The National Black Catholic Seminarians Association (NBCSA) will host a virtual event on Sunday, April 23, for the 2023 National Day of Prayer for Black Vocations, which promotes African American Catholics in the priesthood, religious life, and the permanent diaconate.
This year’s event will feature an address from Sr Mary Francis Bard, SSF, a member of the Sisters of the Holy Family, an order of Black Catholic nuns founded by Venerable Henriette DeLille. Bard currently serves at the sisters’ motherhouse in New Orleans and will speak on the history of her order and the call of Black religious.
“God and the Catholic Church have a great need for African-American consecrated life,” she told BCM.
“We are the single candle sometimes. The one representative of the African-American community in a room. And when we walk in, our ancestors walk in with us.”
Founded in 1970, the NBCSA is a nonprofit organization supporting Black Catholic seminarians from across the diaspora who are studying for the priesthood and religious life in the United States. It is an affiliate organization of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, which was founded two years earlier in Detroit.
In 2010, the NBCSA began organizing the National Day of Prayer for Black Vocations on the Sunday nearest to the ordination anniversary of Venerable Augustus Tolton, the first openly Black Catholic priest in U.S. history. Born into slavery in Missouri, he was ordained in Rome on April 24, 1886.
Formerly having Black clergy as special guests for the event, the NBCSA has invited a religious sister this year to reflect a broader scope of Catholic vocations, another topic that will be addressed in Sr Bard’s remarks.
Born in Kentucky, Bard entered the Sisters of the Holy Family in 2012, professing first vows three years later. She is one of the few African-American Catholic women in formation for religious life and is thought to be the only living member from her home region in a historically Black religious order.
Recent data from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University showed that just 4% of new Catholic priests last year in the United States were Black or African. A separate study published in 2021 estimated that only 4% of men and women entering religious life in America since 2005 were Black or African, with 82% having been born overseas.