I have to tell you this story because it has been weighing heavily on my mind lately ever since the strange conversation took place.
I was at mass a couple of months ago and there was a group of visiting seminarians in the main church of St. Scholastica. To refresh your memory, that’s the church that Presentation-Our Lady of Victory members now attend. We ended up in the back of the chapel and it is our new parish home. So we have not yet fully integrated with St. Scholastica, we are just occupying their building. I don’t think that’s going to last for long. But back to my thought of why I brought up the seminarians.
It made me think about the fact that never since I’ve been in the church has any of our altar boys ever been invited to Sacred Heart Major Seminary, where young men study to become priests. I became aware of this starting back when I was employed with Our Lady of Good Counsel Church on the East Side of Detroit (1998-2005), where I was told by a dear friend, that the boys who were being invited to tour the grounds and contemplate the priesthood were usually of the Caucasian race. Now I hate having to bring up the topic of “race” but its inevitable-it’s the way our country was divided so its in the history.
I mentioned in my book “Our Lady of Victory” that we saw invitations to become priests in the Church Bulletin (with no name) but nothing actually targeting our young boys on a personal level to consider becoming priests.
So when St. Scholastica had eight seminarians visit for mass it got me to thinking again, why are there no Black Priests in any significant numbers in the Archdiocese of Detroit? So I spoke with the pastor after one of our masses. I told him that while I was happy for the young men who are studying to be priest, I wondered why our young boys were never ever invited to consider it with personal invitations too.
He responded by asking me had I ever attended their Religious Education classes in the evenings? I said no, but that I did attend classes in my church and actually brought in new members. He said, “why don’t you attend our evening classes?” I said, “I don’t like to come out that late.” He said, “we can arrange to pick you up.”
How in the world did we get to this conversation? How could he have looked me in the eye and change the topic so completely? I was astounded and speechless. That was his answer? That was all he had to say? Switch the topic so he doesn’t have to answer it? STUNNING!! UNBELIEVABLE!!
I guess I don’t have to wonder any longer why there are no black priest. The Church doesn’t get it and so the issue will never be addressed. I know because I also mentioned this to our own Monsignor. He had no real answers either. I do know that there was one recurring theme that got one priest I know into the priesthood. He was mentored! Someone took the time to spend with him and show him the possibilities. How in the world do you become a priest without someone bringing you in? It doesn’t always happen on its own, especially for black boys who are already unsure of themselves in the larger world just like any other young boy coming of age.
Ladies and Gentleman, need I say more?
I belong to the Knights of Peter Claver, Ladies Auxiliary Court 189 and I am the Treasurer. I’m just trying to fulfill my obligation and then I will re-think whether or not I even want to continue being a Catholic. Our race has dwindled so badly over the years with the policies coming out of the diocese that it is not conducive to growing an African American Catholic Community anymore. They’re making an effort to raise awareness to the problem but as they say, “It’s a day late and a dollar short.” We are way past the time to do something about it.
In order to explain how we arrived at where we are today, you need to know the history. Get a copy and get the lowdown on what really happened. Its a fascinating read.
OUR LADY OF VICTORY THE SAGA OF AN AFRICAN AMERICAN CATHOLIC COMMUNITY
Our Lady of Victory Facebook Page
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OLV Book Trailer
You are the most refreshing pope since I have been a catholic, which was most of my life. Your coming could not have happened a moment too soon. I am about to be a fallen-away catholic. The policies of the Archdiocese of Detroit is killing my parish. It has been killing it for a long time and now I have had enough.
Researching our history has opened my eyes to the mean-spiritness of the hiarchy that has shaped this region for many years. Had you been at the helm a lot of this anti-christian behavior might not have festered. As you know, the Catholic Church is made up of many ethnic groups. All have been treated well with policies that helped them to thrive. Not so in the black catholic community. We were never allowed to have a pastor. All we ever got were administrators and it has had a devastating impact on our little community.
So here I am today. I have had enough. The diocese’ policy of allowing a deacon to become the administrator of our church; and having a priest say mass on Sundays, has had a negative impact on our spiritual lives; and is the “straw that broke the camels back.” To get into details would mean sharing a letter I sent to the deacon with a copy going to the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Changing Lives Together Fundraising Campaign, in which I cancelled my pledge. Boy did that get their attention. When it comes to money they react. That’s all they are driven by is money. And our spiritual needs are neglected.
Pope Francis, you need to make a trip to the United States and specifically visit our little community. You will get a real look at a dying church community. I know you will not be happy with what you find. So while you are chastising the leaders about their rhetoric on gays, abortion, and birth control, perhaps you might want to add a little bit about the racism that has been allowed to fester in the Catholic Church as well. We are not getting the sacraments the way we used to nor are our voices being heard. My book might go a long way in helping you to understand what has happened here. This problem is every bit as debilitating as the other issues facing the church.
And so I have stopped going to my church. I never thought that I would allow someone else to dictate when I would make my exit, if I ever did. But it happened and so I am pondering my next move. In the meantime, I did get a response from the diocese but I don’t believe it will result in any significant changes in how they deal with us.
We shall see. Stay tuned!
I guess I should be thinking about writing another book. Lord knows I have a lot going on in my head. But you know what? I’m not really a writer. I’m not!! I started to write because I had something to say. I needed to get our story written down somewhere for the sake of history. I kept waiting for somebody to do it, but that somebody was me. It took me a few years to figure out that I was the one.
I talk about this sometimes when I am doing speeches. You have to listen to that voice. I firmly believe that God is speaking when you cannot get a thought out of your head and you are compelled to finally act on it. Or, wherever you find yourself in this life, you are suppose to be there and all of it shapes everything that you do leading up to writing about it. I felt that our history needed to be told. I didn’t know at the time that I was privileged to have met some historic and famous people along life’s road. I only found this out as I started to do some serious research.
Three things happened that led me to finally go in kicking and screaming to write this book:
- The priest I met as a child was celebrating fifty years of priesthood. A big story appeared in the Michigan Catholic listing all the parishes that he was affiliated with. When I searched the list for Our Lady of Victory (OLV), Msgr. Ferdinand DeCneudt, was listed as an administrator not the pastor. I stared at that entry for a long time. We thought he was always a pastor. No one in our church had ever heard of an administrator. But it was to have a profound effect on our church over time.
- The Archdiocese of Detroit put out a 300 year anniversary book called “Make Straight the Path” 300 years of history. I scrambled to find something about OLV. There was just a short blurb under a picture.
- I had the rare occasion to work at a Catholic Church after going back to school and finally getting my BBA. I hired in as an office manager and then became business manager. Working there gave me the rare privilege of seeing the inner workings of the catholic church. There was a church directory so being curious I looked up our church. It was listed under the merged Presentation and Our Lady of Victory with an establishment date of 1975. Are you kidding me? Our church started in 1943 and I know Presentation was established in 1941. With the stroke of a pen they wiped out our history.
And so folks that was how I came to write about our story—my story. Initially I just wanted to honor the pioneers. I really didn’t know how I was going to format this book. Would it be a chronology of events? Would I pay homage to the folks who blazed this trail? I definitely didn’t see myself writing a biography which has come to be known as a narrative history. That genre was coined by Mark Bowden of the Burton’s Historical Collections at the Detroit Public Library. You see, he found me after discovering my book and asked me to come and speak before the Fred Hart Williams Genealogical Society. They never had a narrative history to present and so they wanted me to do a presentation which I did.
During the beginning stage, my editor suggested that I tell my story. I said “why? The book is not about me?” She said, “but you’re the author”. So I said, “ok”! And that night I started typing out my story basically from memory. It took me two nights to do a short version to go into Part I where I tell it. Lo and Behold, my story turned out to be the most fascinating to lots of people. I was shocked actually. I never thought it would be interesting. You never know until you tell it. I knew it. It had been in my head all of my life. Putting it on paper made it an interesting biography and as it turns out—local history is what a lot of folks really like here in my hometown.
So there, if I keep writing I will have another book. So I’m going to stop right here. You can get the rest yourself. I’m not gonna stop you!
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In spite of these obstacles, the Oblate Sisters of Providence arrival in 1948 started the real progress of building the school. The new church was complete, and the members had already settled in. While waiting for the day when a school would be operational, the nuns were busy principally with the instruction of adult women. They also taught catechism to the children attending public schools. They were responsible for organizing the Junior and Senior Sodality, the Girl Scouts, and various teenage social activities. Whenever a communion breakfast was held, the nuns were usually in charge. Directing adult study clubs; teaching the congregational singing and recitation of the Mass; instructing the altar boys; caring for the sanctuary and the altar linens; collecting merchandise and conducting rummage sales—these are just some of the activities listed when someone asks what the sisters did before there was a school. The school, however, was the goal so earnestly desired. Its realization would mark the era of abundant conversions. His Eminence Cardinal Mooney was ready to build as soon as Uncle Sam gave up his lease on the land. May of 1953 was the target date.
Next week: The Wall of Shame
Back in the early days (mid 40s and 50s) Royal Oak Township was a bustling black community with thriving black and white entrepreneurs. There was Jim Dolan’s, a white-owned store; McCauley’s Groceries and Meats (later becoming Steve’s). The Cockfield Funeral Home was servicing the area at the time. During the mid-1920s, the Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P) opened a store in the township. On the north side at 8200 West Eight Mile was Uncle Tom’s Bar-B-Q, operated by Thomas “Doc” Washington. The owners of other black businesses lived in the community, such as Charles J. Wartman Jr., editor of the Michigan Chronicle newspaper. The black executives eventually organized The Merchant and Professional Association.
Fr. Roberge wrote in the archives of being dismayed at how undeveloped, dismal, and full of despair the area seemed when he arrived in 1946. He compared life in the West Eight Mile Community to the missionary fields in Africa.
A year went by before a rectory was secured for the new missionary church. The acquisition of land continued until enough property was acquired by the diocese to permit the future establishment of a complete parish plant. The holdup was a lease on the land held by the United States government while maintaining temporary war housing units on it; units that blacks and whites and the archdiocese wanted out of there. The lease was on a yearly basis with the right of renewal. The hope was that when the contract came up, Uncle Sam would decline to renew it, and that would free up the land for expansion.
During the period from 1943 to 1946, it was apparently difficult for the archdiocese to build a church and school and rectory in the West Eight Mile Community due to regressive government policies that sprang up as it tried to acquire the land needed to accomplish the complete revitalization and evangelization
of the area. But according to Fr. Alvin Deem, it could have been accomplished in spite of these obstacles. The money was there, but the will was not.
To be continued…
(Excerpts from Our Lady of Victory, the Saga…Development of the West Eight Mile Community)
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That was the theme for this year’s 98th Annual National Convention held in downtown Philadelphia that I attended. This is what the Knights of Peter Claver & Ladies Auxliary is all about. Coming together in fellowship, and promoting Catholicism through our works, deeds and example. This is where we work to affect positive change in the organization; improvements on the administrative side; making and changing bylaws and resolutions; and changing with the times so we stay relevant amidst church closings across the country which affects the organization directly. That’s the one thing we don’t discuss often enough and why it is happening. It’s like this big “elephant in the room.” More on this later.
There is a junior division that promotes leadership in young people so they can take their place in the world. They also have a conference and a convention. It takes a lot of work but can be very rewarding in grooming future generations and keeping the organization growing.
The next post will discuss more about my personal perspective on growing up in a black historic neighborhood and becoming a catholic.
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Growing up in Royal Oak Township was an experience in itself. I got old enough to realize that I wanted to get out as soon as I could. That’s because for years I kept hearing tales that the township was going to be completely abolished. That they were going to re-zone it industrial and that would get rid of all the residential housing. But the community fought to keep that from happening, including my parents. They were very much involved while trying to deal with their own personal issues. They voted every time there was an election and they tried to be good citizens. So we were devastated when a newspaper article was written that was negative and had a lot of inaccuracies in it and a lot of embellishment of the facts. The reporter came around and interviewed folks so we couldn’t wait to read the Daily Tribune. Boy, were we devastated that they could print such untruths. It was awful. But that’s the kind of stuff that didn’t make you feel proud until you grow up one day and understood that you lived in a historic community. I had to save a train station to understand what a legacy we were left with. I got a scholarship to attend a conference on preserving buildings and communities and came to realize from that experience what a wonderful place I grew up in.
Royal Oak Township had a lot of history. It was founded in 1945 by runaway slaves on the underground railroad. It was carved to such a small tract that it was reduced to 1 square mile. It used to stretch as far back as Troy city limits stretching east to the Macomb county line to west at Greenfield Rd and south to West Eight Mile Rd. Now look at it today! It went from erecting housing projects (which I grew up in) to building single family homes in the sixties. Now all the black owned businesses are practically gone. I describe what the township looked like in the fifties and sixties. It was fascinating.