The AAPC Newsletter, November 2023, Issue 5

A Message from Dr. Chiquita T. Tuttle,

Coordinator, African American Pastoral Center


On July 24, 1990, the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus of the United States designated November as Black Catholic History Month to celebrate the long history and proud heritage of Black Catholics. Two commemorative dates fall within this month: St. Augustine’s birthday, Nov. 13, and St. Martin de Porres’ feast day, Nov. 3. November is also when Catholics celebrate the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, an occasion to recall in a special way the saints and souls of Africa and the African Diaspora. 


Some people forget that Christianity did not originate in Europe and even express surprise when they learn that Black Catholic History began in the Acts of the Apostles (8:26-40) with the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch by Philip the Deacon. This text is important for several reasons. First, it chronicles the conversion of the first Black African in recorded Christian history. Second, the text suggests that the man was a wealthy, literate, and powerful emissary of the Nubian Queen and also a faithful, practicing Jew prior to his baptism. Clearly, he was not an ignorant heathen. Third, the Ethiopian Eunuch’s conversion predates the conversions of Saints Paul and Cornelius. Most significantly, many cite this conversion as the very moment when the church changed from a Hebrew and Hellenist community to the truly Universal and Catholic Church. 

Black Catholics trace their faith history back to Christian antiquity long before other nations heard the “Good News.” Christian Africa was indeed a “leading light” in early Christendom. Black Catholics point to three popes who were born in Africa: Saints Victor I, Melchiades, and Gelasius I. All three shepherded the early church through tough and tumultuous times in history. Black Catholics claim many Black Saints like Saints Cyprian, Zeno, Anthony of Egypt, Moses the Black, Pachomius, Maurice, Athanasius, Pisentius, Mary of Egypt, Cyril of Alexandria, Monica of Hippo, Augustine of Hippo, Perpetua, Felicitas, and Thecla. Some of these mystics, monastics, and martyrs literally made the church what it is today. 

Not many people know that King Nzinga-a-Nkuwu Mbemba (Afonso the Good) of the Kongo and his subjects made their profession of faith thanks to the work of Portuguese missionaries one year before Christopher Columbus made his famous voyage in 1492, or that Pope Leo X consecrated the king’s son, Henrique, Titular Bishop of Utica in 1518 which was one year before Martin Luther nailed his list of ninety-five theses to the Church in Wittenberg. Bishop Henrique was the first native bishop of West Africa. However, he died in 1531. The Congolese Church and the hopes for an indigenous clergy died with him. Finally, the genocidal slave trade killed true evangelization in sub-Saharan Africa for several centuries. 

Notwithstanding the moral crimes of chattel slavery, the French and Spanish missionaries ministered to their free and enslaved African population within their respective colonies. This ministry laid the foundation for Black Catholic communities within the United States, i.e. Mobile, Alabama; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Saint Augustine, Florida. It is important to note that many African-American Catholics cherish a certain Peruvian Dominican, Saint Martin de Porres, the only Black Saint from the Western Hemisphere to date. 

Tragically, the American Catholic Church did not seriously commit its time and resources to minister to the African-American population during the ante-bellurn or post-bellum periods. However, God made a way!!! In spite of insuperable obstacles and opposition, African-American Catholics created a remarkable movement of faith and evangelization. Many courageous people played pivotal roles within church history like Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, Mathilda Beasley, Daniel Rudd, and the Reverend Augustus Tolton. They witnessed their faith, ministered to their people, and left lasting legacies in the face of prejudice, ignorance, and indifference. One cannot read their stories without feeling tremendous joy, sorrow, and inspiration. They are truly heroic accounts! 

Black History Month provides opportunities to learn and share the whole history and rich heritage of Christian Catholicism. Ubi Victoria Veritas! The Victory of Truth! 

Source:  Why we celebrate National Black Catholic History Month – Catholic Telegraph (

2022 Black Catholic History Month Homily

Wilton Cardinal Gregory, Archbishop of Washington

Article Links

Black Catholic Messenger - The world needs African-American saints. We're going to Rome to get them:

Smithsonian Magazine - The History of Black Catholics in America:

The Atlantic - There Are More Black Catholics in the U.S. Than Members of the A.M.E. Church:

U.S. Catholic - In the beginning, there were Black Catholics:

Black Catholic Messenger - Holy Rosary & St. John to celebrate 125 years in Columbus as closure looms:

Our History and Contributions to the Church 

History of Black Catholics 

1565: St. Augustine, Florida 

Blacks, both slave and free, help to found this oldest town in the United States. In 1693 Spain offers freedom in Florida to slaves who convert to Catholicism. Until 1763, these freed slaves lived in a community northeast of St. Augustine. Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, or Fort Mose, established in 1738, thus becomes the first free black town in the United States. 


1781: Los Angeles 

Governor Don Felipe de Neve recruits 11 families to settle on the Porciuncula River—now Los Angeles. The settlers are all Catholic, a mix of Africans, Spanish, and American Indians. Meanwhile, Maryland's black Catholic population grows to 3,000 as a result of Jesuit evangelization in the region. 


1829: Oblate Sisters of Providence 

A handful of women from Baltimore's Haitian refugee colony begin to educate local children in their homes. With the support of the archbishop, in 1829 they create the Oblate Sisters of Providence. The first superior is Elizabeth Lange, born in Cuba of Haitian parents. A later archbishop dismisses the need for an order of black religious, but the sisters find new advocates among the Redemptorists and in Saint John Neumann, then archbishop of Philadelphia. Their ministry spreads to Philadelphia and New Orleans. 


1839: In Supremo Apostolatus 

In this 1839 apostolic letter, Pope Gregory XVI condemns the slave trade as the "inhuman traffic in Negroes." Rome outshines the U.S. in race relations from the 17th to 20th centuries. Many U.S. bishops as well as men's and women's religious orders in this period own slaves, sometimes advocating for their proper treatment. Bishop John England of Charleston, South Carolina defends the American domestic slave trade, arguing that Pope Gregory's apostolic letter refers only to slaves imported by the Spanish and Portuguese. Though claiming he is not personally in favor of slavery, he says it was a "question for the legislature and not for me." 


1842: Sisters of the Holy Family  

Founded by Henriette Delille and Juliette Gaudin in New Orleans, the Sisters of the Holy Family become the second religious order for black women. Biracial and of African descent, the founders are free people of color, at that time a separate class and culture above the slaves. The order ministers to poor blacks, educating and tending the sick. During an outbreak of yellow fever, the nuns heroically nurse the sick and are thus granted public recognition. But they are not allowed to wear their habit in public until 1872. 


1889: Daniel Rudd Calls Black Catholic Congress 

In January 1889 almost 100 black Catholic men meet with President Grover Cleveland on the last day of the first black Catholic lay congress in U.S. history. Daniel Rudd, a journalist from Ohio and founder of the American Catholic Tribune, becomes a leader of black laity. 


The delegates' statement calls for Catholic schools for black children, endorses temperance, appeals to labor unions to admit blacks, advocates better housing, and praises religious orders for aiding blacks. 

Rudd also helps organize the first lay Catholic congress of the entire U.S. in 1889, where he insists that blacks be treated as part of the whole, not as a special category. Thus black Catholics made the social implications of Catholicism into a primary feature of the faith, a new and bold approach for the time. 


1909: Knights of Peter Claver 

The fraternity of the Knights of Peter Claver is established by the work of Josephite priests as a parallel to the Knights of Columbus. It soon develops chapters for women and young people. 


1916: Committee for the Advancement of Colored Catholics 

Led by Thomas Wyatt Turner, the Committee for the Advancement of Colored Catholics forms during World War I to care for black Catholic servicemen, neglected by both the Knights of Columbus and the black YMCA. 

The U.S. bishops, despite requests from Rome to act on behalf of blacks during the race riots and lynchings of 1919, avoid the topic at their first annual meeting. In response, the committee publicly urges the bishops to denounce discrimination and consult with black Catholics, saying, "At present we are neither a part of the colored world (Protestant), nor are we generally treated as full-fledged Catholics." 


1916: Handmaids of Mary 

The Georgia state legislature introduces a bill prohibiting whites from teaching black students. Although the law eventually fails, a community of black sisters is formed to teach. In 1922 the sisters relocate to New York where they start a soup kitchen and begin educating local children. In 1929 they affiliate with the Franciscan Third Order, becoming the Franciscan Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary. Still active in Harlem, their ministries have spread elsewhere in the United States. 


1920: First Seminary for Blacks 

The Society of the Divine Word in Greenville, Mississippi, with the blessing of Pope Benedict XV, opens St. Augustine's, the first seminary for blacks. Some American bishops are still not convinced of the merit of a black priesthood. 


1958: Denunciation of Racism | Brothers and Sisters to Us 

American bishops denounce racial prejudice as immoral for the first time in their Pastoral Letter on Racism: "Brothers and Sisters to Us". 


1965: March in Selma 

Many Catholic clergy and women religious join the march in Selma, Alabama, marking the church's foray into the civil rights struggle for racial equality. 


1968: First Black Clergy Caucus 

Prior to the meeting of the Catholic Clergy Conference on the Interracial Apostolate in 1968, Father Herman Porter of the Rockford, Illinois diocese invites all U.S. black Catholic clergy to a special caucus. More than 60 black clergy gather to discuss the racial crisis and decide to form a permanent organization: The National Black Clergy Caucus

They send a statement to the bishops strongly criticizing the church but clear in its expression of their devotion and hope. It lists nine demands for the church to be faithful in its mission to blacks and to restore the church within the black community. The caucus remains active today. 


1985: Black Catholic Congresses 

The National Black Catholic Congress is re-established in 1985 as a coalition of black Catholic organizations. In 1987, NBCC renews the tradition of gathering black Catholics from across the country. The first renewed congress, Congress VI (the first five took place in the 1800s), takes place in May of 1987 in Washington, D.C. NBCC holds a national congress every five years, and each event attracts growing numbers of attendees. Congress IX is August 29-September 1 in Chicago. 


2018: Denunciation of Racism | Open Wide Our Hearts 

American bishops once again issue a Pastoral Letter on Racism: "Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love". 

Source: Black Catholic History Month | CUA 

Events Around The Diocese

Events at St. Benedict

Catch up with events at St. Benedict HERE....

Events at St. Columba

Catch up with events at St. Columba HERE....


Black Catholic History Rosary:

Black Catholic History Month Novena:

Historical timeline for your perusal:  

Black Catholic History Timeline - National Black Catholic Congress Website ( 

The History of Black Catholics in the United States by Cyprian Davis (Book

On Kongolese Catholicism by Cécile Fromont (Book


On Christianity and the Origins of White Supremacy (Podcast


On Haitian Black Catholics in Miami (Podcast


On Afro-Cuban Catholicism and Syncretism (Video

Closing Thoughts on Our Historical Journey


Nationally well-known author Benedictine Monk, Cyprian Davis, authored Black Catholic Theology: A Historical Perspective (source: 12/1/2000, Theological Studies, ISSN 0040--5639)  states the following relative to black catholic theology and our historical legacy: 


Black Catholics revealed their sense of rootedness in the Catholic church of that time in the following passage: “we rejoice that our Church, the Church of our love, church of our faith has not failed  to stand by its historic record. For did not the Holy church canonize Augustine and Monica, Benedict the Moor, Cyprian and Cyril, Perpetua and Felicity….”(14) American Catholics at the end of the 19th  century thought of themselves in terms of their ethnic traditions, their Catholicism was rooted in their ethnic traditions: their saints were the saints of their national history. Undeterred, African American Catholics found their home in the early Church of Africa and in the African saints. Roman Catholics, they sought their roots in the early martyrs Saints Perpetua and Felicity; they identified with the African theologian St. Augustine and his mother; they knew of St. Cyril of Alexandria in Egypt; and they mention St. Benedict the Moor, not a saint of the early church but a son of African slaves in Sicily, a contemporary of Martin Luther. The congress members have been able to find their home in a Church that was at home in the hot sands of North Africa before it was planted in the bogs of Northern Europe. 

Links of Interest From the AAPC*

Black Catholic Messenger: The Voice of US Black Catholics

Black Catholic Messenger Calendar, Black Catholic Events Around the Country

Parishes In Action, A ministry of the Diocese of Oakland

Did You Know?

October is Filipino American History Month:

In Memory of our Beloved Pastor

Fr. Jay Matthews

Email Dr. Tuttle to share updates, events and stories of interest
Donate HERE Today and Support the African American Pastoral Council
Are you registered to VOTE? Register and learn more here

Previous Newsletters

Issue 4

Issue 3

Issue 2

Issue 1

African American Pastoral Center

2121 Harrison Street Suite 100

Oakland, CA 94612