Posted by: Fr Chris | April 17, 2017

Bright Monday, Dyngus Day, and Emmaus

We continue with both the first chapter of St.  John and the first chapter of the Book of Acts today in the Byzantine Catholic Church. We go back to the beginning of the Gospels, and to the beginning of the Church following Jesus’ ascension into heaven.  The Gospel  is the start of it all, the Incarnation of the Eternal Word of God, the Logos, as Jesus and His ministry on earth. The Book of Acts is the start of the Church’s life as the apostles and disciples prepared for Pentecost.In our Divine Office, the psalms are not read this week, only the paschal hours are sung.  There is no fasting, and we are actually encouraged to enjoy meat, eggs, and dairy – and in North America, especially chocolates! The emphasis is on carrying the joy of Pascha.

In eastern Europe  (Slovakia, Ukraine, Hungary), today the men throw water on the women, from a legend in which Peter and the apostles thought that the holy women were hysterical when they reported the resurrection, only to have Peter and John return from the empty tomb, saying that the women were right. (And it is also a way that a girl knows if a young man likes her, and vice versa!)

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Tomorrow the opposite happens – the holy women got their revenge on the apostles and the men had to apologize, answering “Indeed He is risen” to the women’s cries of “Christ is risen!”  In Poland – and back home in Buffalo, NY – there is the additional  practice Dyngus Day, with the boys striking girls with the pussy willows blessed on Palm Sunday, followed by feasting and dancing the night away.

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Dyngus Day procession in East Buffalo 

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Dyngus Day fills the Central Terminal in Buffalo 

In the Roman rite, today is the Emmaus gospel, in which Luke and Cleophas encounter

the Risen Lord in the Eucharist, at the breaking of the bread, something we observe tomorrow in the Eastern Churches. In German-speaking countries, today is a national holiday and a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics. It’s the custom to take a long walk alone after hearing the Emmaus Gospel in church – usually in Germany, Switzerland and Austria you hike in groups. But not for Emmaus – this is a time when people go off alone in a park or the woods or the mountains to personally  and quietly meditate on the risen Lord and His presence in our daily  lives.

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Rejoice in the risen Christ, by all means. Have fun this  week as much as you can. Eat and be happy. But also take time to meet this same Lord quietly, in the stillness of our hearts, and to meet Him this year in a new way, thanking Him for His life-giving Passion, and for His endless mercy in receiving us back when we repent from our sins, and finally praising Him for coming to us in the breaking of the bread, this magnificent mystery, the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, where He presents Himself to us over and over, at altars around the world, because of His enormous love for us.

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Decades of encountering our Risen Lord in the Holy Eucharist 

Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen! 

From Radio Vatican: 

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Happy Easter!

Today, throughout the world, the Church echoes once more the astonishing message of the first disciples: “Jesus is risen!” – “He is truly risen, as he said!”

The ancient feast of Passover, the commemoration of the liberation of the Hebrew people from slavery, here finds fulfilment.  By his resurrection, Jesus Christ has set us free from the slavery of sin and death, and has opened before us the way to eternal life.

All of us, when we let ourselves be mastered by sin, lose the right way and end up straying like lost sheep.  But God himself, our shepherd, has come in search of us.  To save us, he lowered himself even to accepting death on the cross. Today we can proclaim: “The Good Shepherd has risen, who laid down his life for his sheep, and willingly died for his flock, alleluia” (Roman Missal, IV Sunday of Easter, Communion antiphon).

In every age, the Risen Shepherd tirelessly seeks us, his brothers and sisters, wandering in the deserts of this world.  With the marks of the passion – the wounds of his merciful love – he draws us to follow him on his way, the way of life.  Today too, he places upon his shoulders so many of our brothers and sisters crushed by evil in all its varied forms.

The Risen Shepherd goes in search of all those lost in the labyrinths of loneliness and marginalization.  He comes to meet them through our brothers and sisters who treat them with respect and kindness, and help them to hear his voice, an unforgettable voice, a voice calling them back to friendship with God.

He takes upon himself all those victimized by old and new forms of slavery, inhuman labour, illegal trafficking, exploitation and discrimination, and grave forms of addiction.  He takes upon himself children and adolescents deprived of their carefree innocence and exploited, and those deeply hurt by acts of violence that take place within the walls of their own home.

The Risen Shepherd walks beside all those forced to leave their homelands as a result of armed conflicts, terrorist attacks, famine and oppressive regimes.  Everywhere he helps these forced migrants to encounter brothers and sisters, with whom they can share bread and hope on their journey.

In the complex and often dramatic situations of today’s world, may the Risen Lord guide the steps of all those who work for justice and peace.  May he grant the leaders of nations the courage they need to prevent the spread of conflicts and to put a halt to the arms trade.

Especially in these days, may he sustain the efforts of all those actively engaged in bringing comfort and relief to the civil population in Syria, prey to a war that continues to sow horror and death.  May he grant peace to the entire Middle East, beginning with the Holy Land, as well as in Iraq and Yemen.

May the Good Shepherd remain close to the people of South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, who endure continuing hostilities, aggravated by the grave famine affecting certain parts of Africa.

May the Risen Jesus sustain the efforts of all those who, especially in Latin America, are committed to ensuring the common good of societies marked at times by political and social tensions that in some cases have resulted in violence.  May it be possible for bridges of dialogue to be built, by continuing to fight the scourge of corruption and to seek viable and peaceful solutions to disputes, for progress and the strengthening of democratic institutions in complete respect for the rule of law.

May the Good Shepherd come to the aid of Ukraine, still beset by conflict and bloodshed, to regain social harmony.  May he accompany every effort to alleviate the tragic sufferings of those affected by the conflict.

The Risen Lord continues to shed his blessing upon the continent of Europe.  May he grant hope to those experiencing moments of crisis and difficulty, especially due to high unemployment, particularly among young people.

Dear brothers and sisters, this year Christians of every confession celebrate Easter together.  With one voice, in every part of the world, we proclaim the great message:  “The Lord is truly risen, as he said!”  May Jesus, who vanquished the darkness of sin and death, grant peace to our days.            Happy Easter!

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Posted by: Fr Chris | April 14, 2017


May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,  Gal 6:14

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.  Col 1:24


The King of Glory

The ancient world found the mystery of Jesus’ cross to be confusing, frightening, bewildering. How could Paul, the primary apostle to the Greek and Latin speaking nations, rejoice in suffering? How could he brag about a crucifixion, the most frightening punishment in the Roman world, and to be honest, still today? The ancients feared crucifixion, and most of the pagan religions fled from suffering and instead explored pleasure.

Suffering is redemptive. Suffering has value. Our own individual sufferings – physical, mental, spiritual; from bad weather, hard work, difficult companions, failures, losses, as well as the penances we take on especially during Lent and Holy Week all have great value when united to the passion of Jesus Christ. Through suffering we are associates with Jesus the High Priest in His life-giving Passion.  The world had to be ransomed from sin, purchased from sin, at a great price, of the blood of a Man Who was God and  Human.

The Passion and Death of Jesus that we observe tonight is a treasury of redemptive grace.

In western Europe, Canada, and several of our biggest states, suffering is now the door to being murdered. A 32 year old mother of four children was denied cancer treatment in Oregon but the state agreed to pay $1.50 for each pill that it would take to kill her. In Belgium you can ask to die if you are twelve years old. In the Netherlands, elderly people have been put to death at the request of their own relatives, even though those elderly people literally fought for their lives against the doctors who came to do the deed, but every one of them was killed. In Canada the killing has been expanded from supposedly relieving the pain of those who are terminally ill to those who have emotional problems of any kind. Nazi Germany killed 230,000 Germans in the 1930s and 40s, people whose lives were determined to have no more value because of physical handicaps, Downs Syndrome, chronic illness, or mental and emotional problems, and the western world rightly condemned such so-called mercy killing as a result. The grandchildren of those who did the condemning are now happily slaughtering away anyone whose life is  considered expendable, undesirable, too difficult, too – what? Where will the limit be, if any?? 

Austria to exhume hundreds of bodies in Nazi euthanasia probe

Burial of Nazi victims of euthanasia

The West is losing its soul, its connection to the Holy Trinity and the redemption purchased for our souls on Mount Calvary on that hot Friday in 33 AD. Over one-third of our young adults believe that Christianity stands for scandal, greed, and hatred of those who are different, instead of sacrifice, faith, and charity to all. Two-thirds of Roman Catholics in this country no longer believe that Jesus is physically in Holy Communion. People are abandoning the message of Christ to become Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu instead, and in so doing are missing out on the importance of what the Passion is, and what therefore the Resurrection is. Christianity offers free will, given to us by a loving God, and redemption purchased at a heavy price on this afternoon so long ago.

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People complain about the polarization in Congress, the intense negativity of the political campaigns, and the fact that many people are simply rude and arrogant towards others. Christians cannot be like that. Jesus gave one commandment the night before He died: love one another. Before the Last Supper in which He gave His Sacred Divinity and Humanity in the bread and wine, He knelt in front of each apostle and washed their feet that were caked with dirt and garbage from the filthy streets. The Son of Man came to serve, not be served.

The refrain of one our Lenten hymns goes like this: This You suffered willingly, this You suffered, just for me.  What did He willingly suffer just for me?Jesus willingly endured sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane as His human nature recoiled in fear from the horrible passion ahead, finally  reconciling in complete harmony with His divine nature so as to willingly begin the long way of sorrow from the garden to Calvary; He willingly endured being betrayed by one of his closest followers and abandoned by all the others; He willingly endured being slapped, spat upon, and slugged by soldiers sworn to uphold the law but who gladly broke that law so as to abuse Jesus; He willingly endured having a helmet of thorn branches thrust into His scalp, where the most sensitive nerves are, such that He must have screamed in pain;

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He willingly endured having His back and sides torn apart by wicked Roman whips tipped with bone and metal; He willingly endured being wrapped in a robe of imperial purple cloth, to mock His kingship, and having a reed stuck in His hand as a mock scepter of power; He willingly endured carrying the cross bar through crowded streets filled with people who saw Him only as an annoyance as the pilgrims prepared Passover; He willingly endured going without food or drink from the Last Supper until His dying breath, even though His precious blood was pouring out of His wounded head, back and rib cage and later the wounds on the Cross; He willingly endured being struck from behind and knocked down or falling onto the hard stones of the streets of Jerusalem – so much so that according to the image on the Shroud of Turin, His right arm was not only knocked out of joint but paralyzed due to nerve trauma; He willingly endured  going through the crowds in order to console the women and children who were crying over His pain and tortures; He willingly endured the long ascent up the hill of Golgotha, suffering the shame of being stripped naked in front of the crowd including His own grieving mother, the holy women, and the beloved teenager St John and the trauma of the wounds being torn open as His robe was torn from His body; He willingly endured being nailed through the radial nerves of His arms, causing tremendous pain, and through His feet, and being lifted up on high above the crowd, where He looked across the walls of Jerusalem to the shining roof of the Temple, which would soon be totally destroyed; He willingly endured lifting Himself up with tortured breath to give us His Seven Last Words; He willingly endured verbal abuse from the one terrorist crucified on His left, but opened the gates of heaven to the terrorist on His right who believed in Him; He willingly endured the mocking of the Jewish priests and Roman soldiers while still delivering those Seven Last Words, and forgave each and every one of them; and in His last Words He cried out the opening words of the great psalm of the triumph of the messiah, which begins with My God My God why hast Thou forsaken Me? and lists all the signs of the crucifixion

They open their mouths against me, 15 Like water my life drains away; all my bones are disjointed. My heart has become like wax, it melts away within me. 16As dry as a pot shard is my throat; my tongue cleaves to the roof of my mouth;.*  I can count all my bones. They stare at me and gloat; 19 they divide my garments among them; for my clothing they cast lots.

but ends with God vindicating His servant

kingship belongs to the LORD, the ruler over the nations. 30*All who sleep in the earth will bow low before God; All who have gone down into the dust will kneel in homage. 31And I will live for the LORD; my descendants will serve you.32The generation to come will be told of the Lord, that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought.

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Jesus said the opening words of PS. 22 so that those nearby would know that He had not despaired, He had not lost trust in the Father, He knew His destiny; and then in that Last Words, He breathes His last and surrenders His human soul to God, and that deliverance will come to those around His cross, those in the holy city, those yet unborn.

At the end of this Vespers, we walk around the church in the dark, from Calvary to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, following the image of Jesus’ body, and in the dark we come up on our knees to kiss the five sacred wounds of His hands, side, and feet when that shroud is laid in the tomb. We sit throughout the night keeping watch at His tomb. Jesus confronted Sin and Death in the darkness of Gethsemane on Holy Thursday night. In the dark of Good Friday, we are able to confront our own sins and call ourselves to conversion because of all that He willingly endured.

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Christians are called to love everyone because we are all made in the image and likeness of God But we are also called to love and serve others because God’s Son paid such a heavy price so as to defeat the forces of death and sin and reopen heaven to us. The Passion is not because God is vengeful or angry or cruel – the Passion is the ultimate statement of total self-giving love. Saint Paul BOASTS of the Cross to people who feared crucifixion with all their being, because on this unique Cross our redemption has been purchased. We have all been paid for, but it is up to each one of us to live a life that reflects that purchase. As Catholics we believe that this Church was founded by Christ on the rock of Peter, that this Church is entrusted with the fullness of divine revelation. If that is so, then we must live as people who have been redeemed by the Lamb of God slain for us on this day. We must be known for faith, for kindness, for service to those in need, as messengers of peace, as messengers who are not afraid to speak the truth while at the same time loving those to whom we are giving that message.

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I began with redemptive suffering. In every generation, Christ’s Passion needs our participation in order to bring the fullness of revelation to every soul on earth. Jesus loves the human race so much that He would willingly endure this Passion over and over again millions of times, for every soul that has lived, is living now, and will live again, if that were necessary. He does not have to – but we who are His brothers and sisters through adoption, who have been baptized into the Holy Trinity, we are invited not to despair when we have something difficult to go through, but to remember to embrace that suffering, that pain, that challenge, that hardship, that illness, that hard boss or co-worker, that bad weather, that missed bus or train, and unite it to the Passion of Jesus for the salvation of the souls who stand in need of God’s grace at that moment in time. The world is still a broken world with problems because God allows humanity free will, and we don’t always exercise it properly, from the president to the four year old who hits their brother or sister in anger. But if we unite ourselves to this willing suffering of Jesus, we help by cooperating with God as the Divine Lover, and become Christ’s apostles to this world that needs His mercy so very much.

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Mary,  who is the first to unite herself to His Passion

We do not walk in darkness – we shine as the apostles of the cross, as servants of those who are not loved or thought of by most other people, as companions to the sick, as lovers of those who are shunned by polite society, as messengers of the reality that God constantly pours out grace and mercy to every single soul on this planet. When we kiss the wounds of Jesus tonight, may we be conscious of His enormous sacrifice, He Who confronted death and conquered it by reopening the gates of paradise to the souls of all the just since Adam and Eve and to the souls of those not yet born, and above all may we be His loving co-workers in uniting ourselves to this passion so as to achieve resurrection not only on Easter Sunday, but every day of our lives ahead of us.

Christ is among us – He is and always shall be.

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Pilgrims at the Tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem, Easter Vigil 

Posted by: Fr Chris | March 13, 2017

Novena of Grace

This n0vena was so well-attended in Buffalo, NY, that TV stations used to broadcast the first night from St. Michael’s church in downtown Buffalo or my home parish, St. John the Baptist in Kenmore. It was composed by a future martyr, Fr. Marcello Mastrilli, to whom St. Francis Xavier appeared after the young Jesuit prayed for his intercession to restore his health. He was instantly healed, and given the strength to resume his missionary work. Thus this novena that he composed 400 years ago remains enormously popular.

By the way, he is the real priest who went to Japan in search of the apostate Father Ferreira, the story now showing in theaters in the film Silence. Unlike the two priests in the move, Father Mastrilli did not waver in his faith when suspended for three days over the foul pit, and died for Christ at the hands of the shogun of Japan.

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The Martyrdom of Fr. Mastrilli, Oct. 17, 1637. 

The Knights of Columbus ask that this year people use the prayer below implores God’s help through Xavier’s intercession for the suffering Christians of the Middle East. From Egypt to Iran, people are suffering for believing that Jesus is the Son of  God and our Redeemer. May the hearts of jihadists and others be converted!



God our Father, as St. Francis Xavier and countless of your missionaries traveled to the ends of the earth, impelled by the love of Jesus Christ, give me the grace to rely entirely on you, confident in the knowledge that you raise up the humble and the lowly. May I be united with your saints in offering you my humble tribute of thanksgiving and praise. I implore you to grant me, through your mercy, the blessing of living and dying in a state of grace. I also ask this same blessing for all those throughout the world who suffer persecution because of their faith in you. O God, you were pleased to gather to your Church the peoples of the world by the preaching and miracles of all your saints; mercifully grant that I may imitate their virtues and so bear witness to the Gospel of your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Posted by: Fr Chris | March 1, 2017

Black Catholic 3: First Priest, Heroic Women

I missed getting these posted due to illness. Here you go:


Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton  is the first African American priest. Father Augustus was the son of slaves, brought to freedom by his mother determined to see her children live free, in 1862. Because he had no white ancestry, every seminary that he applied to refused to accept him despite his academic excellence and support from white priests, and he had to go to Rome. Pope Leo XIII ordered both his ordination and that he return home to Illinois to serve as a parish priest, despite the hostility of the American bishops. His success was so great that whites attended his parish to hear his sermons and go to Confession. He was too successful: the jealousy of a white pastor forced him to leave the city, a move that would lead to his death.

He had to transfer to Chicago, where he was again very successful in preaching, confessing, and leading the spiritual lives of black and white Catholics. Unfortunately, he had poor health, and during a severe heat wave, he died at the young age of 43. His Cause was opened in 2011. Read more at and his biography, From Slave To Priest, by Sr. Caroline Hemesath, a book I can personally recommend!


Julia Greeley, Apostle of the Sacred Heart. The cause of this former slave was opened in Denver in 2016, after years of collecting memories and data. In her lifetime, Julia was called “saintly” and the Angel of Charity. She was a special friend to the firemen of Denver and to all of the poor, of all races and backgrounds, and would go around the city with a little red wagon which she used to collect items for the poor and to carry leaflets on devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She was born in slavery in Missouri sometime before 1855. She lost her right eye when her owner was severely whipping her mother: no medical care was given to young Julia.

After she moved to Denver in 1880 to become the housekeeper for the governor (whose wife she knew from Missouri), she  became a Catholic, and attended daily Mass at the Jesuit parish of the Sacred Heart. She never married, but cared for many children over the years, and begged for the needs of the poor, even though she was poorer than they, delivering to them at night from her wagon. She died on the feast of the Sacred Heart, and was buried in the habit of the Third Order of Saint Francis, the lay group to which she belonged. At her funeral in 1918, the church was jammed with people from all classes,   in thanksgiving for her apostolate to the poor. The Franciscan Capuchin Fathers have long promoted her cause. Read more at

Venerable Mary Elizabeth Lange founded the first African-American Community of Sisters, the Oblate Sisters of Providence. The granddaughter of a plantation owner, she was born in Haiti in 1784. The family fled the slave revolts to Cuba, and Elizabeth was given an excellent French education. She emigrated to Baltimore, where she settled among the Haitian French-speaking refugees; at this time there were more free Blacks than slaves in Baltimore, but no schools.  She and a friend ran the first African-American-run school for free children of color in Maryland for ten years, when the Archbishop intervened and asked her to found a community of Sisters for Black women. No white Order would accept “colored” women (a prejudice which endured into the 1950s), and so she established The Sisters of Providence for Black Catholic women with vocations. The new community flourished, caring for Black orphans, opening schools, nursing the sick, teaching trades, conducting religious education for all ages, including adults, and helping the poor. She persevered and was considered a pioneer for her broad range of ministry.  By the time of her death in 1882, she was honored as a living saint by all. Investigation of her Cause began in 1991, and in 2004 she was given the title Venerable. The Sisters of Providence continue to run schools today and  homes for the aged. They have conducted successful evangelization among Black Americans for 187 years, and now serve Hispanic immigrants also.




Venerable Henriette Marie DeLille  Born free, Mother Henriette is the foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Family.  Her father was French-Italian, her mother French, Spanish and one-quarter African. Under the racial laws, she was considered a Colored Creole, and because her parents could not be legally married in Louisiana (or most other states), she was also illegitimate. We can easily forget how strict the racial laws were in this country! Under the segregationist laws, Henriette  received a good education courtesy of her wealthy parents, but was destined to live as a common-law wife of some rich white man who would have a white family separately. She rebelled against this, as a Catholic (though the Church tolerated these things then!) and out of human dignity. She became a teacher for children of color, and in 1842 founded her Sisters with support of the Vatican, but strong local opposition. The Sisters took in orphans, founded schools, and opened a nursing home for elderly people of color, and still flourish today. She died in 1850. Her Cause was opened in New Orleans in 1988. A miracle of healing has been accepted by the Church as valid, and it is expected that she will be declared a Blessed in New Orleans (beatification).




Bishop James Healy, first bishop with African ancestry

The level of racism that existed among white Americans can be mind-boggling to the  modern mind.  Even whites who are sensitive to the racial situation fail to grasp just how oppressed anybody with Black African ancestry could be treated in this country. All three world powers – England, France and Spain – of our colonial era enslaved Africans who were sold to traders on the western coast of Africa. These unfortunates were packed into the horrible slave ships and sent across the Atlantic, in a bewildering mixture of tribes and nations, to the West Indies or North America. In the English colonies, the Africans eventually became property, listed as assets along with horses and cows. The infamous Three Fifths Compromise counted slaves as being equal to 3/5 of a white person, and it was in our Constitution! In the Dred Scott Decision, our Supreme Court ruled that anyone who had a slave ancestor was denied American citizenship, and therefore protection under the law. This was fiercely opposed by Republicans, and led directly to the Civil War. The Catholic Church’s institutions owned slaves, as did many Catholics. Catholic owners were obliged to provide religious instruction and services for their slaves, although the slaves – and free people of color – had to sit behind whites in church or in the choir loft, and could not receive Holy Communion with white parishioners.

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Slavery in the American South had been declining at the time of the Revolution, with a class of free persons of color arising, until the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 resulted in a vast expansion of cotton plantations, and the “peculiar institution” spread. The spread of cotton planting went hand in hand with the destruction of family life, as not even spouses were kept together, let alone children. Our slavery system was much different from the one known to Saint Paul, and much crueler. People were even subjected to breeding, whereby marital relationships were ignored in favor of producing the best candidates for labor, and rape by white owners of black women was common.

A Catholic Irishman, Michael Healy, won 1,300 acres in an 1823 land lottery in Georgia. In 1829, he fell in love with Mary Eliza Smith (or Clark), a mulatto woman who he had purchased from another planter. She was half-white, but could not be freed, even by him, and they could not legally marry. The Georgia Legislature had to approve each act of freeing a slave by an owner, and few people were granted this “privilege”. Mary Eliza and Michael had nine children who survived to adulthood, and who by law were considered slaves because of their “tainted” blood. Those tainted children  would become the first African Americans to be ordained priests (James, Sherwood, Patrick) a bishop (James),  to hold a university doctorate (Patrick, at Louvain) president of a university (Patrick), diocesan chancellor (James),  hold a command military posting over white soldiers and officers (Michael), serve as a Mother Superior over white Sisters (Eliza). They were a remarkable family – just think of all the other unknown talents lost  to our Church and our country due to racial prejudice.  In the North, their three-quarters white ancestry and light coloring enabled most of them to pass as white Irish Catholics, although their African ancestry caused problems for those who pursued religious vocations. Had they stayed in the South, none of their achievements would have taken place.

A chance encounter with Bishop John Fitzpatrick of Boston resulted in four sons going to Holy Cross College, and the Notre Dame Sisters of Montreal accepting the three daughters. Here the first three sons finally became Catholics, along with the sons of the famous convert Orestes Brownson, in 1844. James and Sherwood went to Canada and then Paris  to study because no United States seminary would take in a “colored” student, no matter how white they looked. The parents decided that their children must all live in the North to be safe and thus have careers in the Church or business, and were going to sell the plantation and go north and be legally married, bringing along the three remaining children. In 1850 both Mary Eliza and Michael died before they could fulfill their dream; since planters’ children could be sold, regardless of their white ancestry, the older children intervened to rescue their siblings.

That the parents did not have a state-recognized marriage was an impediment to priesthood and vows in those days, and Bishop Fitzpatrick had to intervene for all the Healys who served the Church. In 1854, James was ordained a priest after finishing his studies in Paris – the first American Catholic priest with African ancestry. Patrick entered the Jesuits – who owned slaves – in Maryland where he took his vows, and Sherwood also studied in Montreal and then Paris. Hugh had graduated from Holy Cross and gone into business, but died at the age of twenty-one due to illness.Father Sherwood was an expert in Gregorian chant, rector of a seminary, at Troy in New York state, and because of his talents was nominated to become the head of the North American College in Rome. His appointment was forbidden by the Americans because “he has African blood and it shows in his exterior”  and there was fear that certain seminarians would refuse to obey him as a result. He died, not knowing this fact, at the age of thirty-nine.  Josephine died early also, in the Canadian Religious of Saint Joseph the Hospitaller: she could not enter an Order in the United States due to her ancestry.

Captain Michael  Augustine Healy 

Daughter Eliza entered the Sisters of Notre Dame in 1874 at Montreal – no United States community would receive her. As Sister Mary Magdalene she flourished, teaching in Quebec. Her greatest challenge was in Vermont, where she took over a school in serious financial trouble. Even the diocese would not back her. She used her talents to not only pay off the debts, but make the school and convent one of the best in the Order, and she was the first African American Mother Superior. In 1918 she had to resign as superior due to new canon laws which limited the time a superior could serve in one post, and she took over a school on Staten Island, where she served as Superior once again until her death. Daughter Martha also entered the convent, but eventually left to join her brothers in Boston and married an Irishman and had children. Son Eugene is listed as never having really been settled in life. All of them passed as white in the North – they were accepted as being Irish Catholics, and did not mingle with African Catholic parishes or laity. Michael rose in the ranks of the US Cutter Service to become a captain, the first African American to hold a command posting in our military, in Alaska. He married a white woman and raised a family. Healy descendants still live in the Lowell area of Massachusetts.

Father Patrick worked himself to exhaustion, especially as the “second founder of Georgetown”. He became  the first person of partial African ancestry to obtain a Catholic doctorate, but he had to do so at Louvain, Belgium, because his African blood was an issue as America headed to the Civil War and passions rose over racial issues. Father Patrick returned as a professor and became the first African American head of a Catholic university at Georgetown in 1874. He worked hard to expand the university, and did a very good job at it, but wealthy donors were known to back out when they realized his partial African ancestry: that he was a good priest, teacher and administrator would by rejected by these worthy souls because of his Black ancestry. His piety and work did not save his legacy entirely – when his African ancestry was publicly acknowledged by the Society of Jesus and the university in the 1950s, a white Georgetown University student vandalized the portrait of him.

Father Patrick Healy, SJ 

Bishop James Augustine Healy was the first-born child, and he continued the “first” status all his life. He had a vigorous ministry in Boston, becoming the first diocesan chancellor, and helping his bishop as he had aged and become ill. He defended the rights of Catholic children in public orphanages where they were deprived of the Sacraments, and convinced the old-line Puritan establishment to finally yield on this in 1875. His preaching was legendary. At the State House he  spoke at public hearings to fight proposed tax laws which would have devastated the Catholic churches, schools, and charitable institutions. In 1875, Pope Pius IX named him Bishop of Portland, Maine, as  the first bishop in the country with African ancestry, which embraced both Maine and New Hampshire. Being part Irish and fluent in French, he could serve the two main Catholic populations in those states well.

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Portrait of Bishop James Healy 

As bishop, he would establish 60 parishes with construction of new churches, 18 schools, new convents and charitable institutions for children and the poor. He was popular with Portland’s children, letting them hook their sleds to the back of his horse-drawn sleigh, letting those without sleds ride with him, and helping the orphans. He paid overdue taxes and doctor bills for the poor, and unlike some bishops, he continued to go on sick calls and hear Confessions.  Hearing Confessions led to some interesting moments. We know from stories passed down by those who were the confessing party, that he heard people confess that they had sinned by calling their bishop derogatory terms for Negro. In one case, a girl confessed that she had said “that the bishop was black as the devil.” To her chagrin, he revealed who he was and said that in the future perhaps she should say “black as coal.”

Bishop James and Father Patrick both had health issues, and Bishop James had to leave Maine for warmer climates during the hard winters. The brothers traveled down to New Orleans and other southern locales, but they never once went back to their home state of Georgia. They never lived to see the racial laws revoked in our country that made their parents criminals. The Catholic Church would not appoint another African American Bishop for nearly 100  years, Bishop Harold Perry, SVD, of Washington DC in 1965.

Next Installment: First African American Catholic Priest



Posted by: Fr Chris | February 11, 2017

Black Catholic History Month

February is Black History Month in the United States. This month I am running some notices about American Black Catholics whose Causes are opened for sainthoodPeople forget that Catholicism has been a strong part of African-American life, especially in Louisiana, Maryland, and New York City. 

Servant of God, Pierre Toussaint: This former slave from Haiti is the only layman resting in the crypt of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, surrounded by cardinals and archbishops. Born in Haiti, he was brought to New York City by the Bernard family when they feared – rightly- that there were going to be slave revolts. The Berards had baptized their slaves and instructed them in the Faith (though how it was that even priests thought it was all right to own slaves remains a mystery to me).  But like all the planters, they lived in incredible luxury that came from the sweat of thousands of enslaved Africans. Basic evangelization rarely included charity, and even more rarely, freedom. The Berards brought the “house slaves” with them, and the plantation was later destroyed in the great rebellion that swept Haiti.

Apprenticed by his owner as a hairdresser – a profitable trade in the 18th century given the elaborate hair styles of the wealthy and middle class women – Pierre became a confidant to both wealthy New York families and destitute French fleeing the Haitian and French Revolutions. He attended daily Mass for sixty-six years as  New Yorker, both as a slave and free man. Madame Berard became not only a widow when her husband died of pleurisy, but an impoverished one when the New York securities firm holding their savings went bankrupt. She and the other family members were now totally dependent upon Pierre’s earnings. While still contributing to the upkeep of his widowed owner, even after she remarried since the new groom was also impoverished, Pierre carefully set aside his own savings which he used both for charity and to hopefully buy his freedom.

Granted his freedom after his owner’s death in 1811, he bought the freedom of his fiancé and married her. Childless, they adopted his niece and devoted themselves to supporting Haitian refugees, teaching trades to African-American children and sheltering Black orphans, and helping the Catholic Church. Familiar with discrimination, Pierre assisted St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who was rejected by New York society after her conversion to Catholicism, and his donations supported the fledgling Sisters of Charity and their work. Pierre was a founder of the first cathedral, but a white usher pushed him out at the dedication Mass, to the shock and embarrassment of his white friends who intervened. While he put in sixteen hour days, even in old age, he, like all Blacks, was forbidden to ride in the horse-drawn public omnibuses and had to either walk across the growing city or rely on a customer’s charity to get a ride in a carriage. He continued to  guide young people, help the poor French, assist the Africans, and support the Church. In this he outlived almost everyone he had known,  including his wife and adopted daughter. Yet he never missed  six o’clock Mass, waiting at the church door in the gray dawn.  A member of an influential family said of him in his last months: “The last time I saw Pierre, he was seated among a group of mourners, beside the coffin of a lady venerated for years in the highest social sphere of the city. She was almost the last tie that bound him to the past. He had visited her daily for thirty years, and brought his offering of flowers; and there he sat, with his white head bowed in grief, and every line of his honest sable face wet with tears. It was a beautiful homage to worth,–a beautiful instance of what may be the disinterested relation between the exalted and the humble,–when the genius of character and the sentiment of religion bring them thus together.

He died on June 30, 1853, and his funeral at Old Saint Patrick’s was attended, as was only fitting, by people of every class and both races. He was laid to rest by his beloved Juliette-Noel.

The “new” Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue has a special crypt for the deceased cardinals of the archdiocese. This is immediately behind the High Altar. When Pierre’s Cause finally began, his remains were exhumed from the graveyard at Old Saint Patrick’s, and they now rest among those cardinals. Quite a difference from how he was once treated by an usher, but unfortunately, our country still has a way to go in racial harmony.

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Pierre and his wife, Juliette-Noel

Pierre was declared Venerable in 1996, five years after his body was re-buried in Saint Patrick’s. The first biography of him, Memoir of Pierre Toussaint (1854) was written just months after his passing, and drew heavily on the recollections of the wealthy and poor New Yorkers who loved him.  In this time of racial divides, perhaps he would be a good heavenly patron for reconciliation of all Americans, just as all New Yorkers loved and revered him, telling stories of his kindness for generations among both the “old families” of New York society and the Haitians’ descendants. 

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After a lot of pressure from human rights groups and some Christian Churches, our government finally  agreed that the jihadists of Islamic State are committing genocide against the Christian population of Syria and Iraq. Before civil war broke out five years ago in Syria, thanks to the failure of the great powers and the UN who would not step in and help the peaceful demonstrators and let Assad begin his campaign of butchering people, Syria was one of the few refuges for believers in Christ. Those persecuted in Iraq usually fled to Syria or Jordan. Those two countries and  Israel were the only ones where Christians could lead fairly normal lives, although Syria was a dictatorship with very little freedom of speech or press. The Christians accounted for 10% of pre-war Syria’s population, with a rich diversity of Eastern Churches – Armenian, Assyro- Chaldean, Greek,Maronite, Melkite,  and Syriac – which covers Eastern Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and the Church of the East. In addition, there were Latin Catholics and Protestants. All of these people have suffered massacres, gang rapes of women, beheading, kidnapping, torture, slavery for continuing to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. So our generous country opened its doors to those who were driven from their homes by war and persecution, and have allowed forty-seven Syrian Christians to emigrate to our shores. Apparently the previous posting of 83 was wrong – we didn’t let in even that many after all! 

Forty-seven. I have more immediate relatives than that!

How do our president, secretary of state, and those who have arranged the immigration of over 9,400 Sunni Muslims (Sunnis are 75% of Syria’s population) sleep at night? They merrily consign the Christians and Yazidi to the ongoing hell of the civil war. Islamic State does indeed persecute Sunni Muslims who do not go along with their extremist brand of Islam, but let’s face it – there are lots of Arabic Muslim countries to which they can go, but few places that will take a Christian.

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The excuse is that Christians don’t register at the UN camps. They don’t because the Sunni refugees routinely berate, mock, beat, and terrorize Christians. When crossing the Mediterranean, Sunni Muslims have thrown Christians overboard and forsaken them. In refugee centers in Germany, Christians beg to be separated from their Muslim fellows because of what happens when the social workers go home. When they get to America and well-meaning social service agencies say “Let’s put all the Arab refugees together so they can be with people of the same language and culture” they are again exposed to extortion, beatings, and even rapes. So no, Christians don’t go to UN camps. But they do register for asylum, they do ask to be taken to safety. And we have bravely taken in forty-seven.

God must weep over us.

Write to your Congress people about this travesty. Maybe write Mr. Kerry and Mr. Obama. But I doubt they will hear us if they refuse to hear the cries of those dying or being enslaved on a regular basis. 


See my post of August 28 – apparently this statistic of 83 was too generous. The numbers were inflated for  Syrian Christians. But the rest of this post is accurate as to what is happening. 

Syria continues to burn, Christians are routinely — ROUTINELY – massacred, raped, kidnapped, enslaved and yet we have allowed in a grand total of ………… eighty-three Christian survivors.

The Armenian St Kevork Church in Aleppo was burnt during fighting between rebel fighters and Syrian government forces

Saint Kevork Armenian Apostolic church, burned in 2014

Here’s the latest news:

The Obama administration admitted 2,340 Syrian refugees into the United States in July, almost as many as the record number of admissions in June (2,406), keeping it on track to reach its goal of 10,000 by the end of September.

Continuing a trend seen throughout the fiscal year, just 15 of the 2,340 resettled in July (0.6 percent) are Christians, while 2,308 (98.6 percent) are Sunni Muslims.

According to State Department Refugee Processing Center data, since the beginning of FY 2016 on October 1, a total of 7,551 Syrian refugees have been admitted. Of that number, 7,432 (98.4 percent) are Sunnis and 35 (0.46 percent) are Christians, including six Catholics, two Orthodox and one Greek Orthodox adherent.

The remaining 84 Syrian refugees admitted in FY 2016 comprise 50 other Muslims, 20 Shi’a Muslims, 10 Yazidis – like Christians, a minority singled out by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) for persecution – three refugees identified as “other religion,” and one as having “no religion.”

Since the civil war began in 2011 the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has registered 4.82 million Syrians who have fled their homeland. Some 495,000 are accommodated in U.N. refugee camps.

Displaced Syrians include those wanting to get away from ISIS and other jihadist groups, those fleeing from atrocities carried out by the Assad regime – dominated by a minority Shi’a sect that has targeted Sunnis in particular – and its Hezbollah, Iranian and Russian allies, and Syrians simply wanting to escape the chaos and deprivation of the conflict.

Although Syrians of all ethnic groups and religious denominations have been caught up in the crisis, the number of Christians among refugees admitted into the U.S. is still disproportionately small: Some 10 percent of the Syrian population is Christian, and yet Christians account for less than one percent of refugees admitted to the United States.

On the other hand, Sunnis comprised around 74 percent of the Syrian population when the war began, while the proportion of Sunnis admitted to the U.S. exceeds 97 percent.

Of a total of 9,424 Syrian refugees resettled in the U.S. since the conflict broke out,83 (0.8 percent) are Christians, and 9,151 (97.1 percent) are Sunnis.

——– Frankly, I’m surprised we even let in those eighty-three survivors. I suppose one must keep appearances though.

This comes courtesy of the ACLJ , American Center for Law and Justice, which is doing a petition drive as well. It is a conservative group in terms of politics – but the timeline is accurate and gives you an idea of how ISIS/ISIL has grown in its ability to spread terror, and in the ferocity of what it does to Christians, Yazidis, and those Muslims it disapproves of. The stuff they do is satanic in origin – horrible for all living under its rule.


  • April 18, 2013 – Before the rise of ISIS, the ACLJ draws attention to the worsening plight of Christians in Syria.


  • June 29, 2014 – ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the establishment of an Islamic caliphate.
  • July 19, 2014 – ISIS takes over Mosul and other towns in Syria and gives an ultimatum to Christians: they must convert to Islam, pay jizya, or leave, and if they refuse they will die.
  • August 7th, 2014 – ISIS captured the primarily Assyrian Christian towns of Qaraqosh, Tel Keppe, Bartella, and Karamlish, prompting the residents to flee. More than 100,000 Iraqi Christians were forced to flee their homes and leave all their property behind after ISIS invaded Qaraqosh and surrounding towns in the Nineveh Plains Province of Iraq.
  • August 8, 2014 – Human Rights Office in Iraq reports ISIS has been burying hundreds of children and young people alive in Christian region of Mosul.
  • August 8, 2014 – After capturing the Iraqi town of Sinjar, ISIS fighters replace church crucifixes with ISIS flags. Christian leaders in the area also reported “systematic beheadings of children.”
  • August 12, 2014 – Reports surface of a 5-year-old Anglican Christian boy being cut in half by ISIS in Baghdad.
  • August 15, 2014 – Reports estimate that over 1,500 Christians and Yazidis have been abducted and forced to become sex slaves to ISIS fighters.
  • August 15, 2014 – In light of the recent attacks, the ACLJ began a petition to recognize the genocide and to protect the Christians in the Middle East.
  • August 19, 2014 – Journalist James Foley becomes first American citizen and American Christian to be executed by ISIS and was brutally killed via decapitation.
  • August 27, 2014 – The ACLJ filed a legal memorandum with the U.N. detailing ISIS’s assets, tactics, and atrocities, as well as condemning “the genocide of Christians being perpetrated by ISIS in Iraq.”
  • September 15, 2014 – The ACLJ released #1 New York Times bestseller, Rise of ISIS: A Threat We Can’t Ignore, exposing the atrocities committed by ISIS against Christians and other religious minorities.
  • October 2014 – A United Nations report confirmed that ISIS was holding 7,000 Yazidi women as sex slaves.


  • February 12, 2015 – ISIS released a video that appeared to show its militants in Libya beheading a group of Egyptian Christians who had been kidnapped in January.
  • February 23, 2015 – 1,500 ISIS fighters attacked a series of Christian towns in northeast Syria, burning churches, taking as many as 90 hostages, and forcing hundreds to flee from their homes. When ISIS fighters attacked the town of Tel Shamiram, they separated out the men, around 50 of whom they have taken into the mountains, and approximately 90 women and children are being held prisoner in the village by ISIS militants.
  • March 11, 2015 – ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations regarding “Protecting Religious Freedom Abroad” and stated that “[t]he heinous atrocities committed by ISIS against Christians . . . is nothing short of genocide.”
  • April 19, 2015 – ISIS released a video of militants from two of its Libya affiliates killing dozens of Ethiopian Christians, some by beheading and others by shooting.
  • July 9, 2015 – Four children were killed when ISIS blew up the historic Mother of Aid church in Mosul.
  • August 2015 – Twelve Syrian Christians (including women and children) were brutally and publicly tortured and executed in village near Aleppo, Syria, because they refuse to convert to Islam. ISIS members cut off young boy’s fingers and beat him as they demanded his father and two other men renounce Christianity, before executing all four by crucifixion. Eight women were publically raped and beheaded for refusing to renounce Christ.
  • August 2015 – A Syrian Priest who was kidnapped by ISIS was ransomed to his family for $120,000. When his family paid the ransom, ISIS had his body chopped up and mailed back to his family instead of releasing him as promised.
  • August 18, 2015 – The ACLJ launched a targeted legal advocacy campaign through a petition to the Obama Administration urging the Administration – specifically Secretary of State Kerry – to recognize the genocide against Christians.
  • October 5, 2015 – The ACLJ joins a coalition of concerned non-governmental organizations and individuals by sending a letter to President Obama regarding the International Religious Freedom Roundtable. The letter requests that President Obama officially recognize ISIS’s actions as genocide.
  • October 8, 2015 – ISIS released video showing three of the Assyrian Christian men kidnapped in Khabur being executed. It was reported that 202 of the 253 kidnapped Assyrians were still in captivity, each one with a demanded ransom of $100,000.
  • December 18, 2016 – The ACLJ’s European-based affiliate, the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), submitted an amicus brief to the European Court of Human Rights “to share testimony about the current genocide of Christians in Iraq at the hands of ISIS.”
  • December 30, 2015 – ISIS suicide bombings took place in Syria in three restaurants frequented by Kurds and Assyrian Christians, killing sixteen and injuring dozens.
  • Late 2015– ISIS bombed and demolished Iraq’s older monastery, St. Elijah’s, which had stood near Mosul for more than 1,400 years. Father Paul Thabit Habib, a Catholic priest said that Iraq’s “Christian history was ‘being barbarically leveled’. He added, “‘[W]e see it as an attempt to expel us from Iraq, eliminating and finishing our existence in this land.’”


  • February 5, 2016 – The ACLJ sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry regarding legal analysis of the law of genocide as applied to the atrocities being committed by ISIS against Christians
  • February 15, 2016 – Through the ECLJ, the ACLJ submitted a written statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council, requesting that the U.N. join other international bodies and publically proclaim that Christians in Iraq and Syria are victims of genocide and deserving of international assistance and protection.
  • March 4, 2016 – Multiple gunmen linked to ISIS killed 18 people at a nursing home founded by Mother Teresa and run by Christian nuns in Yemen.
  • March 11, 2016 – The ECLJ presented an oral statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) asking the HRC to condemn the genocide against Christians.
  • March 14, 2016 – A bipartisan resolution that was drafted in 2015 passes the House of Representatives. The resolution finally declares the atrocities committed by ISIS are “genocide”.
  • April 22, 2016 – The ACLJ launches its seven-point, multipronged legal advocacy effort to stop the genocide and protect Christians.
  • April 28, 2016 – The ACLJ sent a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon requesting that the U.N. formally recognize that ongoing atrocities committed by ISIS against Christians as genocide.
  • May 19, 2016 – The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passes a bill containing several key recommendations that Dr. Sekulow proposed during his March 11, 2015 testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.
  • May 23, 2016 – The ACLJ sent a second letter to Secretary of State John Kerry to thank him for declaring ISIS’s atrocities as “genocide against . . . Christians” and also requesting that he use his position to mobilize the international community to stop the genocide and protect the victims.
  • May 27, 2016 – The ACLJ submitted a written Statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council requesting that the U.N. “recognize the ISIS atrocities against Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities as genocide and take immediate appropriate action.”
  • June 6, 2016 – The ACLJ sent a letter to United States Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power thanking her for her consistent stance against genocide. The letter also urged her to “continue and intensify” efforts to mobilize the international community to stop the genocide against Christians and others religious minorities by ISIS.
  • June 7, 2016 – A twelve-year-old Christian girl was burned to death in her own home by ISIS terrorists in Mosul, Iraq.
  • June 16, 2016 – The ACLJ sent letter to the 47 Member States of the U.N. Human Rights Council regarding the upcoming genocide discussions at the Council’s June meeting and asking for their support in naming ISIS’s actions “genocide”. Some of the contacted Member States mention genocide as the ACLJ encouraged, which shows the progress being made within the international community to stop these hate-filled actions by ISIS.
  • June 22, 2016 – The ECLJ delivered an oral intervention at the U.N. on behalf of Christian victims of genocide and urged U.N. Human Rights Council to declare ISIS’s atrocities as genocide against Christians.

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