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A faith that perseveres

Black Catholics celebrate Mass together to mark Black Catholic History Month

Tuesday, November 06, 2012
Ana Rodriguez-Soto - Florida Catholic

Black Catholics from parishes in Miami-Dade and Broward counties take part in the Mass kicking off Black Catholic History Month in the archdiocese.
MIAMI | Black Catholics from throughout South Florida kicked off the celebration of Black Catholic History Month by gathering for Mass at St. Mary Cathedral with Archbishop Thomas Wenski.

The Nov. 4 Mass followed a luncheon Nov. 3 during which three local Catholics received the St. Martin de Porres Award for Excellence. The luncheon coincided with the feast of St. Martin de Porres, “the only saint of color in this hemisphere,” said Oblate Missionary Father John Cox, pastor of Holy Redeemer Parish in Liberty City.

Katrenia Reeves-Jackman, director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry, and Charles Thompson, president of the Black Catholic Implementation Team, take up the offertory.
Father Cox and Father Chanel Jeanty, pastor of St. Philip Neri Parish in Miami Gardens, suspended their Sunday Masses so that their communities could come together to the cathedral Mass. “That’s a first,” Father Cox said.

The choirs from St. Philip, Holy Redeemer and the now-closed St. George Parish in Fort Lauderdale joined with St. Mary Cathedral musicians to provide the music at the Mass. St. George and St. Francis Xavier in Overtown were two predominantly black parishes that closed for financial reasons in October 2009. Parishioners of St. George now attend either St. Anthony or Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Fort Lauderdale, while St. Francis’ parishioners attend Holy Redeemer. St. Philip also closed in 2009 but reopened in 2011.

Father Cox said Black Catholic History Month also coincides with the feasts of All Saints and All Souls to recognize “all the people that were lost in the Middle Passage, all the martyrs of the slavery and segregation era.”

Father Christopher Marino, rector of St. Mary Cathedral, left, takes part in the Mass along with Father Chanel Jeanty, archdiocesan chancellor and pastor of St. Philip Neri Church in Miami Gardens.
The observance was established by the Black Catholic Clergy Caucus in 1990 to increase awareness about black Catholics’ contributions to the Church in the United States.

“They’ve been very faithful and pillars of the Church,” Father Cox said, noting that “there’s not a lot of support for black people being Catholic in the South. Their faithfulness needs to be acknowledged and supported.”

“It’s a celebration of our faith,” said Katrenia Reeves-Jackman, director of the archdiocesan Office of Black Catholic Ministry. “We have such a wonderful history in the Church. Unfortunately, a lot of our young people don’t know it.”

Archbishop Thomas Wenski spoke about that history in his homily, citing a Haitian-born slave, Pierre Toussaint, who moved to New York two years after George Washington became the first U.S. president. Eventually freed, Toussaint is regarded as the father of Catholic charities in the U.S. because of his personal commitment to the poor, sick and refugees. The Venerable Toussaint — now one step away from sainthood — is the only layman to be buried in the crypt below the main altar at St. Patrick Cathedral, the archbishop said.


Oblate Missionary Father John Cox, pastor of Holy Redeemer Parish in Liberty City, takes part in the Mass.
e also cited two lesser-known black Catholics — the Healy brothers, sons of an Irish immigrant father and a slave mother in Georgia. “One, James Augustine, became the bishop of Portland, Maine; another, Sherwood, became rector of the cathedral of Boston; and Patrick – the first man of color to earn a PhD in America – went on to be the president of Georgetown University,” the archbishop said.

He noted that Florida has its own black Catholic luminaries: Joe Lang Kershaw, the first African-American to be elected to the legislature after Reconstruction; and Miami’s own M. Athalie Range, a founding member of Holy Redeemer Parish and the first black member of the Miami City Commission, who helped desegregate South Florida’s beaches, among myriad other accomplishments.

“Who would know or who would remember these facts if we did not have a Black Catholic History Month?” Archbishop Wenski said. “The fact is that blacks have been part of the Catholic Church since the beginning,” dating back to St. Philip’s conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch and St. Augustine of Hippo, the first doctor of the Church to hail from North Africa. His birthday also is marked this month: Nov. 13.

“We have many African American Catholics of deep faith who heard the word and put it into action in their lives,” Archbishop Wenski said. “The wounds of racism are still fresh in the minds of many,” he added, but “in honoring Black Catholic History Month we wish to emphasize that the Gospel destined for all men, of all nations and races, has found — and will continue to find — fertile soil among the sons and daughters of the African continent.”

The three people honored at the St. Martin de Porres luncheon were:

  • Dorothy W. Graham, 96, who spent her childhood in Miami, moved to New York in her early teens, and taught at schools in Missouri, New York and Tallahassee before coming back to teach at Booker T. Washington High School in Allapattah and Hialeah junior high schools. She was an active member of St. Francis Xavier Parish and many other Catholic organizations here for 50 years and is still active at Holy Redeemer.
  • Wilhelmina King, a native Floridian and 30-year parishioner of St. George Parish, where she served as choir director while also working professionally as a music teacher in Broward County schools and at both Nova Southeastern and Florida Memorial universities. She is now a member of St. Anthony Parish where she also serves in the choir.
  • Marguerite Miller, 90, a teacher, counselor and administrator in both Miami-Dade and Broward public schools for 39 years, as well as a member of Holy Redeemer Church since the early 1960s, where she worked for many years with the Catholic Young Adults Organization. Miller is a member of the Catholic Educators Guild and received the group’s Lumen Christi (Light of Christ) award in 1987.
All were honored for following in the footsteps of St. Martin de Porres, “a man of virtue, humility and charity (who) worked tirelessly for the community, ministering to the poor and needy.”

The archdiocese has a Black Catholic Implementation Team that meets once a month to help Reeves-Jackman, a volunteer, direct the black Catholic ministry.

“We meet to talk about the needs and the things that we want to do within the archdiocese to see that our Catholic sisters and brothers are getting all they need for their faith commitment,” Reeves-Jackman said. “Black Catholics are very committed to their faith,” she added, noting that they are a minority within a minority. “We persevered throughout all these years.”

Black Catholics are planning another get-together Nov. 18, this time for Mass at St. Anthony Church in Fort Lauderdale. For more information, call the Office of Black Catholic Ministry at 305-762-1120 or email

Members of the choir from predominantly black Holy Redeemer and St. Philip Neri parishes sing at the Mass.
Correction: The original version of this article said Athalie Range was a parishioner at St. Francis Xavier. In fact, she was one of the founders of Holy Redeemer Church in Liberty City and a member of that church until her death.

Comments from readers

SABINE AUGUSTAVE - 11/12/2012 7:42 AM
I am sorry that I missed such a momentus occasion for Black Catholics in Miami, Florida. I will have to attend the next event.
CLARETTA HENRY - 11/11/2012 5:47 PM
This article is very well written and covers important facts about the Black Catholic churches who were there. The photos are also nice. I attended the Mass and found it to be spirit filled. The attendance was outstanding.
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