The second iteration of “The Call to Transformative Love in Religious Life: Stories of Race, Place and Grace”, a virtual webinar series from Catholic Theological Union (CTU) in Chicago, is set to commence next week, continuing to explore the intersection of religious life and Blackness.

The series, which began during Black Catholic History Month last November, is co-sponsored by CTU’s Center for the Study of Consecrated Life (CSCL) and the National Black Sisters’ Conference (NBSC), and will be livestreamed the next three Mondays in March.

The next session, covering the historical angle of the topic, will be led by Fr Joseph A. Brown, SJ. He was invited to participate by Sr. Josita Colbert, SNDdeN, president of the NBSC.

“The topic matters greatly,” Brown told BCM this week.

“In our world, just now, the history of Black Catholics is problematic in the ways that people either teach it or ignore it.”

Brown, who received his M.A. and PhD from Yale, currently teaches in the Africana department at Southern Illinois University.

A vaunted historian, writer, liturgist, and speaker (with a street named after him in East St Louis), he received the Fr. Joseph Davis, SM Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus in 1994, and the Melchizedek: Guardian of the Rites Award from the Archbishop Lyke Conference, an annual Black Catholic liturgical symposium, in 2013.

In his own words, his work has mostly been in the vein of promoting “liturgy, practice, and theory”, including the rejuvenation of Black Catholic ministries, resources, and institutions.

“What those directives from Rome in the 1880s suggested and which were utterly rejected by the dominant hierarchy of that time—and of today—is still of paramount importance.”

He plans to speak to this on Monday, noting “our responsibility in knowing the ‘true truth”, a saying of Servant of God Sr Dr. Thea Bowman in reference to the realities of the Black struggle in society and in the Church, “and about our responsibility to correcting any narrative that leaves us invisible and silent.”

As in Bowman’s time, one major area affected by this witness—or lack thereof—is Black vocations. I asked Brown if this will be one of the focuses of the upcoming event and the series as a whole.

“We must first of all bear witness; and then tell the whole truth – the uncomfortable parts and the parts that manifest our joy,” he told me.

“We must also see the spark within the young ones who know they can be of service but who are more than a little hesitant to walk into the wilderness of religious communities as they are mainly constituted today.”

Discerners and learners alike can register today to hear him kick off the series on March 8th.


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