Remembering the saints and souls of Africa and the African Diaspora
October 31, 2023
November is a month when we spend time reflecting on those people who have shown us by their example how to live a holy life. On the Solemnity of All Saints, November 1, the Church celebrates the saints in Heaven. On All Souls’ Day, November 2, we pray for those who have died marked with the sign of faith, especially the souls in purgatory.
Since 1990, November has also been designated National Black Catholic History Month, a time to recall the saints and souls of Africa and the African Diaspora. Two of the Catholic Church’s most well-known Black saints are St. Martin de Porres, whose feast day is November 3, and St. Augustine, born November 13, 354 A.D.
While there are currently no U.S.-born Black Saints, that is likely to change. Here are four U.S.-born Black Catholics on the road to sainthood.
Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman
Sister Thea Bowman was born in Yazoo City, Mississippi, where she radiated Gospel joy despite living amid racial prejudice. Born into a Protestant family, she converted to Catholicism when she was 9. Thea was devoted to the Eucharist and worked for the poor and those on the margins of society. She was well-known for the presentations she gave across the country – lively gatherings designed to break down racial and cultural barriers. She died of Cancer at 52.
Servant of God Julia Greeley
Unknown – 1918
Julia Greeley was born into slavery in Hannibal, Missouri, sometime between 1833 and 1848. Her family was freed by Missouri’s Emancipation Act in 1865. Julia subsequently worked for white families, mainly in the Denver area. Whatever she did not need for herself, she used to help poor families in her neighborhood. Julia did most of her charitable work under cover of night to avoid embarrassing those she helped.
Venerable Henriette Delille
1812 – 1862
Henriette Delille was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1836, she established the rules and regulations for devout Christian women, eventually becoming the Society of the Holy Family. The purpose of the Society of the Holy Family was to nurse the sick, care for the poor, and instruct the uneducated, including slaves. Henriette died at the age of 50.
Venerable Father Augustus Tolton
1854 – 1897
John Augustus Tolton was born into slavery in Brush Creek, Missouri, in 1854. In 1862, he and his family escaped slavery by crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois. It has been reported that when the family reached freedom, Tolton’s mother turned to him and said, “John, boy, you’re free. Never forget the goodness of the Lord.” Despite many obstacles, Tolton was ordained a priest in Rome at 31 and became the first Black American priest in the United States of America.