BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Marcel J. Desroches says his admiration for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King includes a point of pride about something he has in common with the civil rights icon.
“He was a fraternity brother,” Desroches said. “I feel a strong connection to him because of that. It gives us a sense of pride to know great people came before us.”
Desroches and Dr. King (1929-1968) belonged to Alpha Phi Alpha, one of the Divine Nine — a group of black Greek-letter fraternities and sororities founded on college campuses in the early 20th Century to provide opportunities for blacks who were shut out of white organizations.
Desroches was one of several members of the Divine Nine who came to Our Lady of Victory Church on Sunday, Nov. 21, for a Mass marking Black Catholic History Month.
Celebrated every November, Black Catholic History Month was established in 1990 by the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus to highlight the contributions of the black faithful to the Church in America.
St. Martin De Porres Parish, which includes Our Lady of Victory, was the host of this year’s celebration.
The Mass featured a salute transcending generations. During the entrance procession, Divine Nine members carried banners bearing the names and founding dates of each of the sororities and fraternities.
The Mass and special assembly were coordinated by the Divine Nine Leadership Committee — a group of alumni — and by the Office of Black Ministry of the Archdiocese of New York.
The theme was “Back Together Again: A Homecoming.”
“We have a lot of people in the Divine Nine who worship either at Holy Rosary, Our Lady of Victory, or St. Peter Claver,” said Deacon Rachid Murad, who ministers at St. Martin De Porres with its trio of churches. “So we have this rich history right here in our parish.” He is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha and the Divine Nine Leadership Committee.
Father Alonzo Cox, pastor of the parish and director of the Vicariate for Black Catholic Concerns in the Diocese of Brooklyn, recalled his days as an undergraduate at St. John’s University and remarked that people of faith can force change.
He remembered when demonstrations had erupted after it was learned that a chapel to be built on campus would not have the Blessed Sacrament reserved inside.
The protesters won, and a special place for the Blessed Sacrament was included in the chapel’s design.
“It got a lot of people upset,” Father Cox said. “It was the first time in my life I saw Catholics protest. They wanted the Lord to be present on this campus. It was beautiful to see.”