For the first time ever, the recipient of the USCCB's Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award is an American-born Black Catholic.

Louis Damani Jones, a 26-year-old graduate student in social work at Washington University in St. Louis, received the accolade for his work in alleviating poverty.

"Our life as people [in] a communal and social context calls us to bring the Gospel to every facet of our work," he told BCM on Sunday.

"I’ve found that social science can be a great tool in understanding how to put the human person at the center of social and economic questions."

The award, which highlights this kind of advocacy work from young American Catholics, is given by the bishop's Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), a funding initiative sparked by Pope Saint Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio encyclical in 1970.

Awarded since 1998, the honor has twice gone to Black Catholics—including the Haitian-born Jean Souffrant (2001) and former Togolese refugee Karl Kumodzi (2012).

A newly installed member of the board of directors for Catholic Charities of St. Louis, Jones has served in various youth leadership roles in St. Louis and with the USCCB, culminating in this latest achievement.

The 4th-degree Knight of Columbus also spoke at NATYAM's National Leadership Forum on Ministry with Young Adults last week alongside a number of other Black Catholic leaders, including Dr. timone davis, Nathan Crankfield, Rudy Dehaney, Lasheka and Ashley Morris, and Terra Starr Young.

In previous years, the winner of the Bernardin award would be honored in-person at the bishops' annual meeting, but this year's episcopal summit was virtual due to COVID.

Also virtual is Jones' "Living Communion" podcast, which he co-hosts with two other St. Louis faith leaders, Dr. Mark Etling of SLU and Matthew Flynn of St. Clare of Assisi Church.

In addition, his local advocacy work in St. Louis is just getting started.

"By the grace of God, I’ll spend next year working with Catholic Urban Programs in East St. Louis to find out how that ministry of the Diocese of Belleville can even better serve families and become a manifestation of the Heart of Christ for the people."

Jones will receive a $1000 cash award for his service, and interested parties can support the CCHD here.


Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder of Black Catholic Messenger, a priesthood applicant with the Josephites, and a ThM student w/ the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).


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