Annual African American prayer service for students goes virtual

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Kyna Stinson discusses the Black Lives Matter movement after watching a video in a series for the African American Heritage Service on Feb. 11, 2021. (Julie Jaidinger/Chicago Catholic)

For the first time in its 43-year history, the archdiocese’s annual African American Heritage Prayer Service for middle and high school students was held virtually rather than in person because of the pandemic. This year’s event was spread out over four weeks during Black History Month, with a video released every Friday morning.

Each video included singing, spoken word, Scripture, prayer and preaching, and was accompanied by classroom instructional resources for dialogue about Black history and Catholic culture around the theme “We Are Called: Umoja for Black Lives, Justice and Peace.”

During the last video service, which will be released on Feb. 26, the archdiocese will give out six awards to outstanding parish and school staff members and students.

Sally Santellano, principal of St. John de la Salle Catholic Academy, 10212 S. Vernon Ave., said there is something special about the annual African American Prayer Service, which gathers hundreds of students in one place and highlights the rich diversity in the archdiocese.

“I sort of wondered this year how it was going to translate with so many things we’ve had to adjust and change because of the pandemic,” said Santellano, who has been principal at St. John de la Salle for four years. “After seeing the video services, I am really moved. I was even texting other principal friends because I would see their students featured.”

Her students are also responding positively to the videos.

“They’re seeing people who are their age,” Santellano said. “Actually, one of our students was featured in week one and another one of our students is featured in week three. They are seeing kids they know and seeing messages of positivity and messages of hope.”

Santellano also likes that the observation has been spread across four weeks instead of having just one event for Black History Month.

“It makes it more than a one-and-done, where we went and we did it and we’ll see you next year,” she said. “Even though COVID has changed a lot of the ways that we do things, this is something that is really powerful.”

Damani McClellan, a middle school science and history teacher at St. John de la Salle, agreed. He served on the archdiocesan committee that organized this year’s event.

“COVID allowed us to do something that we had not done before and I think that turned out to be pretty awesome,” he said. “We wanted to still incorporate as many students as we could within the Archdiocese of Chicago, and I think we were able to do that pretty seamlessly.”

The students responded to making videos of themselves to incorporate into each service, he said, and when in the classroom watching the services the students had a sense of pride seeing their peers featured.

“They got to discuss topics that we talk about pretty frequently, but to see the archdiocese being involved in these conversations now was something that they felt was needed and they really enjoyed hearing and seeing all of that,” McClellan said.

Listening to children more and engaging them in important discussions about topics like racial justice is something everyone should do more often, he said.

“They have answers that adults really don’t have or aren’t  willing to think about,” McClellan said.

To watch the video services, visit



  • catholic schools
  • black history month

Related Articles