SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A delegation of black Catholic priests paid a
visit to the University of Notre Dame's Theodore Hesburgh Library in South Bend
to entrust the archives there with historical documents about African-American
Catholic priests, sisters, brothers, deacons, seminarians and laypeople.
The group visited the archives Oct. 24 in advance of Black
Catholic History Month in November. The observance was established in 1990 by
the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus.
Members of the delegation Father Kenneth Taylor, a priest of the
Indianapolis Archdiocese, who is president of National Black Catholic Clergy
Caucus; Precious Blood Father Clarence Williams, caucus vice president and
archivist; Father Theodore Parker, a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit; and
Deacon Melvin Tardy, an academic adviser at Notre Dame.
The materials they delivered will be preserved in the library's
archives and be available for study.
The three priests were nostalgic about bringing the documents to
Notre Dame because of their personal histories with the university.
"It is hard to believe that we were here as seminarians in
1970, and began the National Black Catholic Seminarians Association. And now we
return almost 50 years later as priests. Things have come full circle,"
said Father Parker. He had served on the coordinating committee of the
The group's first meeting at Notre Dame drew 70 black seminarians
from across the country. They were the guests of the National Black Sisters
Conference, which had formed two years earlier.
Father Taylor, who also was present in 1970, called it amazing to
see the return of the historical documents to a place that was instrumental in
building the black Catholic movement in its infancy.
"November as Black Catholic History Month is a project of
the black Catholic clergy, so this is a perfect time to accept the invitation
to place our chronicle with the Notre Dame archives on the American Catholic
Heritage," he said.
The Notre Dame visit was one step toward a greater appreciation
of the black Catholic movement to be explored in 2018.
Father Williams, who is chairman of the National Black Catholic
Clergy Caucus' 50th anniversary committee, said the group was "putting
things in place" as the anniversary approaches. The anniversary will mark
the beginning of the black Catholic movement that began "with the clergy
leading it," he added.
The priests met with the National Interracial Justice Conference
in Detroit the week after the April 4, 1968, assassination of the Rev. Martin
Luther King in Memphis, Tenn. "These priests asked that those Negro
priests present could gather as a caucus to share their feeling and thoughts of
the Negro mood," said a news release on the delegation's visit to Notre
The result of those meetings in the late 1960s "was a
statement on the racism of the Catholic Church and the formation" of the
National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, said the news release. "The rest is
The clergy caucus has a standing committee to review documents
and articles that will continue to build the black Catholic collection now at
"We are open to the contribution of others who wish to
preserve our black Catholic history and invite their participation,"
Father Taylor said. "In a special way, we dedicate our efforts in the
memory of (Benedictine) Cyprian Davis, who recently died." The priest was
the leading example, he said, about the need "to value the contribution of
our unique Catholic journey. He was the keeper of the archives and now that he
is no longer here to protect and preserve, we must take up that
Father Davis, who died May 18, 2015, at age 84, was considered
the pre-eminent chronicler of black Catholic history. He wrote six books,
including The History of Black Catholics in the United
States, published in 1990. He was working on a revised edition of the
book at the time of his death.
He also had written what is considered the definitive biography
of Mother Henriette Delille, the black foundress of the Sisters of the Holy
Family in antebellum New Orleans. Her sainthood cause was opened in 1988 and
she was declared venerable in 2010.