Diocesan News

‘Work Is Not Done’: Celebrating Black Catholic History

Father Alonzo Cox speaks at a Black Catholic History Month Mass at the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in SoHo Nov. 18. (Photo: OSV News/Gregory A. Shemitz)

SOHO — To commemorate Black Catholic History Month, an honorary Mass was celebrated at the Basilica of Old St. Patrick Cathedral on Saturday, Nov. 18, in recognition of the impact and future of Black Catholics in the Church. 

About 100 faithful gathered in the basilica for the evening Mass, sponsored jointly by the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn. Joyful music performed by the Blessed Sacrament Praise and Worship Choir created a celebratory environment in which to mark November as Black Catholic History Month, which was designated by the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus of the United States in 1990. 

“We look to the past, to Black Catholics who have done great things for our faith, and then we see how ourselves, as Black Catholics, can implement them,” said Father Wesbee Victor, the parochial vicar for Holy Name of Jesus-St. Gregory Parish on the Upper West Side, who served as the celebrant of the Mass. 

The Mass focused on continuing efforts to canonize the Black Catholics currently on their way to sainthood. The significance of the service being held in the SoHo church was not lost on the congregants — the basilica was the original cathedral of the Archdiocese of New York, the construction of which was heavily funded by Venerable Pierre Toussaint, a once-enslaved Catholic Haitian American man who is currently a candidate for sainthood. 

“This is the place where Pierre Toussaint was told he would have to sit in the colored section. Now look at him. He’s soon to be a saint. What a beautiful opportunity for us to come to this church,” said Father Alonzo Cox, pastor of St. Martin de Porres Parish in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and the coordinator of ministry to African American Catholics in the Diocese of Brooklyn. 

Toussaint worshiped at the basilica for 66 years, and for more than 100 years, Toussaint was buried in a crypt there. In 1989, his remains were removed and brought to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Midtown. 

There are currently no African-American saints recognized by the Catholic Church. However, there are six in the canonization process: Toussaint, Mother Mary Lange, Father Augustus Tolton, Julia Greeley, Mother Henriette DeLille, and Sister Thea Bowman. 

The Mass fell upon a date particularly special to the attendees: It would have been the 83rd birthday of Father James “Jim” Goode, known as the Dean of Black Catholic Preaching. It was only fitting, Father Kareem Smith said, to begin his homily in the same way Father Goode always did — inviting everyone to sing “Blessed Assurance” with him. 

“The fight continues. The work is not done, “ Father Smith said. “Yes, this celebration gives us a moment to pause and to look to see how far we have come. But the Lord, as we have breath in our bodies, urges us all to keep running the race in his name.”