As part of National Black Catholic History Month, the St. Martin de Porres Society of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport is celebrating the contributions of six Black Catholics from the United States whose causes are under formal consideration by the Catholic Church for canonization. Venerable Pierre Toussaint, Venerable Henriette Delille, Venerable Father Augustus Tolton, Servant of God Mother Mary Lange, Servant of God Julia Greeley and Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman are sources of inspiration for us all.
Pierre Toussaint (June 27, 1766 – June 20, 1853)
Toussaint was born into slavery in Haiti. He became a freeman, successful businessman and philanthropist in New York City. He is the only layperson honored, alongside cardinal-archbishops, with burial in the crypt of St. Patrick Cathedral in Manhattan.
Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange (1784 – Feb. 3, 1882)
Mother Lange was the foundress and first Superior General of the Oblate Sisters of Providence (1829-1832). It is the first congregation of African-American women religious in the history of the Catholic Church. She is believed to be Cuban born of Haitian descent.
Venerable Henriette Delille (March 11, 1813 – Nov. 17, 1862)
Venerable Delille was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, where she lived all of her life. In 1842, she founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family. This was the second congregation of African-American women religious in the United States.
Father Augustus Tolton (April 1, 1854 – July 9, 1897)
Father Tolton was the first Roman Catholic priest in the United States publicly known to be Black when he was ordained in 1886. A former slave who was baptized and reared Catholic, he studied formally in Rome. He was ordained at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome.
Julia Greeley (1833-1848 – June 7, 1918)
Greeley was born into slavery, at Hannibal, Missouri, sometime between 1833 and 1848. Freed by Missouri’s Emancipation Act in 1865, she joined the Secular Franciscan Order in 1901 and was active in it until her death in 1918. She is buried in Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.
Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA (Dec. 29, 1937 – March 30, 1990)
Sister Bowman was born in 1937 and reared in Canton, Mississippi. As a child, she converted to Catholicism. She joined the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. During her short lifetime, she was dedicated to preparing priests and seminarians working in the African-American parishes and institutions in the United States.