Category: Josephite News

Martin Luther King’s legacy: faith, hope and sacrifice

Washington D.C., (CNA/EWTN News).- Fifty years after the death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Catholics can still learn much from his legacy, said a leader in the largest predominantly black Catholic organization in the U.S.

“Dr. King’s legacy is one of faith and overcoming external forces working against you. His life, work, and ultimate sacrifice illustrate that we are called to work for the greater good,” Percy Marchand, associate director of the Knights of Peter Claver, told CNA April 3. “Dr. King’s legacy is a shining example of self-deprecation and personal sacrifice for one’s fellow man.”

“Dr. King would not want us to look upon this day in sadness,” Marchand continued. “He would want us to look at it with inspiration and rededication; with hope and commitment; with love and compassion – even for our enemies or those who don’t love us.”

The Knights of Peter Claver is a New Orleans-based Catholic fraternal order present in about 39 states and in South America. Its membership is significantly African-American but open to all practicing Catholics without regard to race or ethnicity. Many of its members played a role in the U.S. civil rights movement of the mid-20th century, in which King, a Baptist minister, was the most prominent leader.

On Wednesday, the order joined in observing the 50th anniversary of the 1968 assassination of King in Memphis, Tenn. Catholic Bishop of Memphis Martin D. Holley led celebrations of two Masses and a “Walk of Faith” from a Catholic church to the National Civil Rights Museum in time for a program and a moment of silence.

Knights of Peter Claver Supreme Knight James Ellis and executive director Grant Jones were among those in attendance at the Memphis events.

“Dr. King was just a young man when he accepted the challenge that would ultimately lead him to being one of the most influential and powerful leaders in our history,” Marchand told CNA. “He wasn’t a millionaire. He wasn’t famous. He hadn’t ‘made it.’ We must each look at our lives and ask what we are doing to lead, to serve, to positively impact the world in which we live.”

“Our Catholic faith is rooted in humanity and teaches us that we were created in the image and likeness of God,” he continued. “Therefore, we have no room for promotion or tolerance of racism.”

While many Catholics were involved in the civil rights movement from the start, “there were many more who were actively fighting against civil rights and still more who stood silent,” Marchand noted, stressing that Catholics must be “strong in our faith” and must live out Catholic social teaching.

“We must directly face the evils that tend to divide us or negatively impact others,” he said. “This is what our Teacher, Jesus Christ, illustrated through His own life.”

“Dr. King taught us to be principled and genuine in our faith and actions. He taught us not to lower ourselves or compromise our values. He taught us to have faith and be obedient to our Heavenly Father rather than dwell on worldly problems,” said Marchand, adding that King “allowed God to lead his path and ultimately, his message prevailed.”

Marchand suggested many Catholics needs to improve their efforts to truly understand diversity and inclusion.

“The Church must be bold and purpose-driven when it comes to standing up for what is right and just – for all people,” he said.

Historically, some in the Catholic Church failed to stand up against segregation and racism, Marchand said.

“While the Church has certainly become more diverse in the years since the civil rights movement, Catholics in the South who had known slavery and segregation as a way of life, looked at those systemic issues as natural.”

As Church leaders started to take a stronger stance in rejecting segregation, Catholics were called by their faith to “turn away from hate and divisiveness,” he said, and the Church allowed many Catholics to “come together and begin the process of healing.”

In Marchand’s view, race relations within the Church have significantly improved since King’s day.

“In culturally diverse parishes across the country social interactions in various ministries have provided opportunities for all Catholics to learn and understand each other better,” he said. “Divisions remain in the Church to this day. We still have what are considered ‘White parishes’ and ‘Black parishes’ but the differences tend to be more about worship style and comfort rather than exclusion and hate.”

The Knights of Peter Claver were founded in Mobile, Ala. in 1909 by four Josephite priests and three Catholic laymen to serve African-Americans and other racial minorities. Its founders were concerned the Catholic Church would lose black Catholics to fraternal and secular organizations, at a time when racism in some parts of the South sometimes curtailed participation in parish life and Catholic associations.

In their opposition to segregation, the Knights of Peter Claver worked with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Urban League. One of its leading officers, civil rights attorney A.P. Tureaud, worked with future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to help overturn segregation laws. The order’s New Orleans headquarters hosted early meetings that led to the launch of the civil rights movement.

The order has six divisions, including the Ladies of Peter Claver and two separate junior divisions for young men and young women.

A Knights of Peter Claver spokesman told CNA that many local units of the organization would hold their own commemorations of King.

50 Years After the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

An Interview with Deacon Timothy Tilghman on the Catholic Church and the Civil Rights Movement

Justin McClain, National Catholic Register

Wednesday, April 4, marks 50 years since Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, brutal assassination by James Earl Ray, who gunned him down in Memphis on April 4, 1968. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a statement for this occasion.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Deacon Timothy Tilghman, a married deacon of our native Archdiocese of Washington, ordained in 2010. I first met Deacon Tilghman through his and his wife Jennifer’s ministerial support of the Forestville Pregnancy Center, on whose board of directors I have served for four years. The Tilghmans are devoted parents and grandparents. The story of Deacon Tilghman’s family was recently covered by Chaz Muth of the Catholic News Service, and Deacon Tilghman’s testimony has appeared in various national Catholic newspapers, including the Archdiocese of Boston’s The Pilot and the Diocese of Green Bay’s The Compass, as it appears here: “Deacon’s Family Grieved After King Assassination, Witnessed Aftermath.” There are also two Catholic News Service videos: “Family of Deacon’s Brush with MLK” and “Faithful Reflection on King Assassination.”

Deacon Tilghman, the youngest of 13 children, was 15 years old when King was assassinated. The following is the transcript of our interview, in which Deacon Tilghman shared his insights on the intersection of the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. King, the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s in general, Catholicism and the black community, the ministry of the Josephites, and the Catholic faith as experienced during the tumultuous 1960s.

Please tell us about your background and experience of faith.

I was formed in the Church in a day when Church and neighborhood were synonymous. I could walk an hour in any direction from my house and folks knew me because they had worked with my parents or one of my 12 older siblings. The neighborhood was extensive. My father’s parents were among the founding families at Saint Cyprian Catholic Church in 1893; my mother’s parents were at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Anacostia in 1920. My parents moved from Incarnation Catholic Church, where I was baptized, to be among the founding families at Saint Luke’s in SE Washington, DC, in 1957. I was in the first graduating class at Saint Benedict the Moor Elementary School.

The common element in these parishes was the presence of the Josephites. I grew up with the Josephite charism, and patterned my life on the Josephite way. I was attracted to my wife Jennifer because we shared a common sense of faith; I later discovered that she grew up with the Josephites in New Orleans.

What was it like living as a young black Catholic man during the Civil Rights Era?

Everybody in the neighborhood was excited about Dr. King and what he did. I don’t know if I see that happening today. I had a friend, Tyrone Williams, who died a number of years ago. He would impersonate King speeches, and people enjoyed hearing those impersonations. There was a great sense of community, of wanting to be in King’s presence. My cousin Sahon said of him, “I was really drawn to judging people by the content of their character, instead of the color of their skin” (a direct reference to King’s iconic words).

King was exciting; he was electric. It was inspirational to see a man of color who was able to bring hundreds of thousands of people together. Down in Alabama, the Montgomery bus boycotts lasted around 400 days, and people united for a just cause. It forced people to recognize us blacks for who we are, people of great faith and power. There has not been a demonstration of power like the Montgomery bus boycotts since then.

What was the relationship like between Catholics and other Christians in general in the 1960s, independent of the Civil Rights Movement?

There was a lot of emphasis on what was “different.” There were even Christians who said that Catholics were not Christians. We didn’t understand each other’s faith traditions, and what we didn’t understand, we found “scary,” so we avoided it. Vatican II recognized the value in Christian traditions, such as the document on ecumenism [Unitatis Redintegratio]. The same is true for other faith traditions. The Church recognized this over 50 years ago, and recognized it quite clearly. If we were the Church that we read about on paper in Vatican II, our world would be a much better place. We need faith, because our faith will carry us through, no matter what the challenge of the day is.

Where were you when you heard that Rev. Dr. King was assassinated?

I was at home. My father said: “You’re not going out!” I watched a lot of things on TV, and smelled a lot of smoke in the neighborhood. Eventually, we got the chance to go out and into the city. My father was a union leader who knew a lot of people throughout the city, so he helped to deliver food and to be of service during a very difficult moment.

What are some things that the Church can learn from the experience of the King years?

The Church can remember its roots. Everything that Dr. King stood for – every principle that he applied in his life – when he talked about love and justice and community, you will see if you read through the 16 documents of Vatican II. We need to make sure to articulate what we believe, and act on that with conviction. We hold fast to everything that we see that is a representation of the absolute truth that Christ is alive and acting in the world, and is committed to transforming the world. “God is love” (1 John 4:8). King did what he did because he loved people. He saw people in the right way, and I say that he loved President Johnson. He didn’t give President Johnson a pass; King converted this “son of the south.” Dr. King didn’t act in the box. He talked about voting rights, about the Vietnam War. Our life is based on the great Commandments: to love God and neighbor. King lived the Great Commandments in a real, practical sense, and if we live that in a real, practical sense, things will be better.

Do you have any closing thoughts for readers about how we can honor King’s legacy, looking at the involvement of the Catholic Church in the Civil Rights Movement?

There are a whole lot of things that go along with that. I talk about that in my own book, Going to the Well to Build Community. In Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, he recognized her brokenness. He met her in her brokenness and looked for something of the image of the Father in her. The woman spoke of their common ancestor, Jacob, who gave us this well. When she asked him about the living water, it is a reminder to seek Jesus’ healing power.

We can find the image of Christ in everyone whom we encounter. The pope speaks about this encounter in the Joy of the Gospel: “The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this ‘art of accompaniment’ which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Exodus 3:5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates, and encourages growth in the Christian life” (Evangelii Gaudium, paragraph #169). I ask people to go back to their childhood. Everyone knew you and your family; we shared history and a values system. That values system was rooted in the Gospel, in faith. That grounded nature, that sense of anchor, is what made the Civil Rights Movement possible.

That is what Cardinal Wuerl calls out in his 2017 pastoral letter on racism [The Challenge of Racism Today], since we need to speak about each other as brothers and sisters. We recognize the faith of the African-American community. Through slavery, through Jim Crow, through segregation, people persevered because we were rooted in faith. To bring it directly to Dr. King, he was rooted in that faith tradition. There in Atlanta, he could not walk away from that faith. I can’t walk away from my faith of the Josephite Fathers and Brothers that I received at Saint Luke’s Church and at Saint Benedict the Moor School. It’s rooted in who I am.

This year is 50 years for various things: in New Orleans, we will celebrate 50 years of the permanent diaconate. The first men to serve as deacons in the U.S. came from Josephite parish communities. The Josephites were instrumental in showing how to live the faith as a married, ordained, Catholic man, not just for their parishioners, but for all who were called to the diaconate.

The point of being in the Church is being rooted and grounded in faith and sharing that faith. We didn’t know what would happen when Christ was crucified on that Friday afternoon. King’s death was a moment of darkness, and a great deal of light came from his life. We are the Easter people, and we celebrate the Resurrection with our brothers and sisters.

Deacon’s family grieved after King assassination, witnessed aftermath

WASHINGTON (CNS) — It has been 50 years since civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, but Deacon Timothy E. Tilghman, his sister and his cousin, still remember the enormous sense of loss they felt when they received that news April 4, 1968.

As the 50th anniversary of Rev. King’s murder approaches, these three family members also recalled the turmoil, bewilderment and burning buildings they witnessed as rioting stormed through Washington and other U.S. cities in the days that followed.

The deacon, who is on the staff of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Southeast Washington, was 15 and said the grief he experienced was akin to a close family member being violently murdered, even though his family’s association with Rev. King was from afar.

He wasn’t alone in his sorrow.

Deacon Tilghman was at St. Benedict the Moor Catholic School when he heard about the assassination. As he walked on the school’s playground he watched the nuns and his fellow students, most of them young black Catholics like himself, cry as they absorbed the blow.

“There was a sense of despair, there was a great sense of loss,” he told Catholic News Service.

By the 1960s, Deacon Tilghman and his family had been Catholic for several generations and had a long connection to the Josephites, a religious community known for its help of the newly freed slaves in America following the U.S. Civil War.

Even though Rev. King was a Baptist minister, he transcended religious identification for the deacon, his parents, his 12 brothers and sisters, his cousins and his fellow black Catholics who saw the civil rights leader as an inspirational crusader for justice and peace.

The family closely watched Rev. King’s rise to national prominence and applauded his efforts in the civil rights movement.

As black Americans, they were motivated to become involved in the movement themselves, along with the leaders of their church.

On Aug. 28, 1963, the deacon’s sister, Mary Tilghman Shearad, went to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom with their father, Cyprian Olave Tilghman, and was thrilled to witness Rev. King’s famed “I Have a Dream” speech.

Shearad was horrified when she heard the news April 4, 1968, that Rev. King had been gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee, and she sensed tension from people all around her in Washington that day.

“There was no calmness in the city,” she told CNS. “You could just feel things brewing.”

The next day, while she was working at American Security Bank in downtown Washington, the riots began.

“The city just exploded,” Shearad said. “You could look out the window, see fires, you could see cars being trampled. It was terrifying.”

She was at the corner of 14th and I streets in Washington’s Northwest section and witnessed a men’s clothing store explode. “The glass blew out and I just started running.”

Shearad and Tilghman’s cousin, Sahon Palmer, was a 22-year-old student at Howard University and attending classes when the riots broke out and she recalls watching the city descend into pandemonium.

“I was so afraid,” Palmer said. “First, someone had just killed Dr. King and I was heartbroken over that, and all of that chaos, burning buildings, noise and sirens and I was trying to get home from school. My mother was having a fit.”

Known as the Holy Week Uprising (because it occurred during the week between Palm Sunday and Easter), the rampage left 39 dead, about 2,600 injured and resulted in an estimated $65 million in property damage in dozens of U.S. cities.

The riots came while the Tilghman family was still grieving the loss of Rev. King, but they knew they wanted to do something, anything, to help, Deacon Tilghman said.

So, he and one of his brothers mobilized with their father, traveled through the rioting streets of Washington, and delivered food to the people impacted by the chaos, confusion and destruction.

Though witnessing the riots was frightening, Deacon Tilghman said his journey with his father throughout those tumultuous Washington streets was a pivotal moment in his life.

In the midst of the rioting, he recalled witnessing people who were in anguish over the King murder, people who had lost hope that racial equality and human rights would ever become a reality in their country.

But, Deacon Tilghman also said their simple act of kindness of delivering food throughout the city appeared to help a distraught population.

“Being able to go out and do things with my father took care of that sense of despair for me,” he said, “and there was a sense of hope, there was a sense of joy, because, we could do something to bring something back into somebody’s life. To bring some sense of peace and some sense of stability.”

Deacon Tilghman said it was his father’s Catholic values that drove him to reach out to the people who were suffering that day and it left an immeasurable impression on him.

It was the catalyst to his future work with the Josephites and then later as an ordained Catholic deacon.

Rev. King too served as the deacon’s inspiration as he established his own ministry.

“I’m trying to live the faith the way all of these men did,” Deacon Tilghman said. “It drove me in 1968 and I’m much clearer on what drives and informs me today.”


Father Wilbur Joseph Atwood, SSJ, passed to a new life on St. Joseph Feast Day, 2018. A longtime teacher and staff member at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans, he would have celebrated his 90th birthday on June 1 and his 60th year in the priesthood on June 15th of this year.

Wilbur J. Atwood was born on June 1, 1928, in Great Barrington, MA. He was the third child of George and Mary Hart-Atwood and was baptized in the local St. Peter’s Catholic Church. Educated in the town’s public schools, he entered St. Joseph’s Society of the Sacred Heart, minor seminary in Newburgh, NY, in 1949 following high school graduation in 1946. He continued through the novitiate year and in 1952 entered St. Joseph Seminary in Washington, DC.

After philosophical and theological studies, he was ordained to the priesthood on June 15, 1958, by Bishop John McNamara, in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

His first assignment was to Holy Family Parish in Natchez, Mississippi, as a parochial vicar, Father Atwood also taught in the parish’s Saint Francis High School.

Two years later, in 1960, he received an appointment to teach at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans that was to last until illness forced his retirement in 2017.

Over a span of 57 years, his assignment at St. Augustine’s covered a number of positions in addition to classroom teaching. He served several terms as vice- rector and as rector of Josephite Faculty House. In 1985 he became the High School Librarian which he fondly treasured through its expansion into a new and spacious setting in 2005. Father Atwood continued schooling and gained his M.A. He also served as director of finances at the school.

While remaining in teaching positions, Father Atwood resided and assisted in several New Orleans parishes. Having served 60 years of priesthood and 90 years of life, may the many students and persons he encountered prosper in wisdom and love. May almighty God grant you peace.

Father Atwood will be funeralized at Corpus Christi Catholic Church on Monday, March 26. The viewing will be from 8 a.m.– 10:30 a.m., Rosary at 10:30 a.m., and the Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m. The internment will be at St. Louis No. 3 cemetery, Josephite Crypt.


Josephite Father Joseph Francis Xavier Del Vecchio died at St. Joseph Manor, the Society’s Retirement Facility in Baltimore, on Jan. 13, after a long illness. He was 72 years old and was a priest for 45 years.

Father Del Vecchio was born in Flushing, N.Y., on Feb. 17, 1945, the only child of Frank and Martha Moleffeto Del Vecchio. He attended St. Patrick Elementary School in Bay Shore, Long Island, and LaSalle Military Academy in Oakdale, N.Y. After graduation, he entered the Josephite college seminary in Newburgh, N.Y. to begin studies for the priesthood. After two years of philosophy and a year’s novitiate, he moved on to St. Joseph’s Seminary in Washington to complete six years of further studies. He was ordained a priest in his home parish of St. Patrick, Bay Shore, by Bishop John McCann on June 3, 1972.

Except for a one-year assignment to Most Pure Heart of Mary parish in Mobile, Alabama, Father Del Vecchio spent the rest of his ministry in parishes in Baltimore and Washington. His first position was as the assistant at St. Pius V parish in Baltimore for four years where he was known especially for his youth ministry. He moved on to St. Luke, Washington, as a four-year associate and also as assistant director of the CYO of the archdiocese.

Father Del Vecchio moved back to Baltimore as associate at St. Peter Claver church for three years and at Incarnation church, Washington, for a seven-year role as associate and also as archdiocesan director of youth ministry. He moved over to St. Vincent de Paul parish in Washington for an eight-year pastorate and back to St. Peter Claver/St.Pius V church for a nine-year term as administrator and pastor. Another pastorate was at St. Luke church, Washington, for five years including a year as Archdiocesan Director of Youth Ministry. His final assignment was in 2014 as parochial vicar at St. Peter Claver/St. Pius V church until health reasons moved him to retirement in February 2017 to St. Joseph Manor.

The Mass of Christian Burial for Father Del Vecchio was held at St. Peter Claver/St. Pius V church, Baltimore, on Jan. 19. He was buried in New Cathedral Cemetery, Baltimore.

Father Del Vecchio will be remembered especially for his interest in youth, including several World Youth Day visits with young parishioners. May he be at peace.


Death came suddenly and peacefully to Josephite Father John Filippelli on the morning of November 24, 2017. He had been living at St. Joseph Manor, Baltimore, having retired from St. Joseph Seminary four years ago. He had just celebrated the sixtieth year of his ordination to the priesthood and was eighty-seven years old.

Father was born in Manhattan, the last of seven children born to Salvatore and Antoinette Zazzarino Filippelli. He attended Power Memorial Catholic High School in Manhattan and after graduation he felt called to the Josephite minor seminary in Newburgh, N.Y. in 1948.

When he had completed his novitiate and theological studies at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Washington he was ordained at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception there in 1957.

He spent a year at Catholic University before being assigned to the staff of the Joseph minor seminary (Epiphany College) in Newburgh for the next fourteen years. While there, Father was also active in ministry in the Hispanic and African-American communities.

His first pastoral assignment was to St. Pius V parish in Baltimore where he was also elected Area Director of the Josephites. In 1979 he was elected Superior General, a post that extended to 1987 when he was appointed pastor of Baltimore’s St. Francis Xavier parish.

Father Filippelli became rector of St. Joseph Seminary in Washington, D.C. in 1996. Seven years later, he became spiritual director to the students and also novice director for two years. Health reasons saw him retired to St. Joseph Manor in 2014.

Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at St. Francis Xavier Church, 1501 East Oliver Street, Baltimore, at 11:00 a.m., on Wednesday, November 29, with visitation from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Burial was at the Josephite plot in New Cathedral Cemetery, Baltimore. May he be at rest after a long and fruitful journey.

God Created Human Beings to Love and Be Loved, Pope Says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — God’s “dream” for human beings is that they would know they are loved by him, that they would love him in return and that they would love one another, Pope Francis said.

“In fact, we were created to love and be loved,” the pope said Oct. 29 before reciting the Angelus prayer with visitors in St. Peter’s Square.

Pope Francis focused his remarks on the Sunday Gospel reading from St. Matthew, in which Jesus tells the Pharisees that the greatest commandments are “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus lived according to those two commandments, the pope said. His preaching and actions were all motivated by what was essential, “that is, love.”

“Love gives energy and fruitfulness to life and to the journey of faith,” he said. “Without love, both life and faith remain sterile.”

True fidelity to God involves loving God and loving the other people he created, the pope said. “You can do many good things, fulfill many precepts, good things, but if you do not have love, they are useless.”

The ideal of love Jesus offers in the Gospel passage, he said, also corresponds to “the most authentic desire of our hearts.”

Jesus gave himself in the Eucharist precisely to fulfill that desire and to give people the grace they need to love others like he loves them, the pope said.


 Josephite Father Joseph Nicholas Begay passed to a new life suddenly on Monday, October 30. Failing health had seen his retirement three years ago. He was 90 years old.
Father Begay was born in Scranton, PA, on Jan. 31, 1927, the fourth of five children of Anna and Nicholas Begay. He was baptized in St. Vladimir Church in Scranton and attended local public schools. In 1945 and 1946, he served in the U.S. Navy Medical Corps. He then attended the University of Scranton before entering the Josephite minor seminary in Newburgh, N.Y. in 1949.
He made his first year of profession as a Josephite at the end of the novitiate year and continued at St. Joseph Seminary in Washington until his ordination at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in 1959.
His first assignment was to St. Richard’s Josephite parish in Boston and after two years, transferred to St. Pater Claver parish in Baltimore for two more years. Moving to Washington and St. Cyprian parish, he served until 1967 when sent to Our Mother of Mercy parish in Houston, Texas.
For the next six years, Father Begay was pastor of St. Joseph’s in Tuskegee, Alabama and also served as Newman chaplain at Tuskegee Institute in 1976. He moved over as pastor of St. Josephs in Welsh, LA, serving for eight years. Then he served as pastor for three years each at St. Peter Claver, Baltimore and Our Lady of Grace, Reserve. LA. Then, came a six-year term as pastor of Holy Redeemer in Washington and his final period of 13 years of ministry was at St. Luke’s parish in Washington.
While in Washington, Father Begay delighted in serving as chaplain to the police department of several cities of his ministry and attending anniversaries of retirees and assisting at their funerals.
Father Begay’s Funeral Mass will be held at St. Luke’s Church, Washington, D.C., on Monday, November 6 at 11 a.m. Burial will be in Mt. Olivet Cemetery also in Washington, D.C. May his priestly soul rest in peace.


Catholics of Color are Keeping the U.S. Catholic Church Alive

Mary C. Curtis, October 18, 2017

As an African-American Catholic, I often feel like the unnamed black man from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, present but not really seen.

I was raised steeped in Catholicism—from my name, Mary Cecelia, to my education. I grew up in Maryland in the 1960s and ’70s. I attended the now-shuttered St. Pius V Catholic School, where I was taught by teachers from the Oblate Sisters of Providence, an order founded in 1829 to educate and care for African-American children. I wore my faith proudly, even when the bonds of it were strained. When my classmates and I got the side-eye from the white Catholic school kids at citywide field day games held in Patterson Park, or when some members of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul at the predominantly white Seton High attributed my high test scores to divine intervention rather than intellect, I remained proud of both my heritage and my faith.

My Catholic education continued at Fordham University, where the Jesuits offered a fine education. It was at Fordham where I met my husband, and though he has strayed from the fold, our son would not have been baptized in any other faith.

My faith has also played a role in my career, which, for me, is akin to a vocation. I became a journalist because I wanted to illuminate the lives of those so often dismissed as not worthy of notice or respect, despite the full, complicated and generous lives they—my friends, family and neighbors—lived. This is evident in my writing and in the work I do with The OpEd Project. We work with individuals and institutions across the United States, from universities to corporations, and encourage under-represented experts and thought leaders (especially women) to influence the important public conversations of our time.

The bonds of my faith have once again been strained, even tested, by the partisan infighting of today’s U.S. political scene, which finds very little cooperation and compromise. During the 2016 presidential election, Catholic voters were split between Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump. Throughout President Trump’s first year in office we have seen the chasm among many U.S. Catholics grow even wider, on issues that range from health care to immigration. In my diverse but mostly white parish, we have long since stopped talking politics and justice, sticking instead to the ministries for the homeless, hungry and disabled and spiritual relationships that have kept us close.

The truth is, the Catholic Church in the United States is being transformed by its black and brown parishioners, whose numbers and voices are rising. They and priests from around the world are keeping the church alive. When the National Gathering for Black Catholic Women met in Charlotte a few years ago, I connected with my sister, still holding strong in her Baltimore parish—transformed from white to black and offering services with hymns, praise dance and more emotion than the services of our youth. Yet the parishioners are as devout when it comes to the celebration of the Mass.

After a right-wing gathering turned to tragedy and death in Charlottesville, Va., this summer, some evangelical Christian leaders sought to make excuses for the president’s failure to forcefully denounce white supremacists and neo-Nazis. U.S. Catholic leaders, on the other hand, forcefully reacted on the side of those marching and, yes, dying, against hate and for justice. There was some comfort in a church that looks to the future, though not without the stumbles that will hurt and sow doubt. It is a new day in an old faith, with more voices sharing their concerns and their joy—and there is no going back for Catholics of every color if we are to live our faith.

We were never invisible.

Catholic High Schools Have Varied Stances on Athletes ‘Taking a Knee’

By Carol Zimmermann Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Kneeling during the national anthem as a form of protest of racial injustice has been a hot topic for professional sports teams and the president of the United States, but it also has played out on Catholic high school sidelines as well.

The discussion about what Catholic high school players can and can’t do during the singing or playing of the national anthem has involved not only pregame locker room talks but also school community sessions with parents, and in some cases, diocesan directives.

Lansing Catholic High School in Lansing, Michigan, went back and forth on what to do with players planning to “take a knee” during the anthem, which four of them, including the starting quarterback, did during the Oct. 6 homecoming game. The players were not allowed to play for much of the first half, but they were not benched for the entire game as had been predicted.

Just before the anthem, a prayer was read over the loudspeaker reflecting some of the school’s tensions.

The Lansing State Journal quoted the prayer in part: “We need your grace to overcome all division and all anger, all bigotry and all hatred. The absence of physical violence does not mean the automatic presence of peace. Authentic peace is a gift from you that must be cultivated in human hearts.”

At Bellarmine College Preparatory School, a Jesuit school in San Jose, California, about 12 players knelt during the anthem prior to the Oct. 6 game surrounded by players who chose to stand. The players who took a knee spoke to school administrators, teammates and coaches about their decision prior to the game.

In a letter to the school community, they described their action as a peaceful protest and said they felt “compelled to raise awareness for the marginalized.”

“By kneeling, we hope to express our dissatisfaction with our society’s failure to uphold the values of justice, equality, and peace, and start constructive dialogue in our community,” they wrote.

School officials let the opposing school’s team, Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, California, know about the planned action during the anthem. Serra’s football coach, Patrick Walsh, told The Mercury News that high school coaches have all been dealing with this issue and it’s “not as cut and dry as some people might think.”

“These are teachable moments. This a great opportunity for us to teach a really deep life lesson,” he said, noting that the ultimate decision is not up to him about what players should do. The conversation is happening, he said, and he told his team “the only thing that’s a guarantee is it’s divisive.”

National anthem protests got started in 2016 with then-San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick, who initially sat during the anthem and then began to take-a-knee with fellow teammate Eric Reid. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media last August.

In a Sept. 25 opinion piece in The New York Times, Reid said it baffles him that this protest “is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag and military personnel. We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite. It has always been my understanding that the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest.”

The silent protest by NFL players has been criticized by President Donald Trump, who said players should be require to stand during the anthem and fired if they didn’t. And Vice President Mike Pence left a football game between the Indianapolis Colts and the 49ers Oct. 8 after some players knelt during the anthem, saying he did not want to “dignify” this action.

In an Oct. 11 tweet, Trump said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had ordered all players to stand during the anthem, but a statement issued the same day by the NFL did not confirm this move and said there would be continued discussion of the issue at the owner meeting the following week.

“The NFL is doing the hard work of trying to move from protest to progress, working to bring people together,” the statement said.

After the president’s initial comments against kneeling players during a Sept. 22 rally he had in Alabama, NFL teams responded in force with players taking a knee, locking arms or not coming to the field until the anthem was over.

“What can happen at the high school level is they can see something happen in the news or professional athletes do something, and they just kind of mimic it,” said Adam Pribyl, the athletic director of De La Salle High School in Minneapolis. “Then it loses the intent of what some of those protests are.”

He told the Catholic Spirit, archdiocesan newspaper of St. Paul and Minneapolis, that school officials talked about this last year “before it blew up because we wanted to be on top of it, in case it happened.” Forty-five percent of De La Salle High School’s athletes are students of color.

Some schools, like St. Agnes in St. Paul, Minnesota, which has 25 percent of the students in athletics are non-white, have an unwritten policy that all students and coaches will stand for the anthem, said Mike Streitz, athletic director.

Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis, where the student body is 84 percent Latino and 11 percent African-American, has a different take on the issue.

“If a student feels compelled to participate in honoring the national anthem or if that student chooses to address the anthem in a different, but respectful, manner by not participating in standing for ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ we support that student,” said Robert Carpentier, Cristo Rey’s athletic director.

Some schools, like three diocesan high schools in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, have the decision made for them. A letter sent to school principals in late September from the diocese said students and spectators cannot kneel or otherwise protest during the playing of the national anthem before games and at other school events and doing so could result in serious disciplinary action.

The Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, issued a similar directive last year saying any student who failed to stand for the anthem at a sporting event would be suspended for two games and repeated offenses could get students dismissed from the team.

Mary Boyle, school superintendent for the diocese, said in a letter to school principals that the “best approach is helping our young people understand that blood was sacrificed so that we all can enjoy the gifts of our faith and our country.”

“However, let me be clear,” she added. “We are not public institutions and free speech in all of its demonstrations, including protests, is not a guaranteed right.”

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Contributing to this report was Matthew Davis on the staff of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.