Our Lady of Africa celebrates Black History Month

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Friday, February 17, 2023

Our Lady of Africa celebrates Black History Month

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry was the main celebrant and homilist for a Mass in celebration of Black History Month at Our Lady of Africa Parish, 615 E. Oakwood Blvd., on Feb. 12, 2023. The parish’s choir sang the Mass of Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, in honor of the impactful life, legacy and cause for canonization of Bowman, who was a Black Catholic religious sister, teacher, musician, liturgist and scholar. She made major contributions to the ministry of the Catholic Church for African Americans. The Mass captures her warm and inviting spirit and her love for music, employing rhythms, chords, and other elements commonly found in African American sacred music. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The Ladies of Peter Claver process in. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The Knights of Columbus raise their swords when Divine Word Father Robert Kelly, pastor, and Divine Word Father Carl Gales, associate pastor, process into church for the Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Perry begins Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A boy proclaims a reading during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Perry accepts the gifts from parishioners. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Deacon Ivan Lazcano incenses the congregation. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Katherine Shaw prays during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Parishioners pray the Our Father during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Parishioners share the sign of peace during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Carl Gales, associate pastor, gives a blessing during Communion. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Children process back after receiving a blessing during Communion. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Parishioners pray during the final song. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Hundreds of parishioners and guests filled Our Lady of Africa Church, 615 E. Oakwood Blvd., on Feb. 12 for the parish’s annual Black History Month Mass and celebration.

This year’s observation of Black History Month fell on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, the anniversary of the founding of the NAACP, and, this year, Super Bowl Sunday.

Divine Word Father Carl Gales, associate pastor, said it’s important for the entire Catholic community to take time to remember and honor the contributions of Black Catholics.

“It is really important for African Americans to celebrate the positive achievements of our community and for us as Catholics to recognize the African Americans who have been influential in maintaining a standard of excellence and progress in our community and our world,” Gales said. “I think a lot of that gets forgotten with media coverage that highlights crime and drugs and other problems.”

Asked why having a Black History Month celebration is important, Our Lady of Africa parishioner Deniece Thomas said, “Because we’re Black people. That’s our heritage. If we don’t celebrate it, who will?”

Members of the Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary, the Blessed Sacrament Society and the Our Lady of Africa Men’s Club led the procession into the church.

The Mass, which started with “Oh Happy Day” and ended with “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” featured settings from a Mass composed in honor of Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration and Servant of God Thea Bowman, a Black Catholic educator and advocate who often used African American music.

Bowman died in 1990, and her cause for sainthood was endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2018.

Aaron Mathews, who composed the Sister Thea Bowman Mass, came to Our Lady of Africa from Milwaukee for the liturgy. He used rhythms and chords familiar in African American music for the Mass to honor Bowman, who was known to say that she was both “fully Black and fully Catholic.”

“Now is the time for us to carry her work on, to dig a little deeper with Sister Thea,” Mathews told the congregation. “Sister Thea, we speak your name and we sing and pray for your road to canonization.”

The music at the Mass moved Kattria Campbell, whose uncle, Tyrone Pittman, is the music director at Our Lady of Africa.

“It was very inspiring,” she said.

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry celebrated the Mass, and in his homily he reminded the congregation that Christians are called not only to follow the civil law, but to follow a higher moral law, just as Jesus called his disciples to not only follow the law of Moses and the prophets but to move beyond it.

That means, for example, forgiving a neighbor not three times, or seven times, but “70 times 7,” Bishop Perry said, by which Jesus meant that his disciples must forgive a neighbor as many times as that neighbor offends. Similarly, while it was unlawful to kill a person, Jesus took that further, saying that anger also is wrong.

“He understands it to be a form of killing,” Bishop Perry said. “Anger is an internal dynamic that can be expressed in the taking of a life.”

Christians, he said, are not to go along to get along, or fit in with the people around them.

“Christians are not meant to be nice people bothering no one, to do what’s accepted in the world,” Perry said. “We are called to be God’s witnesses to truth.”

A reception followed the Mass.


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