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Black Catholic History Month seeks to promote cultural awareness at Notre Dame

| Tuesday, November 6, 2018

During the month of November, American Catholics will observe Black Catholic History Month. Notre Dame will also participate in this commemoration. Deacon Mel Tardy, who is a member of the committee planning the events at Notre Dame, said the event was established by the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, which is a gathering of African American priests, deacons, bishops and seminarians, because many individuals felt like the experience of African American Catholics was being overlooked.

“The Clergy Caucus selected November as Black Catholic History Month because the stories of African American Catholics were not being told and how the Church relates to African Americans in particular was not being addressed,” he said. “They felt that some attention to the history would be good.”

At Notre Dame, the month will be celebrated in a variety of ways, including Masses, a panel discussion titled “Is Black Lives Matter a Pro-Life Issue?” and a closing ceremony with Bishop Fernand Cheri of New Orleans. The kickoff event for the month was a Mass this past Sunday in Dunne Hall. The goal of these events is to educate Notre Dame students, faculty and staff about African American Catholicism.

Eric Styles, the rector of Carroll Hall and member of the organizing committee, said he hopes the month will dispel stereotypes of what it means to be Catholic in the United States.

“A lot of assumptions are made about what Catholicism is and that usually translates in the United States to being white American and that’s not always the case,” he said. “So, [a goal is] making students more aware of that, making faculty and staff more aware of that and celebrating the diversity that is already in the Catholic Church.”

Tardy spoke of his desire for the month to demonstrate the unique aspects of African American Catholicism.

“I would like to see that more people would be aware of Black Catholic History Month and why it’s significant, that people would understand that there are some unique gifts and forms of expressions that come out of the African American experience that are viable for the Catholic liturgy and for Catholic religious thought and imagination,” he said.

The goal of these events throughout the month is to open a dialogue for further change at the University level. Organizers said they hope this dialogue will take root in classes being taught about African American Catholic theology and influence how community members view certain social justice issues that affect African Americans and in creating an inclusive community within the liturgy at Notre Dame for more than just November.

Becky Ruvalcaba, Campus Ministry’s assistant director of multicultural ministries and chair of the committee that planned the events of Black Catholic History month at Notre Dame, said in an email her goal for the month is to present a genuine view of the Catholic Church.

“We desire that the celebration not just be for a month. That as we grow in love and understanding of the world church in and through the Black Catholic community; that we, as part of that universal church, come to represent it here at the University of Notre Dame authentically in our liturgical celebrations, in social teaching, and in Christian living,” she said. “In the end, my vision is to work and live in a truly authentic representation of God’s Church: where all of his children … stand hand in hand worshiping and praying as one.”

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