While staying with the monks last week, I learned the story of two individuals who made an impact on the Catholic Church. Their witness is desperately needed during these times of scandals. I learned about them because a series of framed photographs depicting their image were hanging on the wall outside the room in which I was staying. Once I learned their name, I learned their story, rooted in African American culture. The voices of Black Catholics need to be heard by all.
Sr. Thea Bowman, a woman and Sister, preached in a way that drew people into the message of Jesus and His gospel. She witnessed to God’s love and justice through preaching and music. She worked with the Bishops, helping to address the painful reality of racism and segregation. Sr. Thea did so in a way that brought people together, celebrating differences and diversity. Her music and preaching are a beacon of light for our Church. Her image in the photos exude Joy. She is on her way to becoming a saint!!! Sr. Thea lived from 1937-1990.
Fr. Cyprian Davis was a monk at St. Meinrad Abbey in southern Indiana. He experienced the horrible effects of racism in the years before the Civil Rights legislation of the mid 1960’s. He participated in the march on Selma and was very much involved in the civil rights movement. His first love was history, and Fr. Cyprian wrote a deeply respected book on the history of Black Catholics in the American Catholic Church. Their history in the church has been largely muted because of poverty and the ravaging effects of racism. The legacy of Black Catholics is both powerful and troubling. Their example remained largely in the background due to the color of their skin and their social position. Their story reminds us of the fact that they were slaves in the lives of some of our “established” saints.
Fr. Cyprian was a gifted scholar, theologian, educator and monk. He was a dedicated monk of St Meinrad Abbey since 1950 and passed away in 2015 at the age of 84. His scholarly works are still being read and studied.
Sr. Thea and Fr. Cyprian, two voices of hope during these trying times, give me…us hope. When I first arrived at the Abbey, the original room assigned to me was changed by a kind woman welcoming visitors at a reception area. She wanted me to have a quiet and peaceful time of solitary prayer, so she, completely on her own, changed my room to a different wing. The wall next to the door of my new room had the photos of these two wonderful witnesses of Catholic faith. How God works!!!
Peace. Fr. Frank