From left to right: D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser; alumni Kelly Woodson ‘22 and Elvira Wise Smith ‘73; Provost Aaron Dominguez; Professor Regina Jefferson, former chair of the Thea Bowman Committee; Professor Mel Williams, former special assistant to the President; and Cardinal Wilton Gregory, University chancellor and archbishop of Washington, hold the sign for Thea Bowman Drive at the street naming ceremony on April 29.
Catholic University will celebrate Black Catholic History Month with faith-informed events, discussions, and presentations throughout November. Event organizers say the month is also an opportunity to inform the wider community of the unique contributions made by Black Catholics on campus.
“Black Catholic History Month is a special time to celebrate the contributions of Black Catholics who let the light of their faith guide their lives in serving others,” said professor of law Veryl Miles. “I think of Cardinal Wilton Gregory, his historic appointment as Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington and Chancellor of the University and the good work he does every day throughout our community of faith.”
The Center for Cultural Engagement (CCE) will host several events, including Steadfast Witness: Black Catholic History Coffee Series, featuring Black Catholic faculty who will share their personal and professional journeys in conversations with students.Other events this month include a Gospel Mass on Nov. 8, followed by a soul food dinner hosted by the Black Student Alliance. Father Manuel Williams, CR— an adjunct instructor at the Institute for Black Catholic Studies (IBCS) at Xavier University, New Orleans— will celebrate the Mass. The same evening, the Institute for the Transformation of Catholic Education (ITCE) will host a lecture and book signing on “The Black Intellectual Tradition,” highlighting the shared American heritage of the classics and liberal arts.
On Nov. 29, CCE will host a viewing of A Place at the Table, which is a film telling the stories of Black Americans on the path to canonization in the Church including the University’s own Sister Thea Bowman. A convert and religious sister, she earned her doctorate in English at the University in the early 1970s and worked to advance the ministry of the Catholic Church toward her fellow Black Americans.
Miles serves as special assistant to the President for the Thea Bowman Committee, a University-wide initiative created in 2020 to promote equality in all aspects of the University’s operations. Miles said she especially remembers Sister Bowman during this month and “the work she did in celebrating our diversity in race and culture as a unifying experience in our Church and society.”
Regina Jefferson, professor of law and former chair of the Committee, said Sister Bowman summed up best what it means to be Catholic and Black American. “She said, ‘It includes bringing my whole self to the Church. …That includes my history, my traditions, my experience, and my culture.’ And she believed that all these things were unique gifts that she offered the Church. The Church is better when it celebrates and values the contributions of all of its members,” said Jefferson.
One of the goals of the University is to prepare students to succeed in a multiracial and multicultural world, said Jefferson. Black Catholic History Month is “just one way to educate people about the perspectives and contributions of people that you might not know,” she said. “I believe celebrating Black Catholic month not only advances the work of the Sister Thea Bowman Committee but it also better prepares students and the whole community to live in our multicultural society.”