Mass Highlights 150th Anniversary of the 15th Amendment and African American Voting Rights and Honors Seven Black Catholic Candidates for Sainthood 

On Sunday, February 2, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R. served as the Chief Celebrant and Homilist for this year’s Black History Month Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, NJ. The annual Mass was sponsored by the African American, African and Caribbean Apostolate of the Archdiocese of Newark.

This year’s Black History Month theme, “African Americans and the Vote,” celebrates the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 15th Amendment on Feb. 3, 1870, which officially granted African-American men the right to vote by declaring that the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

According to Rev. Emeka Okwuosa, SDV, Coordinator of the Office of African American, African and Caribbean Apostolate, the Mass also honored seven Black Catholic candidates for Sainthood.

“As a young boy, I always associated sainthood with being white because all the saints I saw in pictures did not look like me,” said Fr. Okwuosa.  As a priest today, I now know there are many holy men and women who I can identify with and have names that sound like mine. For example, Saint Josephine Bakhita whose feast day we celebrated on February 8 and Saint Martin Martin de Porres who is the first Black American saint.”

“There are also six African-American men and women who are on the path to sainthood in addition to Blessed Iwene Tansi, who is the patron saint of Nigeria,” he added.  “As we learn about the holiness of these Black Catholics, let us remember that sainthood is not a call for the privileged few or for those of a certain station –rather it is the call for all human beings.  Let this Black History Mass be a reminder that we are all called to be saints.”

Parishioner Sonja Garlin, who serves as both a member of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council and of the African American, African and Caribbean Apostolate, said, “It’s great to bringus all together in a unified way celebrating our different cultures but knowing we are still one under God.  We continue to pray that our seven Black Catholic candidates will soon become declared Saints.”

The Archdiocese of Newark also celebrated the 31st National Day of Prayer for the African American and African Family. This Catholic tradition was founded by Fr. James Goode, OFM in 1989 and takes place every year on the first Sunday of Black History Month.

Parishioner and Mass Usher Betty Dephillips, who is originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said “I am so proud to be a Catholic, especially today, as we celebrate Black History Month with Cardinal Tobin.”

For Ogoo Anukwu, who also is a Parishioner and Usher in Cathedral Basilica, it was especially moving to celebrate her family history with Blessed Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi, who is one of seven Black Catholic Candidates for Sainthood. “Blessed Tansi is my great uncle and my father’s uncle,” she said. “Blessed Tansi was born in Nigeria in 1903 and after he became a priest he went to England where he entered the monastery.  After he died from a brief illness in 1964, my father became the Chairman of exhuming his uncle’s body from the original burial site in Lancaster, England, to be brought back to Nigeria where he was declared “Blesssed” by Pope John Paul II in 1998.The body of Blessed Tansi is still in Nigeria and everyone is praying that, sooner or later, he will be declared a Saint.”


Background on Seven Black Catholic Candidates for Sainthood

Blessed Father Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi, 1903-1964, Nigeria

Born in Nigeria, Father Tansi was sent to a Catholic school, where he became Christian. After ordination, he traveled to minister to the needy. After many prayerful years as a Trappist Monk at Mount Saint Bernard Monastery in England, he died in 1964. In 1998, he was declared “Blessed” by Pope John Paul II in 1998 in Nigeria. The body of Father Tansi remains in the Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity in the Onitsha Archdiocese in Nigeria.


Venerable Mother Henriette Delille, 1812-1862, United States

Mother Delille was a free woman of color born in New Orleans, Louisiana. She founded the Roman Catholic Order of the Sister of the Holy Family in 1842 for free women of color. The order provided nursing care and a home for orphans, later establishing schools, as well. Mother Delille was declared to be Venerable in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI.


Servant of God Mother Mary Lange, O.S.P., c.1784 – February 3, 1882, United States

Mother Lange was an African-American religious sister who was the Co-foundress of the Oblate Sisters of Providence in 1929. The religious congregation is established to allow African-American women to enter religious life in the Catholic Church and is dedicated to the care and education of Black children.

Venerable Pierre Toussaint, June 27, 1766 – June 30, 1853, United States  

Pierre Toussaint was born into slavery in Haiti. He became a free man, successful businessman and philanthropist in New York City. After his marriage in 1811 to Juliette Noel, Toussaint and his wife were involved in many charitable works. He is the first layperson to be buried in the crypt of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.


Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton, April 1, 1854 – July 9, 1897, United States

Father Augustus Tolton was born into slavery in Missouri.  He was the first Black Roman Catholic priest in the United States when he was ordained in 1886.  Father Tolton led the development and administration of the Negro “National Parish” of St. Monica’s Catholic Church in Chicago.


Servant of God Sister Julia Greeley, 1840-1918, United States

Born into slavery in Hannibal, Missouri, Sister Julia Greeley entered the Catholic Church at Sacred Heart Parish in 1880. Every month, she visited every fire station in Denver on foot and delivered the literature of the Sacred Heart League to firemen, Catholics and non-Catholics.


Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman, 1937-1990, United States

Born in Mississippi in 1937, Sister Thea Bowman converted to Catholicism at the age of nine.  She was gifted in multiple ways and shared the message of God’s love through a teaching career. Sister Thea lived a full life. She fought the evils of prejudice, suspicion, hatred and anything that drives people apart.  She fought for God and His people until her death in 1990.

For more information about the history of Black Catholics, visit the website for the National Black Catholic Congress at For more information about Blessed Father Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi, visit: