Saturday, February 26, 2022




Elizabeth, Indiana
February 20, 2022
9:30 am

Last Sunday I had a wonderful welcome at this little country Presbyterian Church over in Indiana. I was asked to deliver the sermon. I was really looking forward to it because, as some of you know, I have a Doctor of Divinity degree from McCormick Presbyterian Seminary in Chicago in the area of "Parish Revitalization." That is one of the main reasons I was asked to be pastor of the Cathedral of the Assumption in 1983 - to try my hand at revitalizing that dying parish. 

My friend, a retired Presbyterian pastor in Somerset, Rev. Jack Wilhelm and I have remained friends for the last 52 years - ever since I was sent to St. Mildred Church and its Missions in Somerset as a newly ordained priest.  He was the one who talked me into applying to that McCormick Seminary D. Min. program. I have preached at his church, First Presbyterian Church of Somerset, at least three times, maybe more. I continue to realize that I owe the Presbyterian Church quite a bit. 

I was reminded of the summer of 1968 when I preached for the United Church of Christ in Crater Lake National Park (Oregon).  I was a "student minister" in their Christian Ministry in the National Parks program. I was one of the first Catholic seminarians to sign up for that program. I preached two outdoor inter-denominational campground services every weekend that summer. 

Thursday, February 24, 2022


JOHN 1:46

Jesus was regularly a victim of anti-rural, anti-small town prejudice - the thinking that God only worked in prominent places and through important people.  These civic and village rivalries were common in antiquity. When Nathanael asks, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” he voices a criticism about Jesus’ humble origins that is also expressed more widely in the Gospel of John. Members of the Judean elite, in particular, were unimpressed with Jesus’ allegedly rural Galilean origins (see John 7:41-42, John 7:52).


Obviously, it certainly can! We are the only parish in the Archdiocese of Louisville that I know of that has helped produce a soon-to-be-canonized American saint and former slave, Fr. Augustus Tolton, whose mother, uncles and aunts and grandparents were baptized slave members  of St. Theresa of Avila Church, my home parish and the home parish of Father Bob Ray as well. If you haven't seen The Record article below, I have attached it to this web post! 

The Catholic slaves of Saint Theresa were buried in the parish cemetery. Below is the tombstone of
Father Tolton's grandmother, Matilda Hurd Chisley.  

Born 1806 - Died 1836

On a recent 1-27-22 visit to Matilda's grave, Janice Mulligan of the Office of Multicultural Ministry laid a wreath on her grave. Looking on from L to R are: myself,  Janice Mulligan, Fr. George Illikkal C.M.I.(Pastor of St. Theresa Church) and supporter Dr. Paul Kelty. Before laying the wreath, I led the group in saying the Confiteor asking God for forgiveness for "what we have done and failed to do"  as a community. 

There is another "slave cemetery" below the church where it is believed that "unbaptized" slaves were buried. Most of the graves are marked with simple rocks. However, we found one grave with some writing. His name is "Aron." He appears to have been born in 1825. He appears to have died on March 31, ????. We need to do some more cleaning to reveal some of the other unreadable writing. 

We recited the Confiteor again and laid a wreath on "Aron's" grave as a representative of all the people buried there in unmarked graves. The angel statue, guarding the "slave cemetery," was obviously placed there by a sympathetic local person in recent years. 
Today, I found out that it was placed there by one of the present owners of the property. God bless her for her obvious touching empathy!  


Meade County parish
home to the grandmother
of a saint in the making

Janice Mulligan laid a wreath of magnolia leaves on the grave of Matilda Hurd as Father Ronald Knott, left, and Father George Illikkal looked on. At right is an undated photo of Venerable Augustus Tolton. (Record Color Photo by Ruby Thomas)

RHODELIA, Ky. — On a wintry January day at the old St. Theresa Cemetery in rural Meade County, Janice Mulligan laid a simple wreath of magnolia leaves on the grave of Matilda Hurd — a woman who died a slave and whose grandson is now a saint in the making.

Hurd, who died in 1836 at age 30, was enslaved on a farm belonging to John Henry Manning. She was also the maternal grandmother of Venerable Augustus Tolton — the first recognized African American priest ordained for the U.S. church.

Father Tolton was ordained on April 24, 1886, in Rome, died in 1897 in Chicago and is on the path toward sainthood. Pope Francis declared in June 2019 that Father Tolton lived a life of heroic virtue, giving him the title of venerable. The next step in the process is beatification.

Standing over Hurd’s grave, “Her story felt like a part of my family’s story,” said Mulligan, who serves as the associate director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Multicultural Ministry.

On that January day, Father J. Ronald Knott, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville, led a small group, including Mulligan, in reciting the Confiteor before the wreath-laying. The prayer seemed fitting for the moment, especially the words, “in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,” said Father Knott, who grew up in Rhodelia and attended St. Theresa as a child.

Father Knott recently became aware that Hurd was buried in the old St. Theresa Cemetery, he said. He is leading a project to convert the old St. Theresa School building into a community center. He said he plans to use one of the center’s hallways as a museum where historic photographs and documents from the parish community will be displayed.

In searching for old photos and researching the history of the more than 200-year-old parish, Father Knott said, “All of a sudden it became clear to me that part of our history” is rooted in slavery. “I was shocked by it. I didn’t know there were slaves in the parish.”

His research shows there were about 50 families at St. Theresa who collectively enslaved about 200 people.

Father Knott is studying St. Theresa’s baptismal records to find the names of enslaved people baptized at the parish, he said. “We need to say their names — Matilda, Maria, Augustus, Sicilia,” he said. “We didn’t even know their names and it’s right there in the baptismal records and in the cemetery.”

His research eventually turned up the baptismal records of Hurd’s children — Charles, Anne, Sicilia, Sicilia Ellen and Martha Jane.

Martha Jane is the mother of Father Tolton, he said.

“The more I studied, I realized this family was related to Father Tolton,” said Father Knott.

A small group, including, from left, Father J. Ronald Knott, Father George Illikkal, Janice Mulligan and Dr. Paul Kelty, prayed the Confiteor at Matilda Hurd’s grave in the old St. Theresa Cemetery on the grounds of St. Theresa Church in Rhodelia, Ky., Jan. 27. Hurd is the maternal grandmother of Father Augustus Tolton, the first recognized African American priest ordained for the U.S. church and who is now being considered for sainthood. (Record Photos by Ruby Thomas)

Their names and the names of the other enslaved people will be displayed on the history wall in the family life center because they were parishioners at St. Theresa, too, he said.

“As people walk down the hall seeing the names of the priests and the (religious) sisters, they’ll see the names of the slaves who made some families here successful,” he said. “As far as little parishes in the country, St. Theresa was more advanced and well to do,” and it was because of slave labor.

Father Knott said the parish is still benefiting from the labor of enslaved people who, he believes, quarried the rocks used for the foundation and made the bricks from which St. Theresa’s current church was built. The church was dedicated in 1861 by Bishop Martin John Spalding.

Father Knott noted he’s not interested in “shaming” anyone. Instead, he wants to celebrate the contribution of enslaved people to his boyhood parish, learn and pass on the parish’s whole history — “not only white history” or a “sanitized version” of that history to the younger generation. If they will stand against “prejudice and bigotry,” they need to be aware of the parish’s history with slavery, said Father Knott.

Mulligan agrees that the contributions of enslaved people to the parishes in the Archdiocese of Louisville should be recognized.

“Having her (Matilda’s) name recognized, especially in the context of her grandson becoming one of the first African American saints in the U.S. … there’s a legacy and story there, rich and worth telling,” she said. “The work of this office is to promote and spread that African American legacy, whether in the 1800s or now.

“Her story and others like it adds a fuller thread and a fuller context to the presence and contributions of African Americans to this American church,” she said. “It certainly can be better promoted and appreciated.”

Part of Hurd’s story takes place on the farm in Rhodelia owned by John Henry Manning and his wife Ann Gough, who were members of St. Theresa Church.

Hurd was married to Augustus Chisley, another slave on the Manning farm, said Dr. Emilie Leumas, an archivist who serves on the historical commission for Father Tolton’s sainthood cause. Hurd and Chisley had six children.

In 1835, when Manning died, he bequeathed all his belongings — about 1,200 acres of land, personal items such as silver, his watch, his Bible and his 17 slaves to his children and grandchildren whose parents had died, said Leumas.

Details from Manning’s will show that Hurd and Chisley and their children were separated. Their oldest children, Martha Jane, 11, and Charles, 6, were left to Manning’s granddaughter Anne Sevilla Manning.

Leumas noted that by the time the will was read, Anne Sevilla Manning and her family had moved to Ralls County, Mo. At some point following the reading of the will, Charles and Martha Jane — the mother of Father Tolton — were moved to Missouri to live with their new owner.

“How gut-wrenching that your two oldest children are being hauled away to Missouri,” said Leumas during a recent interview.

When Anne Sevilla Manning married Stephen Elliott in 1839, she would have brought Charles and Martha Jane into her marriage as part of her dowry, Leumas said.

More than a decade later, Martha Jane, now the mother of three young children, including Father Tolton, 7 years old at the time, escaped slavery and fled to Quincy, Ill., where Father Tolton grew up and was formed in the Catholic faith.

Leumas said she’s not found documents clarifying whether Hurd, Chisley and their children were immediately separated after the will reading. Leumas said her “gut instinct” is they were allowed to live together and walk to work on the farm of their new owner, noting Hurd would have had a 2-year-old and also nursing an infant at the time.

“Working people and your land was a business and they were looking at it that way,” she said. “The Manning heirs would have still worked the land the way their father did. It’s just the ownership that changed.”

Tim Tomes, archivist for the Archdiocese of Louisville, cleaned Hurd’s headstone with water Jan. 27 as Janice Mulligan looked on. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

Hurd died in 1836, a year after Manning’s will was read. She is buried a few feet away from a huge wooden cross that marks where the old church, a log cabin structure, once stood. The parish started out as a log cabin on the banks of the Ohio River, an area that was known as Flint Island in 1818. In 1826, a second log cabin was built on what is now the old cemetery grounds.

Father Knott noted Hurd is buried among St. Theresa’s white parishioners, perhaps because she was baptized. A cemetery located in a wooded area off a highway about two miles from the parish was used to bury enslaved people owned by St. Theresa parishioners, as well. Those slaves, he said, may have not been baptized. He is leading a project to find all the headstones in that cemetery.

M. Annette Mandley-Turner, who serves as executive director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Multicultural Ministry, said knowing that enslaved people were given Christian burial is an important part of the history of slavery and Black Catholics.

“Burial is such a human thing to do when the treatment of us was so different,” she said in a recent interview. “It’s one of the things I can say the Catholic Church did right. They made sure they buried them. It sends the message they didn’t bury people in isolation. There was someone there to witness the homegoings.”

Mandley-Turner said she hopes Father Knott will have success in “displaying what I would perceive to believe is a history that includes everyone. … Maybe this will energize some other rural communities to look in their graveyards.”

Mulligan agrees that uncovering this history is important and recognizing enslaved people is part of a healing process.

“Telling this story and the type of actions that Father Knott is planning in terms of making sure those names are known, is part of the healing process that needs to happen with this history,” said Mulligan. “I think that is a form of reparation. I see it as a process very much in alignment with the Catholic process of reconciliation where there’s an acknowledgment of a wrong or damage to a relationship and then there’s the work to repair it.”

Sunday, February 20, 2022




7980 Rosewood Road, Elizabeth, Indiana

Sunday, February 20, 2022

9:30 am

Jesus said to his disciples:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you.
To the person who strikes you on one cheek,
offer the other one as well,
and from the person who takes your cloak,
do not withhold even your tunic.
Love your enemies and do good to them,
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.

Luke 6:27-36

The teaching of Jesus we have here about forgiveness of those who hurt us, friends and enemies alike, goes against almost everything we see today on social media, in political news and in the entertainment industry. What we hear there are things like: “Hate your enemies, get even with those who wrong you, hit back if you are hit, sue anyone who takes from you, don’t show weakness and hold a grudge until you can find a way to get your revenge.” Meanness is spreading like a virus through our culture the further away we stray from the Christian principles that guided us in the past and kept some of our anger and revenge in check.

Here is just one example of the things we do these days to our enemies.  It’s a bit humorous on one level, but not so funny when you think about the need for revenge that lies behind it. Social media is full of even more vicious examples.

A zoo in Texas celebrated Valentine's Day a couple of years ago by inviting visitors to name cockroaches after their ex-partners. In an event called “Quit Bugging Me,” zoo keepers at the El Paso Zoo will feed the “named” insects to hungry meerkats. They also offered to display the ex-partners' names around the meerkat enclosure and on social media. Sarah Borrego, the event organizer, said it was a "fun and different" way to celebrate Valentine's Day. "All of us have exes and we are still not over it and it's a great way to get the community into the zoo and also get out a little bit of the frustration," she said.

Let me be perfectly clear in this homily! Forgiveness is not some kind of favor we do for God to make God feel better! Jesus is teaching us something that is good for our own good! Mark Twain said something about anger and the inability to forgive that has resonated with me more than anything I have ever read. He said, “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”

One of the most intense religious experiences I have ever had revolved around forgiving another person in my youth for years and years of verbal abuse and emotional neglect. Many of you know my story. After being eaten up with anger for years and years, I finally realized that my anger was killing me! It finally dawned on me that I was holding the key to the prison I found myself in! I came to realized that, to forgive, my heart had to soften, and if it was going to soften, I needed God’s help! After months and months of prayer, after two failed attempts, I finally got there! On June 6, 1987, at 6:00 pm, I unilaterally forgave that person in a face-to-face sit-down. When I did, I felt a huge weight that had been I was carrying on my shoulders, a weight I had obsessed over almost every day of my life, dissolve within minutes. It was the best thing I have ever done for myself!

I felt as light as air that night on my way home. We never spoke of it again. We never got to a friendship, but I hugged that person for the first and last time in my life as I left there. I was OK just to be free of all that hatred and anger! I can look at his grave today without one bit of resentment and even with a bit of gratitude. I shudder to think what my spiritual life would be like today, if God had not helped me look at him with different eyes, if I had not wanted those different eyes or if he had died before I received that new way of seeing! I could still be under that chronic spell of resentment. Now I am free and so is the other person. Nothing changed, but my mind – the way I saw things - and that has made a world of difference in my life!

People say that you cannot change the past, but you can. You can change the past by changing how you choose to look at it and how you choose to remember it. You can change the past by looking at it from another point of view. You can change the past by moving from your own point of view to a viewing point. From there you can appreciate, not only your own point of view, but the other’s point of view as well. From there, compassion is possible.

Bitterness, hard feelings and even hatred are festering wounds that many people carry around with them daily. They have convinced themselves that they have been wronged and the only way out is for the one who wronged them to apologize and ask for forgiveness. More times than not, that never happens and so they self-righteously hug their poisonous hard feelings until those feelings become an integral part of their crippled personalities.

Every time I have told the story of our reconciliation from a pulpit, someone has been motivated to forgive a parent, a child, or an old spouse! Maybe that is why I had to go through it – to help others through it?

If you are holding onto anger, let me tell you how freeing it is, personally, to offer forgiveness. The secret is to understand that to forgive is something you do for your own good, not the one who offended you in the first place.

In the past, I used to think that if someone disliked me, it was because there was something bad about me that I could not see. Lately, when I know that I have done nothing wrong toward them, I have been trying to train myself to look behind their meanness and try to see where their hurt comes from. If I can find the source of their hurt, I try to do something to help heal that wound.

Loving one’s enemies is a basic tenet of Christianity – maybe the hardest tenet to live by. One of the best ways to “love one’s enemies” is to put oneself in their shoes, to try to see where they are hurting and to feed that need. Often enough, it works.