Sister Thea Bowman, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration of La Crosse, Wisconsin, believed that the justice of God includes racial justice for her people--African-Americans in the United States and persons of African descent around the world. She advocated for racial justice both within and beyond U.S. Black Catholic communities. This advocacy extended to the inclusion of Black historical and cultural traditions within liturgical gatherings. One aspect of Black Catholic liturgical-cultural inculturation, as researched, taught, and championed by Bowman, was the liturgical use of historic Black sacred song--the spirituals. The challenge and gifts Bowman presented to the Catholic Church of her time included her work on the first edition of the groundbreaking Black Catholic hymnal, Lead Me, Guide Me (1987). Her efforts for racial justice reverberate to the present in the liturgical and musical scholarship, compositions, and practices of Catholic scholars, musicians, composers, and communities. The U.S. bishops endorsed the sainthood cause of Sister Thea Bowman on Nov. 14, 2018.
A nurse, teacher and caregiver for the impoverished of New Orleans, La.—many of whom were Black, enslaved women and children—Ms. Delille founded a religious order of consecrated women in 1837. The Sisters of the Holy Family welcomed senior women into their home, caring for them through serious sickness and death, especially during the yellow fever epidemic of 1853, when 8,000 died. At a time when educating them was forbidden by law, she opened schools for enslaved children of color. In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI recognized her holiness and moved her one step closer to official sainthood, thereby confirming what was said in her obituary: "For the love of Jesus Christ she had become the humble and devout servant of the slaves.". In 1988 the order formally opened the cause with the Holy See of the canonization of Henriette DeLille.
Born into enslavement in Hannibal, Mo., she moved to Denver around 1878 after gaining her freedom and worked as a housekeeper. The little money she earned is said to have been spent almost entirely on care for the disenfranchised. To spare white families the embarrassment of receiving charity from a Black woman, she often carried out her charitable service at night. Ms. Greeley was baptized and received into the Catholic Church at the Jesuit parish of the Sacred Heart. In 1901, the "angel of Denver," as she became known, professed vows in the Secular Franciscan Order, remaining faithful to her promises until her death in her 80s. Her cause for canonization was opened in 2014.
After fleeing the revolution in her native Haiti with her family to Cuba, Mother Lange moved to Baltimore, Md., in 1813 with money she received from her merchant father. There she used her wealth to provide free schooling to Caribbean migrant children at a time when it was illegal for enslaved people to receive an education. Following Emancipation, she opened a school for girls of color in 1828 and asked permission to establish a religious congregation for Black Catholic women. When the Oblate Sisters of Providence were founded in 1829, Mother Lange served as its first provincial superior. The sisters educated Black children and illiterate adults, cared for widows and orphans and offered succor to many people during the cholera epidemic of the 1830s and '40s.
The first publicly acknowledged Black diocesan priest from the United States was denied entry into any of the country's seminaries and forced to pursue studies for the priesthood in Rome. After ordination in 1886, Father Tolton asked to serve as a missionary in Africa, hoping to escape the racism in his native land. Instead, he was told to return to Quincy, Ill., to which he and his mother had fled after being released from enslavement in Missouri. As a pastor there, he endured the racist attitudes and actions of the local white Catholic clergy. In 1889, Archbishop Patrick Feehan of Chicago invited him to minister to the city's Black Catholics. By 1894 Father Tolton had built and developed St. Monica, a Black Catholic parish of about 600 people that became a national beacon for Black ministry. Fr. Tolton's cause for canonization has been presented by the Archdiocese of Chicago. He has now been honored as a Servant of God.
Mr. Toussaint came to New York in 1787 with the family that held him as an enslaved person, seeking to escape the violence of political revolution in Haiti. He worked as a hairdresser. He later became a formidable fundraiser for Catholic charities throughout the United States, especially in support of Black Catholics. He opened the first Black Catholic school in New York and raised funds to start the first Catholic orphanage in the city. When yellow fever broke out, many in power fled the city for the countryside to escape infection, but Mr. Toussaint remained in the city to serve the sick and dying. Venerable Pierre Toussaint, the first layperson to be buried in the crypt under the high altar of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City is an inspiring figure whose cause for canonization is currently underway.