Priests preserve black Catholic history at Notre Dame

Father Ken Taylor signs over documents to the archives of Notre Dame, while Brother Roy Smith, OSC, looks on with Father Theodore Parker of the NBCCC Archives Search Committee.

November is Black Catholic History Month in the United States and Brazil. This observance was established in 1990 by the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus. On Oct. 24, a delegation of black priests entrusted the Theodore Hesburgh Library with its historical documents for the purpose of preservation and study. The delegation membership included Father Kenneth Taylor, president of NBCCC; Father Clarence Williams, CPPS, vice president and archivist; Father Theodore Parker; and Deacon Melvin Tardy.

The three priests were nostalgic about bringing the documentation to Notre Dame because of their personal histories with the university. “It is hard to believe that we were here as seminarians in 1970, and began the National Black Catholic Seminarians Association. And now we return almost 50 years later as priests. Things have come full circle,” said Father Parker, of the Archdiocese of Detroit and a former member of the Coordinating Committee of NBCSA.

At the first meeting at Notre Dame, 70 black seminarians from across the country attended. They were the guests of the National Black Sisters Conference that had formed two years earlier.

Father Taylor was also present in 1970 and shared the amazing realization of returning these historical documents to a place that was instrumental in building the Black Catholic movement in its infancy. He pointed out the context of handing over of the documents at this time.

“November, as Black Catholic History Month, is a project of the Black Catholic clergy, so this is a perfect time to accept the invitation to place our chronicle with the Notre Dame archives on the American Catholic Heritage,” he said.

The delegation stands before boxes filled with their history. The delegation members are: Deacon Melvin Tardy of Notre Dame; Father Theodore Parker of the Archdiocese of Detroit; Father Clarence Williams, CPPS, of the Diocese of Columbus; Father Kenneth Taylor of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis; and Brother Roy Smith, OSC, of Notre Dame.

This visit to Notre Dame University is one step towards a greater appreciation of the Black Catholic movement to be explored in 2018. Father Williams is the chairman of the NBCCC 50th anniversary committee: he said, “We are putting things in place as we approach in less than 18 months the 50th anniversary of our Black Catholic movement which began with the clergy leading it. The priests met with the National Interracial Justice Conference the week after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Detroit, Mich. — these priests asked that those Negro priests present could gather as a caucus to share their feeling and thoughts of the Negro mood. The result of their meetings was a statement on the racism of the Catholic Church and the formation of a national organization, NBCCC. The rest is history.”

The NBCCC has a standing committee to review documents and articles that will continue to build this Black Catholic collection. Father Taylor stated, “We are open to the contribution of others who wish to preserve our Black Catholic History and invite their participation. In a special way, we dedicate our efforts in the memory of Father Cyprian Davis, OSB, who recently died. He (encouraged) us (to) be examples, to value the contribution of our unique Catholic journey. He was the keeper of the archives, and now that he is no longer here to protect and preserve, we must take up that responsibility.”

Father Williams challenges the leaders to participate in the 50th anniversary of the Black Catholic movement this year. “We hope that Black Catholic leaders during this Black Catholic History month will go from their attics to their basement to discover and recover the various important documents, articles, photos and objects that tell our story, how we have come this far by faith,” he said.

Those wishing to contribute to the historical collection can find information on how to proceed on the NBCCC website, www.nationalblackcatholicclergycaucus.org.

Posted on November 15, 2016, to: