A Celebration of Black History in the Catholic Church

Feb 27, 2021

Lauren R. Tschirhart, Development & Social Media Liaison & Reverend Diane Smith, MDiv., BCC, Director of Ministry Engagement

Reverend Diane Smith, the Angela Hospice Director of Ministry Engagement, spends each February educating employees on a few of the many heroes in Black History. Last year, Ministry Engagement shared stories of black pioneers in the field of medicine. This year, the focus was on the Catholic Church and its intersection with the African diaspora in America.

The following stories highlight some of the most influential African American individuals in the Felician Sisters Community, and in the Catholic Church. We invite you to join Angela Hospice in celebrating these individuals making their mark in history. From past, to present, these individuals have helped ignite change and create opportunities for their fellow African Americans and their communities at large. As Black History Month comes to an end, we hope you continue to honor and recognize the importance of this dedication, today and every day.

The Oblates of Providence

The first congregation of women religious of color in the world

The Oblate Sisters of Providence is a Roman Catholic women’s religious institute in Baltimore, Maryland, founded by Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange and Father James Nicholas Joubert in 1828, for the education of girls of African descent. It was the first permanent community of Roman Catholic sisters of African descent in the United States. The Oblate Sisters were free women of color who sought to provide Baltimore’s African American population with education.

In July 1829, the first four sisters, Miss Elisabeth Lange from Santiago, Cuba; Miss Mary Rosine Boegues of Saint Domingue; Miss Mary Frances Balas of Saint Domingue; and Miss Mary Theresa Duchemin of Baltimore, made their vows.

The sisters opened other Catholic schools for African American girls in Baltimore, teaching adult women in evening classes, and opened a home for widows. They nursed the terminally ill during the cholera epidemic of 1832. They provided a home for orphans and sheltered the elderly.

Eventually, the institute began schools in 18 states, and missions in Cuba, the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica. The Oblate Sisters continue in Baltimore, Maryland; Miami, Florida; Buffalo, New York; and Costa Rica.

(The information above was drawn from the following sources: BLACKPAST, Wikipedia)

Mother Theresa Maxis Duchemin

A founding member of the Oblates of Providence and co-founder of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in Monroe, Michigan

Almaide Maxis Duchemin was born in 1810 to a Haitian refugee and a British military officer. She was the first American- born black woman to become a nun. At the age of nineteen, she was involved in founding the Oblate Sisters of Providence.

In 1844, Mother Theresa Maxis Duchemin was invited by Redemptorist priest Father Louis Gillet to join his mission in Monroe, Michigan. They co-founded the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters (IHMs) to educate girls of the Michigan frontier.

Sister Theresa fought opposition from church authorities throughout her career. After she “dared to ‘pass’ as a white woman” and established the St. Mary’s Academy for young ladies in 1849, the Bishop revoked her superiorship. Targeted by local bishops due to their racism, Sister Theresa was exiled multiple times. When she returned to the east coast in 1859 to carry on her charitable activities, the church authorities continued their racist resistance. Sensing that her presence was harming her sisters and her work, Sister Theresa exiled herself to Canada and eventually moved in with Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, where she spent much of the rest of her life, until returning to Michigan in 1885. Sister Theresa died in 1892.

Today in Michigan, 700 IHM members and 100 associates labor in her spirit, committed to the eradication of the oppression of women, the shaping of just social structures, the building of a culture of peace, and a right relationship with the whole earth community.

(The information above was drawn from the following sources: the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame, documents of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Global Sisters Report and Wikipedia.)

Wilton Daniel Gregory

The first African American Cardinal

A native of Chicago, Illinois,  Cardinal Gregory served in several Illinois parishes before being appointed auxiliary bishop (assigned to assist the diocesan bishop) of Chicago. He received his episcopal consecration in 1983. In 1993, Pope John Paul II appointed Cardinal Gregory bishop of Belleville, IL.

From 2001 to 2004, Cardinal Gregory was president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the first black head of an episcopal conference. During his tenure as president, the USCCB issued the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” in response to Roman Catholic sex abuse cases. Cardinal Gregory has been a staunch supporter of the Catholic church’s call for peace and justice, encouraging people to follow Jesus’ teachings of peace.

On October 25, 2020, Pope Francis announced he would raise Gregory to the rank of cardinal the following month. At the November 28th ceremony, Wilton Gregory became the first black cardinal from the United States, the highest-ranking black Catholic in the nation’s history.

(The information above was drawn from the following sources: Wikipedia)

Dr. Todd Beadle

Senior Ministry Advisor of Felician Services Inc., Chicago, Illinois

Dr. Beadle is the only African-American School Board President in the State of Wisconsin. Along with his school board responsibilities, Dr. Beadle works as vice president of special projects and senior ministry adviser for Felician Services, Inc. He has also worked as president and CEO of St. Joseph Academy and Child Development Center in Milwaukee.

In an interview with the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal, Dr. Beadle said, “The biggest thing for me is you want to be able to help those that are coming along because there were other individuals when I was growing up that actually helped me… Let them know that it’s their responsibility to be able to help that next generation behind them, help them be able to succeed and be resources and be role models.”

On Friday, February 5, 2021, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity recognized Dr. Todd Beadle for his contribution towards education. Martin Luther King, Jr., was also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.

(The information above was drawn from the following sources: Our Lady of Hope Province Update, February 8th, 2021)

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