Black History Month Essay

Home / Publications / Historical Reflections / Black History Month Essay

St. Joseph’s Passionist Monastery Parish, Irvington, Maryland
February 2004 Black History Month Historical Essay

by Father Rob Carbonneau, C.P.
Historian/Director of the Passionist Historical Archives

St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish is part of the Black Catholic historical story. I learned this when, recently, I found a most interesting document in the parish office. Records of Deaths within the district attend from the Monastery commencing with the year 1873 is a brown legal size notebook. In it is a hand recorded list of deceased Catholics who were ministered to by Passionist priests. The list concludes in 1889.

In 1985, during my second semester in the graduate history program at Georgetown University I had the opportunity to cross register for a course at The Catholic University of America. “Slavery and the Catholic Church before the Civil War” was taught by R. Emmett Curran, Ph.D. of Georgetown University. Being that Washington, D.C. is home to both universities, I had decided to study archival sources in Baltimore, Maryland. This opened my eyes to the world of Black Catholics and African American history.

Consequently, coming across the St Joseph’s list of deceased Catholics made me sensitive that a percentage of them were identified as “colored.” This identification, so common place in much pre-Civil War (1862-1865) documentation, may be less familiar to us of the 21st century. Unanswered was why such social identification was still being practiced a decade after that Civil War.

Given that above context, the names of the deceased Black Catholics encourages us to acknowledge the contribution of these local people in the wider Maryland Catholic story. This is sacred information. We learn of the long standing relationship between Black Catholics, the Passionists, and St. Joseph’s Monastery parish; we learn where they lived, cause of death, and place of burial. These people are our neighbors or relatives from a past generation. Admittedly, the information poses questions for future study. Why were all the Black Catholics buried at St. Agnes Cemetery? And why does this identification according to race cease after 1880?

In order to learn from this history with a spirit of openness during Black History Month I thought it worthwhile to publish the names of these Black Catholics. May it serve as a catalyst to our faith stories. Unless, otherwise noted, each one of the individuals listed below had the notation “colored” in the remark section next to their name. Other notations (sometimes handwriting is illegible) provide a strong case that a person is a Black Catholic. Finally, I offer this information in the larger context of the total number of deceased in in each year.

In 1873: fourteen total deaths are recorded. Remarks indicate the first three names might be Black Catholics. John Addison, resided near Wetheredsville; died February 13, 1873; between 40 and 50 years old; death was due to smallpox; buried at St. Agnes on February 14 and attended by F[ather] Foley. Remarks: “Generally the family to St. Martin. [Also] 20 colored=.” Sarah Addison, resided near Wetheredsville; died July 18, 1873; was age 40; died of pleurisy; buried at St. Agnes on July 19; Notation illegible on sacraments; appears to have attended “St. Martin’s colored.” Annie Bush resided near Catonsville; died March 10, 1873; age 52; died of cancer; buried at St. Agnes on March 12; received all the sacraments; Remark: “nigir colors [?].” Geraldina Wolford[?] resided near Catonsville; died on April 20, 1873; age 27 and 4 months; died from consumption; buried at St. Agnes on April 22; received all the sacraments.

In 1874: thirteen total deaths are recorded. Mary Harris resided near the Convent of Mt. DeSales; died on April 1, 1874; age 17; died from consumption; buried at St. Agnes on April 4; received all the sacraments. Remark: “nigir colors[?]. was baptized on her death bed.” Sampson resided near Catonsville; died May 29; age of 75; died from old age; buried at St. Agnes on May 30. Received the sacraments.

In 1875: twelve deaths total deaths are recorded. There are no Black Catholics.

In 1876: sixteen total deaths are recorded. Mark resided in Catonsville; died June 4, 1876; age of 83; died of old age; buried at St. Agnes on June 5; received his Easter communion. Elizabeth Sampson resided at St. Agnes; died on July 29,1876; died from consumption; buried at St. Agnes on July 31; received baptism. Portions illegible but clear in remark as “colored.”

In 1877: twenty two total deaths are recorded. Anthernia [?] Addison near Wetheredsville; died April 2, 1877; age 2 months; died from a cold; was buried at St. Agnes on April 4. Joseph Y. A. [?] Dixon near Catonsville; died July 25, 1877; age 8 months; died from summer consumption; buried at St. Agnes on July 26. Mary Miller resided in Powhattan; died on July 26, 1877; age 2 years; No cause of death is listed; buried at St. Agnes on July 27. Joseph Howard Harry from St. Agnes; died November 3, 1877; age 12; died from consumption; buried at St. Agnes November 4; is said to receive baptism and confirmation in his last sickness.

In 1878: eleven total deaths are recorded. George Addison from Wetheredsville; died on July 23, 1878; age 1 month; died from diarrhea; buried at St. Agnes on July 25; baptized. Michael J. Harris from St. Agnes died on October 7, 1878; age 21; died from consumption; buried at St. Agnes on October 8; received the sacraments. Mrs Nugent from Catonsville; died on October 20, 1878; age about 45; died from a kind of fever. [handwriting is difficult to read]; no place of burial is listed; received the sacraments. Joella [?] Addison from Calverton; died November 9, 1878; an infant; no cause of death listed; buried at St. Agnes on November 10; baptized.

In 1879: twelve total deaths are recorded. No Black Catholics.

In 1880: nineteen total death are recorded. Annie Holland from Franklin; died February 17, 1880; age 8 months; died from convulsions; buried at St. Agnes on February 19. Remark: “infant colored.”

As mentioned earlier, from 1881 through 1888 there is no more “colored” identification. For historical purposes the total number of death are as follows 1881:6; 1882:6; 1883: 4; 1884:5; 1885:5; 1886: 9; 1887:19; 1888:10.

If you wish to learn more, a good general history on Black Catholics is Cyprian Davis, A History of Black Catholics in the US (New York, 1990); For an understanding of Black Catholics which touches the Maryland history in a more direct manner read Stephen J. Ochs, Desegregating the Altar: The Josephites and the Struggle for Black Priests, 1871-1960 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990) and Diane Batts Morrow, Persons of Color and Religious at the Same Time: The Oblate Sisters of Providence, 1828-1860 (Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, 2000).