Black Catholics You Should Know and Love
1. St. Maurice: (3rd century) St. Maurice was a Roman soldier and leader of the Theban legion. The Theban Legion was a legion of the Roman army that converted to Christianity and was collectively martyred. Maurice has been depicted as black (depending on the century) in European art since the 12th century.
2. St. Martin de Porres: (1579-1639) Martin de Porres was born in Peru to a Spanish father and a black mother. He joined the Dominican order as a lay brother, but by law in Peru, non-whites could not be full members of religious orders. De Porres was known for his deep devotion to the blessed Sacrament and generous acts of charity. He was canonized in 1962 and his feast day is Nov. 3.
3. Venerable Pierre Toussaint: (1766 – 1853) Pierre Toussaint was born a slave in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) and was brought to New York by his owners after the Haitian revolution. His master let him start hairdressing on the side, and eventually gained his freedom at the request of his masters wife on her deathbed. He continued to make good money as a hairdresser, and he and his wife eventually opened one of the first orphanages in New York City, and he was the first layperson to be buried in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. His wife, Juliette, was a saintly woman in her own right, and her cause for sainthood is currently under investigation.
4. Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange: (1794-1882) Lange was born to a French speaking community in Cuba before emigrating to the U.S. and settling in Baltimore in 1813. She opened a school for free children of color and founded a religious order, the Oblate Sisters of Providence, and their charism was educating girls.
5. Venerable Henriette DeLille: (1813–1862) DeLille was born to a mixed race family in New Orleans. Her parents were in a common law marriage, as interracial marriages were illegal at the time. The placage system, as it was known, was a kind of informal partnership between European men and free women of color. He mother expected her to enter a similar arrangement, but instead she devoted herself to religious activities, eventually founding the Sisters of the Holy Family, which still runs parochial schools, nursing homes, and retirement homes.
6. Julia Greeley: (1830s/40s-1918) Julia Greeley was born into slavery in Hannibal, MO. She moved to Denver after gaining her freedom following the Civil War, and would frequently deliver information on the Sacred Heart to Denver firefighters. She was extremely charitable, giving from her own poverty. She is the first person to be interred in Denver’s Immaculate Conception Cathedral after her remains were exhumed only last year.
7. Fr. Augustus Tolton: (1854 –1897) Tolton was also born into slavery in Missouri, near Hannibal. He and his family gained freedom when he was a child, and they moved to Quincy, IL, where he worked in a cigar factory. The local priest allowed him to attend the parochial school, despite protests from his parishioners. He entered the seminary in Rome, because no American Seminary would accept him. He was ordained in Rome in 1886, and is the first American priest who was publicly known to be black. He died in 1897, and his cause for canonization is currently open.
8. St. Josephine Bakhita: (1869-1947) Josephine was born in what is now Sudan, and was captured by Arab slave traders. She was a slave to an Arab, an Ottoman Turkish General, and Italians. She went with an Italian master back to Italy, and eventually converted to Catholicism and was granted freedom by an Italian court, who ruled that she had never legally been a slave. She soon joined an order called the Canossians. She was known for her personal sanctity and gentle demeanor. Her last words were “Our Lady!”
9. Mary Louise Smith: (1937-) Mary Louise Smith was raised Catholic in Mongomery, Alabama, and was a civil rights activist. In 1956, She and four other women were plaintiffs in Browder v. Gale, a civil suit for the desegregation of buses. The women won, and the segregated bus system was found unconstitutional. She was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger, around 40 days before Rosa Parks was.
10. Thea Bowman: (1937-1990) Born in Mississippi to Methodist parents, Bowman converted to Catholicism at the age of 9. She later moved to La Crosse, WI, and joined the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. She later went on to earn a Doctorate from the Catholic University of America, and taught Elementary School, High School, and College students. She helped produce a black Catholic Hymnal, and was frequently consulted by dioceses on inter-cultural matters. Her cause for canonization is currently open.
11. Lil Wayne: (1982-) Yup. Lil’ Wayne is Catholic. Perhaps the most surprising member of this list, Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr. was born in New Orleans. He identifies as Roman Catholic, and at a concert in New Jersey publicly proclaimed his belief in “God and His Son, Jesus.” He also regularly reads the Bible.