Recognizing the Church’s Diverse Members

Published on

As we have heard many times over the last few weeks, November is a month dedicated to contemplating our own mortality by praying for the souls in purgatory and honoring the saints in heaven. When the reality of memento mori, remembering our death, causes fear and anxiety, we can have peace in echoing the words of St. Paul: “Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory?” Looking to the saints as heroes of the faith, we strive to imitate Christ as they did, and by doing so, defeat death and gain new life in God. 

Since 1990, the church in the United States has taken November to shine a special light on Catholics of African descent who made important strides by living out their faith. Inspired by the November feast days of the two notable African saints, Augustine and Martin de Porres, the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus of the United States chose to designate November as Black Catholic History Month. During this time of reflection and intercessory prayer to the saints, American Catholics are encouraged to survey the rich history of black Americans who devoted their lives to the mission and ministry of Christ’s church. 

There are currently several African-American Catholics under consideration for canonization to sainthood. One such candidate is Fr. Augustus Tolton. Born into slavery in 1854, John Augustus Tolton received Baptism as an infant. There, he was given the name of his spiritual and ethnic forefather, Augustine. In the face of discrimination in both secular and religious society, God’s grace strengthened him and, in 1886, he became the first black American ordained to the priesthood. Fr. Augustus Tolton paved the way for black Catholics in the United States to faithfully serve God while suffering unjust treatment from the surrounding society.

November is also recognized nationally as Native American Heritage Month. The church has been blessed in recent centuries by the witness of several Indigenous martyrs and saints. St. Juan Diego, St. Kateri, Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk, and the Lay Martyrs of Quiche are just a few of the many names that infuse Native American history with recurring Catholic themes. 

History tells us that in 1565 when the Spanish arrived on the shores of modern-day St. Augustine, Florida, they celebrated Mass before breaking bread with the land’s native inhabitants. Some scholars tout this as the true first Thanksgiving and claim that the national holiday, already known for the pivotal role played by indigenous people, also holds deep Catholic significance.

As November comes to a close, join us in venerating the many saints who, by their unity in the one true faith, zealously proclaimed Christ and his Church while diversely representing their respective cultures and backgrounds. 

For more information and resources on Native American Heritage Month and Black Catholic History Month, click here