We conclude this Black History Month, (February 2023) with attention to an important moment in Passionist history. Seen in the above photo to the left is Father Mark Moeslein, C.P. (1854-1946), and to the right is Father Harold Purcell, (1881-1952). Ordained a Passionist priest in 1904, Purcell served as the first editor of Sign Magazine from 1921 to 1934. Under his direction, this Passionist-sponsored national Catholic monthly magazine emerged as one of the premier Catholic journals of the 1920s. Sign continued until it ceased publication in 1982.
Yet, at the very height of Sign’s success, Purcell decided to change in ministry: “After years of thought and prayer about the matter I enter upon the realization of a long cherished ambition to work personally and directly among the poor Negroes of the South, especially in the Diocese of Mobile, Alabama.” Specifically, “In devoting myself to the Negro apostolate my first effort will be to erect a combined school-orphanage- and-dispensary.”
I would suggest it most important for vowed Passionists and those who are presently connected their diverse ministries especially throughout the United States to understand the racial prejudice of 1930s? Given how the subject of racial inequality remains a constant headline in 2023 what does knowledge of this Passionist moment in history continue to teach us that we might have forgotten or perhaps never learned? Additionally, in what way does this story of Father Purcell assist historians, Catholics and the public at large to address contemporary injustices as we participate together in life, decide and create a common future? Moreover, has our journey of faith led any of us to make a decision similar to that of Father Harold Purcell in 1934?
Click on two links below to see Father Purcell’s public statement in Sign (October 1934) and the immediate public response.
To learn more about Father Harold Purcell read: Sister Mary Ruth Coffman, O.S.B., Build Me A City: The Life of Reverend Harold Purcell, Founder of the City of St. Jude (Montgomery, Alabama: Pioneer Press, 1984). Also, Keith R. Claridy, “The City of St. Jude.” in Encyclopedia of Alabama.  click on link: http://encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1829.