Interfamilial Franciscan Committee on African-American Ministry Meets in Chicago

Neil O’Connell, OFM Around the Province

A member of the Province’s African-American Ministry Committee reports on the April 21 to 23 meeting he attended. At the gathering, members representing four OFM provinces approved a mission statement and bylaws as well as discussed plans for a retreat.

CHICAGO — The spring 2010 meeting of the Interfamilial Franciscan Committee on African-American Ministry was held last month at the Catholic Theological Union here. Members gathered to approve a mission statement and bylaws, and to discuss racism and a possible retreat program for African-American Catholic young adults.

The committee includes representatives from OFM provinces of Assumption, Holy Name and Sacred Heart and also OFM Capuchin province St. Joseph.

Holy Name Province friars Paul Williams, OFM, and Henry Fulmer, OFM, of St. Martin de Porres Church in Columbia, S.C., and Patrick Tuttle, OFM, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Greenville, S.C., as well as parishioners of St. Anthony’s, participated in the meeting.

Vanessa White, director of the Fr. Augustus Toltan Pastoral Ministry Program at the CTU, also took part in the meeting. Fr. Toltan was the first African-American Catholic priest ordained for pastoral ministry in the United States. The Archdiocese of Chicago recently received official approval from the Vatican for promotion of his cause for canonization.

Mission Statement
Members of the committee approved its mission statement, which asserts: “The Franciscan friars from provinces in the United States along with other concerned religious and laity commit themselves to working together to support and promote the growth of the Catholic Church in the African-American community through the presence and witness of the Franciscan charism. We pledge to work together to support and challenge one another in efforts to strengthen the faith life of the communities where we minister, to foster and support vocations from the African-American community, to encourage and support the continuing education and formation of friars and others working in the African-American community, and to share our ‘stories’ with our Franciscan provinces and the larger church community.”

A draft of the committee’s bylaws was also completed, including an amendment that an official lay representative of the African-American ministry of each participating province or entity must join the committee.

Racism in the Church
The April 21 to 23 meeting focused one day on addressing a presentation titled “Forty Years Later in a ‘White Racist Institution’: Looking Back, Looking Around, Looking Forward,” by African-American Catholic theologian Fr. Bryan Massingale of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Fr. Massingale, professor of theology at Marquette University, originally presented at the 2008 Conference of Black Clergy, Sisters, Deacons and Seminarians.

In “Looking Back and Around,” the meeting attendees agreed that racism — sometimes virulent and sometimes by benign neglect — continues in our respective provinces. As a result, black friars might sense a feeling of mistrust by some of their brothers.

Additionally, the African-American Catholic community — especially its young members — feels there might be an anti-Obama bias among the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. They see this in events like the bishops’ opposition to him as the commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient at Notre Dame University, when they did not likewise criticize other presidents for not supporting some issues of Catholic morality and social justice, as racist.

The meeting attendees also believe that there has been a lack of appreciation among friars for the ancient history of African and African-American Catholics and their contributions to the larger Catholic Church stemming from the early Churches in Egypt, Ethiopia, North Africa as well as the more than 300-year history of African-American Catholic communities in Maryland, Louisiana and southern Alabama.

Our committee members think there seems to be a forgetfulness by Franciscan religious that the origins of religious life were in Africa.

Reaching Out to Young Black Catholics
Attendees reflected that there is a growing alienation among African-American Catholic youth, reflecting a larger malaise among United States Catholic youth due to a disconnect between the leadership of the Church and the realities of the world in which these young people are living.

Members agreed with Fr. Massingale’s presentation, which said the African-American Catholic community should, in spite of the issues in looking back, look ahead by building coalitions with Latino and Asian-American Catholics. They should educate the larger Church in the proud history of African and African-American Catholicism, ensure that African-American youth are deeply grounded in their Catholic faith, and develop a well informed and dynamic African-American Catholic lay leadership.

The meeting continued consideration of its endeavor to have an African-American Catholic young adult male discernment program with a proposed center at the former friary in Greenville, S.C. As part of this program, the HNP African-American Ministry Committee would host a “Go Down Moses” retreat program in spring 2011 for African-American Catholic young adults on the East Coast.

Committee members recommended that the discernment program be named after Holy Name Province friarBenedict Taylor, OFM.

The friars of Sacred Heart Province have been hosting successful “Go Down Moses” programs in the southern and upper Midwest areas of their province.

A good number of the members of the committee, with laity from their respective ministries, will be attending the Bishop James Lyke, OFM, Conference in Charleston, S.C., from June 23 to 27. Patrick Tuttle will be a presenter on the topic of a model for reviving an African-American Catholic parish.

St. Joseph Province will host the next meeting of the committee, Sept. 8 to 10, in Detroit.

— Fr. Neil is a member of Province’s African-American Ministry Committee. He also serves as campus minister in the Archdiocese of New York at Manhattan Community College and Lehman College.