With yesterday being the memorial of Saint Katherine Drexel, who founded schools in the Southern United States for African Americans and in the West for Native Americans, it seems a good time to recognize that the Church is now in the early stages of considering the cause for sainthood of Father Augustus Tolton, the first African-American diocesan Catholic priest. An American, Fr. Tolton attended seminary and in 1886 was ordained in Rome, because, due to his race, no American seminary would accept him. Despite this exclusion, Fr. Tolton persevered through seminary and served in pious dedication to the Church and to the Lord.
Of course, Fr. Tolton would not be the first African heritage, Roman Catholic saint. The early Egyptian monastics and Saints Augustine and Monica precede him in the rolls of the canonized to name just a few examples, as do Saints Victor I, Melchiades, and Gelasius, the first (189-199), second (311-314), and third (492-496) African Bishops of Rome. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the once-enslaved, biracial, Peruvian, Dominican patron of interracial relations, St. Martin de Porres, was canonized in 1962 and the Kenyan, St. Josephine Bakhita, in 2001. However, since the Oriental Orthodox communion, that includes the Egyptian Coptic Church, the Eritrean, and the Ethiopian Churches, separated from Rome at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, African Orthodox saints have not been included automatically in the Roman canon. And in the West, beginning at least with the transatlantic slave trade in the fifteenth century, anti-black racism has undermined the identification in the Western context of heroic virtue in African heritage persons.
Yet, as the canonization last year of Saint Kateri Takewitha, the first Native American saint shows, church leadership is striving to overcome the damage that has been done in the Western Church by the social sins of cultural and institutional racism to the memory of the heroic virtues of persons of color.
We are nonetheless still faced with the challenge of overcoming racial dynamics in the American pews that might interfere with the consideration of cases like Fr. Tolton’s.
Bishop Joseph Perry, the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago and postulator of Fr. Tolton’s cause stated in a recent visit to South Bend, that, “In the end, the pope does not make saints, they come from the people,” and “What Rome needs to see is that the people want Tolton to be declared a saint.”
However, although the people as a whole must declare that they desire a person to be canonized, rather than speak to the large, majority Catholic population in South Bend at the Cathedral or at Notre Dame and thus widely publicize Fr. Tolton’s cause, Bishop Perry gave his presentation to the relatively small, but diverse, St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in South Bend that historically has been a spiritual refuge for local African-American Catholics.
The principle of subsidiarity might suggest that the smaller, ethnic, Catholic community should be addressed prior to the larger Catholic community as whole, and concerns and resentments about ongoing cultural inequalities might lead African-American Catholics to be hesitant to appeal to the majority Church population to legitimate an African-American saint. At the same time, white Americans are often inclined to consider racial identity an area in which they have no expertise, and thus avoid the topic of race. This reluctance to speak about race might persist inside the American Church. Yet, saints do come from the people as a whole and we must speak with a unified voice.
Fr. Tolton would understand well the complexities of this dilemma, for he experienced the bite of racism within the Church. While serving his first parish in Quincy, when white parishioners began attending his masses (and a white couple were even married in his Church), there was a backlash among some–most especially Fr. Weiss, a local pastor who had been placed in charge of the Quincy Deanery–and Fr. Weiss convinced the Bishop to put a stop to it.
[Fr. Tolton] was told to desist from luring white worshipers and he was told to minister to Negro people only or to go elsewhere. While the other priests in Quincy sympathized with Augustus, there was little they could do. Father Weiss publicly and repeatedly publicized Bishop Ryan’s mandate – that Father Tolton was to minister only to the Negroes. In the meantime, Father Tolton continued to work tirelessly for the welfare of the disintegrating and impoverished parish.
Of course, Fr. Tolton himself also spoke of Catholicism’s unique strengths in crossing the color line and healing the wounds of slavery in speeches such as this:
The Catholic Church deplores a double slavery – that of the mind and that of the body. She endeavors to free us of both. I was a poor slave boy but the priests of the Church did not disdain me. It was through the influence of one of them that I became what I am tonight. I must now give praise to that son of the Emerald Isle, Father Peter McGirr, pastor of St. Peter’s Church in Quincy, who promised me that I would be educated and who kept his word. It was the priests of the Church who taught me to pray and to forgive my persecutors… it was through the direction of a Sister of Notre Dame, Sister Herlinde, that I learned to interpret the Ten Commandments; and then I also beheld for the first time the glimmering light of truth and the majesty of the Church. In this Church we do not have to fight for our rights because we are black. She had colored saints – Augustine, Benedict the Moor, Monica. The Church is broad and liberal. She is the Church for our people.”
How can we ensure that Catholics speak together to make saints in love of the Eucharist across racial divisions? How can we ensure the emergence of an integrated Church, rather than a disintegrating one?
Perhaps, we should pray to Fr. Tolton for a vision of Church that shatters our man-made boundaries, that sees all of Christ’s children as Christ sees them, and that holds true to our wholly Catholic understanding of ONE Church, holy and Apostolic.
I usually really appreciate posts at Vox Nova, which is why I put the site on the Catholic Conversation’s blog roll. So, when I feel they’ve gotten something wrong, even if it is only in tone and style rather than in substance, I feel the need to call them out on it. And that is what this post does!
In highlighting recurring gender double-standards associated with the virtue of modesty, Kyle Cupp conducts a detailed interpretive analysis of a you-tube video entitled “Virtue makes you Beautiful” that has recently gone viral.
“Intelligent, Courageous, and Full of Love”: The Conversation around Catholic Marriage and Family Life Continues
Many of you may recall the buzz on both The Catholic Conversation and other media over the past few months regarding Pope Francis’ call for global input in preparation for the October 2014 Extraordinary Synod on “the pastoral challenges for the family in the context of evangelization.” Brian Starks discussed the practical issues surrounding the use of scientific vs. non-scientific survey methods to gather responses. Linda Kawental followed the lively discussion in both secular and Catholic media outlets “over what exactly the Vatican questionnaire means and how Catholics are to interpret it.”
Then earlier this month, two countries, Germany and Switzerland, published summaries of responses to the Vatican’s 38 survey questions regarding how the Church’s teachings on marriage and family are understood in their dioceses and how pastoral care regarding key marriage and family issues takes shape there. Their summaries are quite fascinating and worth reading in the original before looking to the manifold media interpretations of these summaries, such as a Catholic News Service (CNS) article after the German and Swiss summaries and Reuter’s interpretation of Germany’s findings.
And now, just this past week (February 20-21), roughly 150 cardinals gathered with Pope Francis in Rome for two days to preliminarily discuss pastoral challenges around marriage and family, focused particularly on three themes: the Christian vision of people and family life; essential pastoral programs to support families; and ministry to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. An overview of their discussions was been made available to reporters by Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesperson, and are summarized here. It is unclear how much the German and Swiss survey summaries influenced these discussions, but the Pope’s call that the Church’s pastoral approach to Christian marriage and family be “intelligent, courageous, and full of love,” his selection of retired German cardinal Walter Kasper to give the opening talk, and the Pope’s simple gesture of arriving before cardinals and greeting each one warmly at the door to the synod hall (video footage available here) may offer clues.
Bob Butz passed away Feb. 5, 2014 at the age of 92.
“I love to teach.” That was Bob Butz’s simple response to a question from a reporter, asking why he was still teaching in his late 70s, long after others had retired. And it was the title given to the article written about him that I posted outside my door as an Assistant Professor at Florida State University.
Or was Mr. Butz in his 80s at the time of the article? I guess I need to go back and find that article in my memory box, because in reading various tributes to Mr. Butz recently, I saw that he finally retired from teaching at age 88. I still remember taking Etymology with him in high school and partaking of his joy in uncovering the hidden roots of a word. read more…
I think there is a common misconception in the Archdiocese of Detroit that there is a priest shortage! When I compare the number of priests to the number of parishes in the Archdiocese, it seems clear to me that there is not a priest shortage. If I am right, sociologists would call “the priest shortage” a mythic fact, myth in the sense of statistically not true. Let me explain. read more…
I would like to thank Sarah Moran for her insightful blogs (3 of them) on “The Social Dimensions of Evangelization,” even though I am late in responding. Stressing the social dimensions of Pope Francis’ thought in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium is important and timely. In stressing a social dimension Pope Francis is not diverging from the thought of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but, he is “emphasizing” something different than they. And it is not just an emphasis on the poor that makes Francis different; it is his systematic treatment of the “social” dimension, particularly as it relates to the poor. Paragraph 57 of his exhortation is shockingly “social” in my estimation in arguing that what you and I have (money) is already the poor’s, it is not like we are giving them something of ours: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs.” read more…
While most of us were thinking about the March for Life in Washington DC, or perhaps of the upcoming Marches in the UK and Paris, the St. Joseph’s Right to Life society organized a March for Life right here in South Bend. The South Bend demonstration was conducted from 12pm-1pm on Wednesday, January 22nd in front of the Courthouse at 204 S. Main Street in Downtown South Bend. During the hour long march, I conducted twelve approximately five minute interviews with march participants. read more…
“Roundtable on the Sociology of Religion: Twenty-Three Theses on the Status of Religion in American Sociology—A Mellon Working-Group Reflection.” 2013. Christian Smith, Brandon Vaidyanathan, Nancy Tatom Ammerman, Jose Casanova, Hilary Davidson, Elaine Howard Ecklund, John H. Evans, Philip S. Gorski, Mary Ellen Konieczny, Jason A. Springs, Jenny Trinitapoli, and Meredith Whitnah. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, PP. 1-36.
The article above should be discussed by sociologists, especially sociologists of religion, and so I highlight one of the 23 theses with that discussion in mind.
Thesis seven states: “disciplinary preoccupations and trends often include conceptual inadequacies and biases that impede the serious study of religion.” read more…
As was the case last year, the blog has been silent over the break, but with the new semester gearing up, we will begin posting again soon. Again, similar to last year, I thought that we would start with a brief review of The Catholic Conversation in 2013. A big thank you to all of our contributors this past year: Sarah Moran, Mike McCallion, Linda Kawentel, Mike Cieslak, Michael Altenburger, Laura Taylor, Gary Adler, and Carol Ann MacGregor. I also appreciated the guest remembrances of Fr. Andrew Greeley’s life and legacy by Larry Cunningham, Melissa Wilde, and Mike Hout. And thank you to all of our readers this past year as well!
By the Numbers:
In 2013, we had 42 posts, 8,707 visitors, and 14,990 page views. The average time viewers spent on a page was 2 minutes 28 seconds.
I am pleased to announce that the second annual “Convo” award for the most popular contribution to the Catholic Conversation is being shared by two worthy contributors this year–Mike McCallion and Linda Kawental. The single most-viewed post was Linda Kawental’s “NFP and Divorce Rates: More Research Needed” This post received 1,963 pageviews in 2013 and the average viewer spent 4 minutes and 41 seconds viewing it. It’s largest single day viewing was on July 24th, which just happened to be during NFP awareness week. However, Linda actually wrote this post in 2012. Plus, since Linda won the “Convo” outright last year (and as I’m not restricted by any official rules for this decidedly unofficial award), I decided it was fitting to also award Mike McCallion a “Convo” for his post entitled “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi” This insightful post linking the work of Durkheim with that of Mark Massa illustrates the importance of liturgy and practice for understanding religion sociologically and received 705 pageviews in 2013.
Congratulations Linda and Mike!
Who will win the prestigious “Convo” in 2014? We shall find out over the next three hundred and some days. By the way, let us know how we’ve done and what you’d like to see more of in 2014.
photo by Michael Holden via Flickr
Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium
If the “new evangelization” has become the definitive terminology and vision of the Catholic Church’s mission today, how is the papacy of Pope Francis shaping this ongoing conversation about the relationship between evangelization and works of charity and social justice? Evangelii Gaudium offers a clue. The fourth chapter is given over to a reflection on the social dimension of evangelization. Interestingly, Pope Francis quickly connects the terms “evangelization” and “liberation” in this discussion:
“Evangelization is meant to cooperate with this liberating work of the Spirit. The very mystery of the Trinity reminds us that we have been created in the image of that divine communion, and so we cannot achieve fulfilment or salvation purely by our own efforts. From the heart of the Gospel we see the profound connection between evangelization and human advancement, which must necessarily find expression and develop in every work of evangelization” (178; emphasis mine).
The relationship between evangelization and charity is a theme dear to Pope Francis. Pope Francis suggests a fundamental link between the preaching of the Gospel and the promotion of human life in all of its expressions: “The kerygma has a clear social content: at the very heart of the Gospel is life in community and engagement with others. The content of the first proclamation has an immediate moral implication centred on charity.” (177).
Moreover, he points to work for social justice as a key test of a “faith which is authentic,” since genuine faith “always implies a profound desire to change the world” (183). Interestingly, on this point he again does not steer away from connecting evangelization and liberation as concepts: “Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society” (187). read more…