Statement From Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, Catholic Diocese of Arlington,
on National Black Catholic History Month 

The National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus of the United States has designated November as Black Catholic History Month. It is a special time for the Church in the U.S. to celebrate the contributions of Black Catholics to our faith and to society overall. 

Black Catholics have been a guiding light in the Church. We recount the contributions of individuals such as Fr. Augustus Tolton, who grew up as a slave in the 1800s but then became the first Black American priest in the U.S., and Sr. Thea Bowman, who fought prejudice in the mid-twentieth century. Let us also take time to seek out and learn from the experiences of Black leaders with us today. 

This year, we celebrate and honor Black Catholic history at a unique time in our nation’s history. The wounds of racism continue to affect our brothers and sisters in communities across the nation. Despite the progress that has been made, the evil of racism is with us today. 

In 2018, my brother bishops and I issued a pastoral letter against racism, Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” which urges ‘a genuine conversion that will compel change and the reform of our institutions and society.’ I recently announced the creation of a new Advisory Council on Racism to build upon the Diocese of Arlington’s work over the last few years. This council comprises Black clergy and lay men and women who bring with them extensive expertise to help us build upon the hard-fought achievements of the past. They will assist me, along with other leaders of diverse communities, to develop a strategy to implement the vision of this letter in our diocese. 

May we follow the lead of brave Black Catholic leaders and those who have stood by their side in calling for peace, justice and unity. We must remember that God has created us in his image and likeness. We are members of his Family, the Church. Together, by the grace of God, we can achieve greater understanding and unity that moves us forward in confident hope in the transforming power of Christ.

In the tradition of Fr. Tolton, “Follow not the well-worn path. Go instead where there is no path, and blaze a trail.”

To learn more about the contributions and inspiriting work of African-Americans, visit the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops African American Affairs Recommended Readings About Inspiring African Americans here.

ON THE ROAD TO SAINTHOOD: LEADERS OF AFRICAN DESCENT