NEW ORLEANS – Xavier University of Louisiana has announced a new initiative to unite groups working on the promotion of African American canonization causes.
A July 31 event at the university’s St. Katharine Drexel Chapel presented the project, which is being spearheaded by Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry of Chicago.
A resource center that will soon be constructed by the university’s Institute for Black Catholic Studies will compile and exhibit educational works about the lives of African Americans whose sainthood causes are open.
Xavier President Reynold Verret said the stories of these African Americans are important to every Catholic, no matter their background.
“It speaks profoundly…to the resilience of Catholic faith, even as it was oppressed in the 19th and 20th century,” he said.
The resource center will initially display information on five black Catholics from the 18th-20th centuries: Julia Greeley, Pierre Toussaint, Mother Mary Lange, Henriette Delille, and Father Augustus Tolton. It will also include information on St. Katharine Drexel, who founded Xavier University of Louisiana, and St. Kateri Tekakwitha. Other stories of potential saints will be added in the future, as new causes open.
Auxiliary Bishop Fernand Cheri of New Orleans moderated the event, which included numerous speakers, including Perry and advocates for each beatification cause.
The occasion also drew attendees from the Joint Conference of Black Catholic Clergy, Black Sisters, Black Catholic Seminarians, and Black Catholic Deacons.
In addition to advancing the canonization causes of holy men and women, Verret said the project is established “to promote the stories of those saints to the larger Catholic community.”
“By this I don’t mean just the black Catholic community…but also the larger Catholic community of any ethnic origin because their examples are powerful examples of living a life of devotion,” he said.
Servant of God Julia Greeley was born a slave in 19th-century Hannibal, Missouri. Greeley was freed by Missouri’s Emancipation Act in 1865 and then came to Denver, where she worked for the territorial governor and then in a number of odd jobs. She converted to Catholicism while in Denver.
Despite her own poverty, she was known for collecting food and other goods for the poor, gaining the title “Denver’s Angel of Charity.” She had a great devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and would walk to 20 different firehouses each month to hand out badges and devotional materials to the firefighters.
Venerable Pierre Toussaint was a slave in what is now Haiti before being brought to New York City and eventually gaining his freedom.
He became a successful hairdresser and was known for offering financial aid to those in need, as well as care for the sick and orphans.
Servant of God Mother Mary Lange was raised in a French-speaking community in Cuba, but moved to the United States in the early 1800s.
Lange eventually moved to Baltimore, where she became the founder and first superior of the Oblate Sisters of Providence. The community provided African American women a path to religious life in the Church. The sisters taught and cared for African American children.
Venerable Henriette Delille was born in the early 1800s to a white father and mixed-raced mother. Because of the laws against interracial marriage, her parents were in a common-law relationship – a path of financial comfort which they encouraged her to take.
Instead, Delille established the Sisters of the Holy Family in New Orleans. The order taught and offered medical care for those in poverty, especially slaves and poor freed blacks.
Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton fled slavery in the mid-1800s and went on to attend seminary in Rome, because no seminary in the U.S. would accept him. Ordained in 1886, he became the first African-American priest in the United States.
After his ordination, Tolton began his priestly ministry in Quincy, Illinois and later founded St Monica’s Church in Chicago, the city’s first black parish.
Xavier University is ranked as the nation’s number two Historically Black College and University by College Consensus and is considered to be the only Historically Black Catholic College in the United States.
The university was founded in 1925 and established the Institute for Black Catholic Studies in 1980. The institute offers training for Catholic ministry within U.S. black Catholic communities.