressed by the Catholic hierarchy through publications, group conferences, and meetings. However, systematic follow-up strategies designed to implement change have been lacking.
For example, even though White flight in neighborhoods was and is common, the question remains as to what the Catholic hierarchy did, or could do now to attempt to reverse White thinking and actions regarding how they perceive African Americans. Catholic hierarchical decision-makers could begin by appointing a representative number of African American clergy into their inner circles. Later chapters will follow the trend of the exclusion of African American clergy from such positions.
Mrs. Marie Rodney Davis has been a member of St. Ailbe’s parish since August 1967. Her current service to the parish is nurturing, and considering what she endured early on, is remarkable. Approximately two weeks after moving into St Ailbe’s parish in 1967, Mrs. Rodney made an evening appointment with the secretary to see the pastor. Arriving, Mrs. Davis was admitted by the parish housekeeper who led her to a sitting room that contained a big desk.
After a short while, the pastor, Father Eugene Sullivan, entered the room, walked around to the other side of the desk, sat down, folded his arms and proceeded to stare at her. He never opened his mouth. Finally deciding that Father Sullivan needed to know her status, Mrs. Davis introduced herself, told him about her family, her Catholic beliefs, and other details about her life. She stated that she was new in the parish and that she wanted to be registered as a member. She explained that her son had just graduated from St. Anselm’s grammar school, that she was married for the second time, and that her husband was not Catholic. Not knowing what else to do or say, she sat quietly. The pastor continued to stare at her without speaking. After advising him that she had nothing more to say, Mrs. Davis got up from her chair, turned around and left the room. Father Sullivan made no moved to stop or engage her.
By the time Mrs. Davis got back home, she was in tears and described herself as having an empty feeling. Seeing her emotional state as she walked into her house, her husband questioned as to what was wrong. She described her experience with Father Sullivan stating that she had never felt such demeaning, flagrant injustice. Mr. Davis encouraged her to continue in the Catholic Church stating that she should not allow anyone to stop her from worshipping in her church. Mr. Davis predicted that if Father Sullivan was as prejudiced as he appeared, he would soon be gone, and sure enough, Father Sullivan left within a year. Mr. Davis reminded his wife that the church belonged to the people, not the pastor.
Within the same year of Father Sullivan’s departure, there was a mass exodus of white families out of the neighborhood. Mrs. Davis followed her husband’s advice and, along with the then small number of black families, regularly attended Mass at the Church. She stated even though she was not an officially registered parishioner, she considered herself a member of the Church because she had given Father Sullivan the requisite information for membership in a Catholic parish. Her reception from the White parishioners was mixed. Some went out of their way to be cordial, other did not.
By the time Mrs. Davis moved into St. Ailbe’s parish, her son had already graduated from the all-black St. Anselm’s grammar school, consequently, her son was not confronted with acts of racism on the elementary level as was the situation with other black children who were enrolled in St. Ailbe’s elementary school. The Davis family was among the first Blacks to move into the area east of St. Ailbe’s Church. Families residing west of St. Ailbe’s Church moved into that area before the East Side Blacks moved into their area. Those families residing west of St. Ailbe’s bore the brunt of overt racist acts as did their children who integrated the school. It was commonly known that Blacks, who attempted to enroll in Chicago’s Holy Cross School, were referred to the all-Black St. Anselm’s School.
As a fulltime working mother, Mrs. Davis’ schedule did not allow her to be as involved in the organizations at St. Ailbe’s as she would have liked. She did, however, join the social committee of the Church whose focus was fundraising. By the time Mrs. Davis became actively involved in the Church’s activities, the neighborhood had changed completely from White to Black. The change was swift with White Catholic homeowners and renters paralleling their non-catholic counterparts in deserting the area.
Mrs. Davis became more involved in church activities after her husband’s death in 1979. Her grief over Mr. Davis’ passing was deep. Sensing her depression, her pastor, at that time, Father Cahill, whom she described as her emotional savior, convinced her to become involved in the Women’s Club. This proved to be a springboard to her recovery from depression. Her activities at St. Ailbe’s included becoming a lay minister, tending to the sick and infirm members of the parish, becoming an active member of the Women’s Club, a 26-year member of the liturgy team, and a 14-year director of the male and female retreat programs.
Even though her husband was not Catholic, Father Cahill offered to have Mr. Davis buried in the Catholic Church because he felt that Mr. Davis was more Catholic than some baptized Catholics, as he was an active member of the church along with his wife. Father Cahill was the celebrant at Mr. Davis’ Mass of the Resurrection and Mr. Davis is buried in St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery.
Mrs. Davis is pleased with her current associations at St. Ailbe’s. The Church’s membership is all Black and boasts an African American associate pastor, Reverend Andrew Smith, whom Mrs. Davis describes as a dynamic homilist. Since the neighborhood is totally Black, as are St. Ailbe’s parishioners, Mrs. Davis does not envision any future diversity in the St. Ailbe’s neighborhood nor in St. Ailbe’s church membership.
The following, in her own words, is the first-hand experience of Jewell E. Diemer.
“It was June of 1946, and my parents were sitting in the Corpus Christi Church rectory. The pastor requested that my parents meet with him, the purpose of which was to recommend that I apply to St. Xavier High School as the first black student. My parents were receptive to the idea and an appointment was made. I was excited with the prospect. I had often passed the campus on 49th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue and wondered what it would be like to attend such a school. The school, at that time, was located in the Black community.
“My parents and I arrived at the school at the appointed time. My father rang the doorbell and we waited. When the door opened a nun stepped outside. She said my school records were excellent, but that they could not consider me for admission. It was felt that the White parents would remove their children from the school if Blacks were admitted. After relaying that information, we were thanked for coming and dismissed. My parents were livid! I was disappointed. We had not been treated with courtesy and respect. My parents informed the pastor of Corpus Christi of the meeting and told him that in the Fall I would be attending a public high school, Du Sable High School. I did attend Du Sable High School and graduated in June 1950.”
Ms. Diemer is currently a non-practicing Catholic who continues to contribute financially to Corpus Christi Church in remembrance of the nurturing she received from a few of her elementary school teachers. Ms. Diemer entered Chicago’s Roosevelt University after her 1950 graduation from Du Sable High School. She went on to earn two Master of Arts degrees from Roosevelt, one in Early Childhood Education, the other in Guidance and Counseling. She taught for many years in the Chicago Public School System.
Ms. Diemer’s experience with the Mercy nuns who administered St. Xavier High School (Academy) preceded my experiences with the Mercy nuns at the same location. St. Xavier Academy and St. Xavier College were housed on the same campus. I entered St. Xavier College in August 1947 and graduated from the College in 1951. I noted at the time of my enrollment in the college that students in the college came from working class parents, while those in the high school (St. Xavier Academy) appeared to be from well-to-do families. The Academy students arrived at the school in chauffer-driven limousines or by private cars. Most of the college students arrived by public transportation.
I was one of seven Blacks admitted to the liberal arts program and the lone Black in that program to graduate in four years. The other six Blacks dropped out along the way for various reasons. I did not experience any overt acts of racism, but I went about my classes as a loner, never being invited into any of the White circle of students. I was, however, warmly embraced by Sister Josetta Butler, RSM, the dean, who took me on as her student secretary, a position I held during my four years in the college. Sister later shared with me that the work I did part-time on school days and on some weekends was shared by seven students when the school relocated out of the Black neighborhood to 103rd and Central Park, an all-White neighborhood.
My sister, who was two years my senior, entered St. Xavier in 1945. She dropped out because she could not withstand what she considered to be overt acts of racism directed toward her. She did, however, boast of a few White students who extended a hand of kindness and acceptance.
It was rumored that before my sister’s enrollment, a Black student entered the College and graduated, but having Caucasian features, it was not known that she was of African American parentage. During my years at the College, I was aware of three Black girls who were admitted into the nursing program. One dropped out and the remaining two graduated. Following my admission to the College, other African American students were subsequently admitted and graduated.
Frances Thomas Spain has been a member of St. Margaret of Scotland Church, 9837 South Throop Street, for over 40 years—sadly, integrated in name only. She was among the first influx of African Americans who moved into the Church’s attendance area. Many of the Whites fled the area and took up residence in White neighborhoods, but returned to the Church for the Sunday Masses. During a recent interview, Mrs. Spain spoke of the current racial divide that exists in the Church, particularly during the Sunday Masses.
“The White parishioners separate themselves from the Blacks and do not make attempts to interact with us.”
She went on to say that during the Handshake of Peace, the Whites do not reach out to the African Americans. During this part of the Mass, Mrs. Spain has been unsuccessful in her attempts to make eye contact with White parishioners. The long-time and aging pastor does nothing to bridge the gap that exists between these two groups, apparently unaware, or unwilling to do anything about the issue. In a letter to Mrs. Spain, dated May 13, 2010, the pastor wrote that he did not know everyone in the parish personally, but he appreciated her financial contributions to the Church.
Mrs. Spain also shared that she does not attend church every Sunday, but she sends her contributions to the church on a monthly basis. A month may go by without her attending Sunday Mass. Mrs. Spain indicated that some of the older Black parishioners, who were among the first to integrate the Church, have died, and several others have left the St. Margaret of Scotland Church presumably because of the atmosphere surrounding the Black/White racial divide.
Mrs. Spain further spoke of an invitation to a wedding from a co-worker of her husband. The ceremony was held in a Polish church and was conducted in Polish. She stated that upon entering the church and taking a seat in a pew, those already seated in that pew, and in rows in front of them and behind them, moved away to more distant seating.
Mr. & Mrs. Spain stayed during the ceremony, but decided not to attend the reception in the church hall. They were also unsuccessful in getting those leaving the church to take their gift for the couple to the reception. Mrs. Spain said that finally, the groom’s brother came and got the gift. They never received an acknowledgement of the gift.
Spiraling White Flight
Racial profiling added to the mix of keeping the races divided. Real estate agents were successful in lining their pockets in fanning the flames of White fear by impressing upon Whites that with Blacks moving into their neighborhood, home values would plummet and that it was in their best interest to stem the flow of the devaluation of their homes by selling immediately. Whites sold their homes at rates lower than what they had hoped. On the other hand, the same properties were sold to Blacks at inflated prices.
Some Catholic priests took leadership roles in attempting to intimidate Blacks to keep them from moving into the White ethnic enclaves. They were, however, unsuccessful in keeping Blacks out, but they were successful in promoting the flow of panicky Whites moving out of the areas. As African Americans began moving into Chicago’s Marquette Park neighborhood, the charge to keep Blacks out of the neighborhood was led by a Catholic priest.
In the late 1950s, my husband, daughter and I, along with other Black families moved into a predominately Irish and Jewish neighborhood (Chatham). We noted that Whites moved out at night, even closing their businesses. We would wake up in the morning to discover vacant apartments on our block.
As White Catholics fled to all-White communities, they left behind membership and financial voids in the ethnic churches they deserted. A 1920 observation noted that eleven ethnic Chicago Catholic Churches were located within the space of a little more than a square mile. Each Black Catholic family that moved into Catholic parish areas deserted by White Catholic ethnics chose to take out memberships in one of the Catholic churches. This small number of Blacks in each of the formerly ethnic parishes was unable to financially maintain the churches the same as before.
My family’s residence was within the attendance areas of three Catholic churches—St. Clotilde, St. Dorothy, and St. Francis De Paula. I made the decision to take out membership at St. Dorothy’s. By that time, St. Dorothy’s membership was approximately 99.9% African American. I became an active member of their Altar and Rosary Society and served one term as president (prefect) of the organization.
During a gathering of the different church Sodalities of the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, a member of a White Sodality group approached me after she became aware that I was a member of St. Dorothy’s. She proudly bragged about being a former member of St. Dorothy’s parish and how hard her Sodality group worked to raise funds to furnish the school’s kitchen. She also bragged about other services her group rendered St. Dorothy’s.
This woman was completely insensitive to the implied message she sent. She left this relatively new church for no other reason than wanting to get away from African Americans who were moving into the neighborhood. These African Americans were representative of a mixture of city service workers, teachers, lawyers, doctors, and business entrepreneurs. This is a clear demonstration of how an attitude, much less a policy of inclusiveness was missing from the White Catholic ethnics as well as from the Catholic clergy who followed the dictates of the institutional Catholic Church.
During an earlier period, racism among the different ethnic groups had existed. However, these Catholics eventually came to the realization that their similarities outweighed their differences. Second and third generations of ethnics were integrated into general parish congregations with English being recognized as the common language.
AFRICAN AMERICANS WERE EXCLUDED FROM THIS INTEGRATION OF WHITES
As Catholic churches became predominately Black, the Catholic hierarchy appeared to be comfortable in promoting evangelism within each Black Catholic community. The focus was and continues to be:
…to increase the number of converts,
…to encourage parishioners to attend Mass regularly,
…to become involved in their segregated parish churches,
…to follow the dictates of the Catholic religion,
…to support church organizations, and,
…to give financial support to the church.
The Black/White racial divide remains an unaddressed issue, while at the same time Catholic policy continues the push for evangelization (recruiting Blacks to join the Catholic Church) within separate Black Catholic parishes. As was the situation in Milwaukee where St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Colored Mission (later St. Benedict the Moor Church and School) was built specifically for Blacks, in New Orleans White and African Americans worshipped in separate Catholic Churches. Chicago’s St. Monica’s Catholic Church, never completely finished, was built specifically for “Negroes.” However, unlike St. Benedict’s, where there is no documented evidence that Whites were discouraged from attending its church services, St. Monica was designated for “Negroes” ONLY with Whites being discouraged from attending its church services.
The Pinnacle of Catholic Racial Disparities
While Lincoln Charles Valle, an African American layman spearheaded the building of St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Colored Mission, Father Augustus Tolton was in the forefront of establishing St. Monica’s as the first church in Chicago to be built specifically for African Americans. Father Tolton’s journey leading him to Chicago was long and arduous.
On a personal note, Lincoln Charles Valle worked with Father Tolton as his secretary and fundraiser and relocated to Milwaukee after Father Tolton’s death. My maternal grand uncle, Peter Adler, was an usher and custodian at St. Monica’s during Father Tolton’s ministry at the Church. Unfortunately, being only a toddler during Peter’s lifetime, I did not have a relationship with him or his mother, my great grandmother, Jennie Adler.
After his death, Peter and his mother moved into Father Tolton’s house. I remember my parents showing me a newspaper article reporting the January 3, 1930 burning of St. Elizabeth’s Church. The clipping pictured my grand uncle, Peter Adler, the Church’s custodian and usher, carrying a life-sized cross on his shoulder out of the burning Church, reminiscent of Christ’s carrying His cross. Peter and his mother, Jennie Adler, remained devout Catholics and members of St. Monica’s and later St. Elizabeth’s Church until their deaths. They are buried side-by-side in Chicago’s Catholic Mount Olivet Cemetery, the same cemetery in which Father Augustus Tolton’s mother, Martha Tolton, and his sister are buried.
A Change in Perception
My disenchantment with the Catholic Church developed over a period of time that began during my young adult years. Even though I felt that the discipline imposed upon St. Benedict the Moor students was too strict, I did not get any in-house messages that the Black students were academically inferior to their White counterparts. The blatant Catholic racism during my years at St. Benedict’s was demonstrated in the sports areas (football, basketball, and wrestling) where it was felt that the referees’ decisions generally went against St. Benedict teams.
There was never any doubt relayed to St. Benedict students that they could achieve academically to the highest level. Selected students were enrolled in competitive contests with White students (essay, debate, oratorical speaking, etc.). Black students never questioned their ability to grasp subject area materials.
During my elementary school years, students were administered the same diocesan tests given to students in the White schools, however, the test forms were delivered to St. Benedict’s on the same day that the tests were administered. St. Benedict teachers were unable to cover the exam material because they did not see the specific content until the day they were delivered. The forms were picked up the same day they were administered, to be scored by archdiocesan personnel. Despite this fact, we were well prepared for success. I remember confidently completing the exams without stress.
Also, during my elementary and high school years at St. Benedict’s, we were exposed to the accomplishments of noteworthy African Americans either in our “Negro Literature” classes or during “Negro History Week.” Selected students were taken to the performance of Paul Robeson in Othello and Marion Anderson in concert. African American entertainers such as Cabell “Cab” Calloway and Bill Robinson staged special performances for St. Benedict students at the theatre where they were featured before the theatre was opened to the public. Bill Kenny of the famed, Ink Spots, gave a special performance at St. Benedict’s.
Regarding segregated Catholic Schools, the situation before the Civil Rights movement was accepted as “a way of life.” However, during vacation periods at home with my single-parent father, the realities of racism were discussed at the dinner table. My father would lead our lively, open debates on the issues of the day and focus on overt and subtle acts of racism. During my young adult life I was, again, personally confronted with racism stemming from Catholic institutions and society.
After enrolling my daughter in St. Dorothy’s School, I had occasion to bond with two families who had moved into the area with the first influx of African American families. I was advised by them that the quality of instruction in the school had decreased as the student population became predominately African American. These families had children in the middle and upper grades in the school. My daughter started in kindergarten and completed her first, second, and third grades at the school. I was satisfied with her kindergarten instruction under an African American lay teacher. I was not completely satisfied with the quality of instruction she received in her early years, but being a teacher I was not overly concerned. I simply supplemented her exposure to academics at home.
I believed that in parochial, as well as in public and private schools, a particular student may have a weak teacher at one grade level and a strong/effective teacher at subsequent levels. However, when my daughter entered the fourth grade at St. Dorothy’s, I noted that the readers assigned to her classroom were exactly the same readers used in her third grade. When I approached the principal, Sister Agnella, to discuss my concerns, she was indignant that I dared question her judgment. I attempted to explain that I had no objections to my daughter having a third grade reader, but not the same one she’d already successfully completed.
After becoming aware that my daughter was being singled out by a few nuns as having a mother who expected her to have special treatment, I transferred her to the public school within our attendance area where her achievement and the curriculum was within the purview of fourth graders. The public school, Pirie, at that time, was known for its high academic standards and its team teaching initiatives.
Being Catholic, and having been exposed to high academic standards during my elementary school years at St. Benedict’s, I wanted my daughter to have a similar Catholic education. I later learned that the fourth grade readers that should have been assigned my daughter’s room were given to a sixth grade room of remedial readers. According to the two families with whom I bonded, such an incident would not have happened when the school was predominately White. I am certain that the needs of White remedial readers were met throughout the years of White enrollment at the school, but not at the expense of lower grade students who were on grade level.
As the president of the Church’s Altar and Rosary Society, a group that gave financial assistance to the school, I did not expect any particular favors. I did expect to have a reasonable conversation with the principal and not be brushed off as if my concerns didn’t matter. I was convinced that had I been White, I would have been treated with dignity. I later read in one of the daily papers that Sister Agnella, and some of her nuns assigned to the school, along with a White priest assigned to the parish, left as a group at the same time. Their exodus, according to the news article, appeared to have had racial overtones.
During my daughter’s first year at Western Illinois University in McComb, Illinois, she decided to attend Sunday Mass at the only Catholic Church in the area that appeared to have an all-White congregation. When she entered the Catholic Church, the priest, who was speaking to the congregation as he faced them, stopped in mid-sentence to stare at her. The congregation turned around in unison also to stare at her. She turned, and walked out of that Church, and soon thereafter walked away from the Catholic religion.
Even though I do not believe in all of the tenets espoused by the Catholic Church, I have come to embrace and cherish those ceremonial and faith pillars I do believe in. I know that some Catholic nuns, brothers, priests, cardinals and popes are simply human beings who have made unwise and at times immoral decisions.
Although Catholic teachings separate papal decisions from the infallibility of Popes on faith and morals, I still have concerns about accepting a Pope’s infallibility in light of the history of the Catholic Church regarding scandalous behavior on the part of certain popes.
My concerns certainly extend to the Church’s ineffectiveness in confronting at its core longstanding discriminatory practices affecting African Americans. Incidentally, I believe the victims of sexual abuse by some Catholic clergy, and the blatant cover-up, resulted from the same fundamental core cause:
THE ENTRENCHED PRACTICE OF THE ENTITLEMENT OF WHITE MALES, ESTABLISHING WOMEN AND MINORITIES, ESPECIALLY AFRICAN AMERICANS, AS SECOND CLASS MEMBERS OF THE CATHOLIC INSTITUTION.
A Feature Article Based on my Book
Title: Why are there No African-American Cardinals?
I hope you can all join me in both thanking and congratulating America Magazine for conducting the recent groundbreaking Pope Francis interview! This humble Jesuit was clearly hand-picked by God to lead the Church, the Mystical Body of believers, into the Light of long-overdue reform. It would appear that Pope Francis is being inspired by the Holy Spirit to shift the Church's focus from the polarizing hot-button issues of contraception, abortion, and gay marriage in order to better balance the Church’s outreach in pastoral love to all those in need--to all those who have previously felt alienated and abandoned by the Church. It is in that spirit of progressive reform that this article will reveal an institutional sin in once sense more grievous than the priest abuse scandal because more individuals have been affected.
I am Dolores Foster Williams, the author of the book, Institutional Racism and the Catholic Church. Despite the challenging tone of my book’s title, I have been a loyal Catholic since childhood and only want to help the Church step beyond a troubled segregated past, and in the spirit of Pope Francis’ recent initiatives, into a new more inclusive future. I was a boarding student at St. Benedict the
from 3rd grade through high school. I graduated from
School St. Xavier
University, later earned a M.Ed. Degree from Loyola, and spent 36
years with the public schools. Chicago
My book is reflective of the experiences of countless Americans of African descent who suffered under the regressive grip of institutional racism perpetuated by a Christian organization which supposedly was dedicated to justice and equality. Many of us succeeded in spite of the racism encountered throughout society and which was unfortunately also entrenched within the walls of the institutional Catholic Church. Institutional Racism and the Catholic Church attempts to shine light on and open up a discussion long buried by Catholic evangelism policies that were not inclusive. The roots of this racism go back centuries.
As early as the 1600s Catholic evangelism strategies involved converting peoples of color in ways that did not respect their native cultures, values, or religious traditions. The clear message—if you want to live a successful life you must become one of us, follow our White ways and practice our tradition of Catholicism. As if this blatant racism was not bad enough, there were unspoken, even more despicable forces at work.
the Catholic Church began an evangelism outreach to
members of the African American community by opening churches and schools for
them exclusively. The same thing was going on to support a diverse group of
other White ethnic groups. Over time, the African American churches and schools
began to close, the victims of ongoing racism and because of that racism, their
members lacked the financial resources to support a thriving church. How did the
Catholic Church react to this trend? America
Instead of instituting more inclusive policies, they allowed the closures to continue. When neighborhoods began to change, when Blacks moved in, the Catholic churches located in those neighborhoods were allowed to deteriorate. Without institutional policies promoting inclusion, the African American presence in the Catholic Church today has declined to the point of insignificance. Catholic schools are almost exclusively homogeneous—predominately White, predominately Hispanic, or predominately African American, as is church membership. The number of Black Catholic priests, nuns, and brothers is insignificantly small.
My second book, Institutional Racism and the Catholic Church is the sequel to Saint Benedict the Moor, A Legacy Revisited. Interspersed in that book are descriptions of blatant instances of racial discrimination experienced by some students and other persons associated with St. Benedict the Moor from the time of the inception of the church and school. Institutional Racism and the Catholic Church revisits those mirrors of Catholic racism, along with accounts of past acts of racism experienced by other Black individuals which were perpetuated by Catholic hierarchy. In my book I question the validity and promise of current attempts to bridge the White/Black Catholic racial divide while proposing suggestions that Catholic decision makers can institute to make the Catholic Church a healing force in the 21st century.
A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE
Evidence of early Catholic racism was brought to my attention through the records of a Catholic evangelization movement in
led by Mr. Charles Boettinger, a Caucasian member of St. Gall’s
Catholic Church. Mr. Boettinger was eventually not allowed to continue his work
in . Black Catholics during this period who claimed membership
to Caucasian parishes were relegated to church balconies during the Masses.
Later, a Catholic mission for African Americans was founded and Father Stephen Eckert, OFM, OM, was the
’s first resident priest, followed by Father Philip
Steffes, OFM, Cap. were instrumental in bringing stability to the
Mission . The name, St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Colored Mission,
eventually became known as St. Benedict the
Mission and School, which I attended as a child.
Internal racist labels first surfaced before the tenure of Fathers Stephen and Philip when
students were referred to as “piccaninnies,” “niggers,” “darkies,” and
“heathens.” One troublesome student was even described as “foaming at the
mouth.” Other early references described the students as having come to the
Mission lacking in morals and having bad habits, and that the task of
Mission teachers was to rid them of these unfavorable
All these years later, I can still see the results of the institutional racist policies on the demographics of the Catholic Church. There are very few to no Black teachers, students, or families in Catholic parishes and schools not designated for African Americans. Catholic parishes tend to be segregated along Black/White and ethnic lines according to historical institutional policies where Caucasians were allowed to mix, but Blacks and Hispanics were kept segregated. Regarding the Church hierarchy, there are NO AFRICAN-AMERICAN CARDINALS which is the most obvious tip of the iceberg discrimination with respect to Church racism.
THE COLLEGE OF CARDINALS
Our newly elected pope refreshingly models qualities the papacy should embody—modesty, humility, and concern for the welfare of the common people. He was elected by the College of Cardinals as has been the case for centuries. Membership in the College of Cardinals encompasses a variety of ethnic groups – Italians, Irish, Germans, Polish, Chinese, Koreans, Africans, and Latinos. Their skill and background profiles are similar to their American Catholic counterparts serving in the Church below the rank of cardinal.
Caucasian American Catholics were hopeful that an American cardinal might be elected pope, touting two cardinals considered to embody the qualities expected of a pope. Black Catholics, however, didn’t even have the hope that a Black pope from
might finally reform the racist practices that have held
back American Black Catholics. America
AFRICAN AMERICANS ARE
CONSPICUOUSLY ABSENT FROM THE
COLLEGE OF CARDINALS
A cursory examination of the ethnicity of American cardinals and the paths they followed culminating in their appointments supports the charge of nepotism and elitism as well as racism among the Catholic hierarchy. I won’t even focus on the obvious problem of gender bias as the Church has conveniently sidestepped the problem by not allowing women to become priests. That, too, may change under Pope Francis as he has already stressed the need for the Church to take advantage of the “genius of women.”
Compounding the problem, there are no seminaries founded by African Americans. After accepting and ordaining a number of African American men, why haven’t Caucasian seminary leaders been at the forefront in promoting a process whereby African American priests would, at least, be consider cardinal candidates?
Caucasians who eventually reached the level of cardinal were either trained in Diocesan seminaries or in Order seminaries. Diocesan seminaries were established in city/state municipalities for the purpose of training priests to service parishes in those municipalities. Order seminaries were established by clerics who named their particular Orders after men who were declared saints. For example, Franciscan Orders have been named after St. Francis and Dominican Orders have been named after St. Dominic. Priests in Order seminaries may be assigned to settlements throughout the world. For example, the Capuchin Franciscan Order of Friars has priests in two or more of the six continents.
For many years African American men were denied admission to Caucasian seminaries, Diocesan and Order seminaries. Once accepted, some or all experienced racism. Two seminaries, however, are credited with having been the first to train African American men for the priesthood. They are the Society of the Divine Word based in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi and St. Joseph Seminary based in
. Other seminaries, Diocesan and Order, only began
accepting African American priesthood candidates generations after their
American Roman Catholic decision makers went along with the larger society, following the same pattern of discrimination against African Americans. That being the case it appears that the lack of African American cardinals has never been seriously considered a problem among the American or greater institutional Roman Catholic hierarchy.
Below from the lowest to the highest are clergy levels before the level of pope. The Cardinal level is the level just below that of pope.
Bishop Wilton Gregory of the
, Archdiocese is the lone African American
archbishop. Bishop Gregory is a former chair of the National Conference of
Catholic Bishops. He proved to be an effective administrator in two of his
previous appointments; Atlanta,
Illinois and . He and other select African American priests/bishops,
without any doubt, possess the qualities expected of a cardinal. A cursory
examination of their educational achievements and their experiential backgrounds
are testament to their abilities to be effective
During the 20'th Century when American society eventually recognized and legally dealt with racist issues, the Catholic Church continued to keep their moral and ethical head buried in the sand, and simply continued to tolerate the great social sin of racism. During this same period the plight of priest sex abuse was ongoing and we now know, recognized, but swept under the rug of secrecy until finally lawsuits forced the Church to deal with the problem.
Sadly, the Catholic Church's institutional racism policies have affected far more individuals than the sex abuse cases. Several generations of African American Catholics have suffered the sting of discrimination and have been marginalized, their Catholic churches and schools now closing as a result. How could an institution promoting Christian values have buried their heads in the sands of racism so completely, for so long, as to have allowed this blatant social cancer of institutional racism to have become so entrenched?
As in the case of the pedophile priests, by admitting what has gone on in the past in the area of racism, it is my hope that the Church will put in place programs and policies to make sure all the remnants of racism still affecting Church policies will be banished forever and replaced with the inclusive racial harmony our Christian heritage intended for all peoples of all racial, ethnic, religious, and gender orientation backgrounds.
The disclosure of Church institutional racism represents the next public assault on the credibility of the Catholic hierarchy. Yes, "All Have Sinned . . . " but if the Church is to grow spiritually, as is the prayer of Pope Francis, and which is expected from all of us as individuals, the first step is to acknowledge the sin, then, repent through taking corrective action.
Hopefully, Pope Francis will become aware of the exclusion of African Americans from the College of Cardinals and will put into motion procedures to correct both that injustice and the underlying institutional racism at the heart of the problem.