Passionist ministries among Black Catholics in North Carolina and Alabama have a rich history. How might these and other sources continue to teach us in 2021 and into the future?
At a meeting of the American Catholic Historical Association some years ago, historian Father Cyprian Davis, O.S.B. (1930-2015) offered me invaluable advice I want to pass on to you.
His book The History of Black Catholics in the United States (1990) published by Crossroad expanded my understanding of the American Catholic narrative. The more I explored the Passionist Historical Archives in the United States, the more I became painfully aware that I knew very little about the Passionist relationship to African-American Catholicism.
Since Father Cyprian was an expert scholar, I asked him what was the best approach to study the topic? He smiled and suggested that there was no magic answer. He proceeded to tell me that he had met many people who ponder this same question.
A joy of his was to remind me and them that the historical sources are abundant. We just want to have the desire to seek and find. Simply put, he was encouraging me to read, learn, study and if possible publish about the Passionists and Black Catholics. The patient excitement in his voice affirmed that the African-American Catholicism is at part of the heart beat of Passionists in the Americas. I am passing on this opportunity for you to learn about this historical relationship. Consider the following facts and sources
Passionists arrived in the Baltimore, Maryland in 1865. How did racial interaction develop there into the 19th and 20th century? https://passionistarchives.org/publications/historical-reflections/black-history-month-essay/
Passionists arrived in Louisville in 1879. Sacred Heart Monastery was established on the site of a pre-Civil War plantation. What do their records tell us about new ways to appreciate long-standing Passionists and race relations in this region.
East coast Passionists published Sign Magazine from 1921-1982. Father Harold Purcell, C.P. (1881-1952) was a member of the original editorial staff. He became editor in 1929 and in 1934 left the Passionist Congregation to found the City of St. Jude which ministered to African-American Catholics in Montgomery, Alabama. http://encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1829. For more on Purcell see Sister Mary Ruth Coffman, O.S.B., Build Me A City: The Life of Reverend Harold Purcell. Founder of The City of Saint Jude (Montgomery, Alabama: Pioneer Press, 1984).
Father Rian Clancy, C.P. (1924-2005) published Tuxedo Junction to Christ (Chicago, Illinois, Holy Cross Province, 1994). It offers a readable account of Passionists in Birmingham. Alabama. Passionists also began an apostolate at St. Paul of the Cross in Atlanta, Georgia in 1954 Passionists continue a both ministry sites in 2021.
Fathers Michael Geene, C.P. (ordained in 1982) and Melvin Shorter, C.P. (ordained in 1986) are two African-American Passionists presently engaged in ministry from St. Paul of the Cross eastern province. Some years ago both were assigned to the Atlanta parish https://saintpaulofthecross.org/history
In the link below are just a few historical images from a pamphlet entitled Blessed Are They: A Historical Account of Passionist Missions in North Carolina (1924-1964). written by Father Berchmans McHugh, C.P. https://passionistarchives.org/biography/father-berchmans-mchugh-c-p-st-paul-of-the-cross-province-1909-1989/
Learning about the Passionists and the African-American of the past serves as a foundation for all to open a life of shared faith into the future.