Saturday, May 28, 2022


Priest retirement is an opportunity to become more "popular" than ever among your brother priests! Your retirement is a time when you start getting e-mails from priests whom you haven't seen or heard from in a hundred years asking you if you are available to fill-in for them while they go on vacation. The request is often sent under the e-mail heading "pressing need."

Most of the time, they don't even make the calls themselves - they tell the parish secretary to make the call or to send a group e-mail request on their behalf.  I can almost hear them saying to their secretary, "Remember old "Father-What's-His-Name?" Call him! He's retired! He's probably not doing anything! See if he's available!"

Since you haven't heard from him in years, sometimes you have to get out the Priest Directory and try to figure out who this priest is who is making such a request for help because you can't remember him ever offering you help or even good wishes!   

On one hand, his "pressing need" can actually become a golden opportunity to re-connect to a long-forgotten brother priest and to help out his faithful community, but it can also become an irritating reminder that you have just become another old "Father-What's-His-Name." 



Thursday, May 26, 2022


This 1898 photo provided by the Sisters of the Holy Family (SSF) shows members of the religious order of African-American nuns in New Orleans. (SSF via AP)

‘Subversive Habits’ tells the compelling and long-overlooked history of Black Catholic nuns

David Crary - Associated Press
May 02, 2022

Even as a young adult, Shannen Dee Williams—who grew up Black and Catholic in Memphis, Tennessee—knew of only one Black nun, and a fake one at that: Sister Mary Clarence, as played by Whoopi Goldberg in the comic film “Sister Act.”

After 14 years of tenacious research, Williams—a history professor at the University of Dayton—arguably now knows more about America’s Black nuns than anyone in the world. Her comprehensive and compelling history of them, “Subversive Habits,” will be published May 17.

Williams found that many Black nuns were modest about their achievements and reticent about sharing details of bad experiences, such as encountering racism and discrimination. Some acknowledged wrenching events only after Williams confronted them with details gleaned from other sources.

“For me, it was about recognizing the ways in which trauma silences people in ways they may not even be aware of,” she said.

The story is told chronologically, yet always in the context of a theme Williams forcefully outlines in her preface: that the nearly 200-year history of these nuns in the U.S. has been overlooked or suppressed by those who resented or disrespected them.

“For far too long, scholars of the American, Catholic, and Black pasts have unconsciously or consciously declared—by virtue of misrepresentation, marginalization, and outright erasure—that the history of Black Catholic nuns does not matter,” Williams writes, depicting her book as proof that their history “has always mattered.”

The book arrives as numerous American institutions, including religious groups, grapple with their racist pasts and shine a spotlight on their communities’ overlooked Black pioneers.

Williams begins her narrative in the pre-Civil War era when some Black women—even in slave-holding states—found their way into Catholic sisterhood. Some entered previously whites-only orders, often in subservient roles, while a few trailblazing women succeeded in forming orders for Black nuns in Baltimore and New Orleans.

Even as the number of American nuns—of all races—shrinks relentlessly, that Baltimore order founded in 1829 remains intact, continuing its mission to educate Black youths. Some current members of the Oblate Sisters of Providence help run Saint Frances Academy, a high school serving low-income Black neighborhoods.

Some of the most detailed passages in “Subversive Habits” recount the Jim Crow era, extending from the 1870s through the 1950s, when Black nuns were not spared from the segregation and discrimination endured by many other African Americans.

In the 1960s, Williams writes, Black nuns were often discouraged or blocked by their white superiors from engaging in the civil rights struggle.

Yet one of them, Sister Mary Antona Ebo, was on the front lines of marchers who gathered in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 in support of Black voting rights and in protest of the violence of Bloody Sunday when white state troopers brutally dispersed peaceful Black demonstrators. An Associated Press photo of Ebo and other nuns in the march on March 10—three days after Bloody Sunday—ran on the front pages of many newspapers.

During two decades before Selma, Ebo faced repeated struggles to break down racial barriers. At one point she was denied admittance to Catholic nursing schools because of her race, and later endured segregation policies at the white-led order of sisters she joined in St. Louis in 1946, according to Williams.

The idea for “Subversive Habits” took shape in 2007, when Williams—then a graduate student at Rutgers University—was desperately seeking a compelling topic for a paper due in a seminar on African American history.

At the library, she searched through microfilm editions of Black-owned newspapers and came across a 1968 article in the Pittsburgh Courier about a group of Catholic nuns forming the National Black Sisters’ Conference.

The accompanying photo, of four smiling Black nuns, “literally stopped me in my tracks,” she said. “I was raised Catholic.... How did I not know that Black nuns existed?”

Mesmerized by her discovery, she began devouring “everything I could that had been published about Black Catholic history,” while setting out to interview the founding members of the National Black Sisters’ Conference.

Among the women Williams interviewed extensively was Patricia Grey, who was a nun in the Sisters of Mercy and a founder of the NBSC before leaving religious life in 1974.

Grey shared with The Associated Press some painful memories from 1960, when—as an aspiring nurse—she was rejected for membership in a Catholic order because she was Black.

“I was so hurt and disappointed, I couldn’t believe it,” she said about reading that rejection letter. “I remember crumbling it up and I didn’t even want to look at it again or think about it again.”

Grey initially was reluctant to assist with “Subversive Habits,” but eventually shared her own story and her personal archives after urging Williams to write about “the mostly unsung and under-researched history” of America’s Black nuns. “I bore witness to a profoundly unfamiliar history that disrupts and revises much of what has been said and written about the U.S. Catholic Church and the place of Black people within it,” Williams writes.

“If you can, try to tell all of our stories,” Grey told her.

Williams set out to do just that—scouring overlooked archives, previously sealed church records and out-of-print books, while conducting more than 100 interviews.

“I bore witness to a profoundly unfamiliar history that disrupts and revises much of what has been said and written about the U.S. Catholic Church and the place of Black people within it,” Williams writes. “Because it is impossible to narrate Black sisters’ journey in the United States—accurately and honestly—without confronting the Church’s largely unacknowledged and unreconciled histories of colonialism, slavery, and segregation.”

Historians have been unable to identify the nation’s first Black Catholic nun, but Williams recounts some of the earliest moves to bring Black women into Catholic religious orders—in some cases on the expectation they would function as servants.

One of the oldest Black sisterhoods, the Sisters of the Holy Family, formed in New Orleans in 1842 because white sisterhoods in Louisiana, including the slave-holding Ursuline order, refused to accept African Americans.

The principal founder of that New Orleans order—Henriette Delille—and Oblate Sisters of Providence founder Mary Lange are among three Black nuns from the U.S. designated by Catholic officials as worthy of consideration for sainthood. The other is Sister Thea Bowman, a beloved educator, evangelist and singer who died in Mississippi in 1990 and is buried in Williams’s hometown of Memphis.

Researching less prominent nuns, Williams faced many challenges—for example tracking down Catholic sisters who were known to their contemporaries by their religious names but were listed in archives by their secular names.

Among the many pioneers is Sister Cora Marie Billings, who as a 17-year-old in 1956 became the first Black person admitted into the Sisters of Mercy in Philadelphia. Later, she was the first Black nun to teach in a Catholic high school in Philadelphia and was a co-founder of the National Black Sisters’ Conference.

In 1990, Billings became the first Black woman in the U.S. to manage a Catholic parish when she was named pastoral coordinator for St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Richmond, Virginia.

“I’ve gone through many situations of racism and oppression throughout my life,” Billings told The Associated Press. “But somehow or other, I’ve just dealt with it and then kept on going.”

According to recent figures from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, there are about 400 African American religious sisters, out of a total of roughly 40,000 nuns.

That overall figure is only one-fourth of the 160,000 nuns in 1970, according to statistics compiled by Catholic researchers at Georgetown University. Whatever their races, many of the remaining nuns are elderly, and the influx of youthful novices is sparse.

The Baltimore-based Oblate Sisters of Providence used to have more than 300 members, according to its superior general, Sister Rita Michelle Proctor, and now has less than 50—most of them living at the motherhouse in Baltimore’s outskirts “As these women were telling me their stories, they were also preaching to me in a such a beautiful way.”

“Though we’re small, we are still about serving God and God’s people.” Proctor said. “Most of us are elderly, but we still want to do so for as long as God is calling us to.”

Even with diminished ranks, the Oblate Sisters continue to operate Saint Frances Academy—founded in Baltimore by Mary Lange in 1828. The coed school is the country’s oldest continually operating Black Catholic educational facility, with a mission prioritizing help for “the poor and the neglected.”

Williams, in an interview with The A.P., said she was considering leaving the Catholic church—due partly to its handling of racial issues—at the time she started researching Black nuns. Hearing their histories, in their own voices, revitalized her faith, she said.

“As these women were telling me their stories, they were also preaching to me in a such a beautiful way,” Williams said. “It wasn’t done in a way that reflected any anger—they had already made their peace with it, despite the unholy discrimination they had faced.”

What keeps her in the church now, Williams said, is a commitment to these women who chose to share their stories.

“It took a lot for them to get it out,” she said. “I remain in awe of these women, of their faithfulness.”


I've ordered the book from Amazon books.  I can't wait to educate myself about this ignored part of our American Catholic history. 

Below is a stunning detail about our own local Louisville history from the book SUBVERSIVE HABITS. It raises the obvious question: why didn't we know about this? 

Tuesday, May 24, 2022



If I hear one more politician tell us that we should not be allowed to discuss some of our social problems because they "make some people feel uncomfortable," I think I will scream! As a "spiritual seeker" myself and a "spiritual leader," I refuse to intentionally bury my head in the sand, and encourage others to do the same, just so we can all "feel more comfortable."

-Don't mention drug or alcohol addiction in the family. It causes some family members to get upset!

-Racism in our country wouldn't be such a problem if people would just quit talking about it!

-Don't worry about our debt! Go ahead and charge that vacation to our credit card. We can worry about it tomorrow. Life is short. We need to enjoy ourselves sometimes!

-I know my husband beats and abuses me, but I would have nowhere else to go if I were to leave him!

-All this talk about LBGTQ people makes people uncomfortable! We weren't having all these problems before people starting claiming their so-called "rights."

-I know I should quit smoking, but it relaxes me. Besides, I have heard there are plenty of ninety-five year olds who were still smoking when they died!

-The church would not be having all these problems if nuns would just get back into their religious habits and they would allow priests to marry!

-Life would be a whole lot easier if they would just mine more coal, drill more oil wells, eliminate pollution taxes, not require expensive exhaust reduction systems on cars and quit talking about climate change all the time!

At one time or another, everyone seems to live in denial. When it happens, it's simply because we don't want to accept the truth of a situation. There are a variety of reasons for this response, but denial can cause us greater problems. If you're struggling with being in denial and its impacts on your life, know that you're not alone. You can find a way to live a more grounded life.

What is Denial?

No matter who we are, over time, we all develop different coping mechanisms to help us deal with a variety of circumstances and issues. These coping mechanisms can be healthy or unhealthy. When a coping mechanism is unhealthy, it becomes difficult for us to address our real issues or make desired changes in our behavior.

Denial psychology is built around understanding denial as a coping mechanism, along with the way it impacts us and our relationships. According to Merriam Webster denial psychology is a "defense mechanism in which confrontation with a personal problem or with reality is avoided by denying the existence of the problem or reality."

To understand how denial is used as a defense mechanism, let's start by looking at what defense mechanisms are and how we use them in our everyday lives.

Defense Mechanisms

When it comes to protecting ourselves psychologically, defense mechanisms provide an unconscious way to prevent unacceptable thoughts or feelings from making us overwhelmingly anxious. This process often means that we're trying to protect ourselves from feelings of shame or guilt, although these defense mechanisms can also arise when we feel threatened.

Often, we develop these unconscious defense mechanisms to address contradictions found in our lives. For instance, we all have reality, society, and biology pulling at us. Add to that our intimate relationships with others, plus our relationship with ourselves. We also have many different forces influencing our thoughts, feelings, and actions.

With all of these demands upon us, it can be easy to feel threatened or overwhelmed, which is a precursor to anxiety. As a result, our bodies and brains create these defense mechanisms to help us to address the anxiety and any feelings that might be associated with it, including guilt.

Denial - A Primary Defense Mechanism

Psychology has identified denial as the primary defense mechanism that most people use to cope with highly stressful situations. It often involves blocking external events from our conscious awareness. Essentially, if a situation is too much for us to handle, then we refuse to experience it at all. That doesn't make the facts or the reality of the situation go away, but it allows us to pretend that it isn't real, therefore reducing its impact on us.

While denial might reduce your anxiety in the short term, the reality is that it's not an effective way to deal with a situation in the long term. Eventually, the reality of the circumstances kicks in, and then you have to deal with it. You may turn to blame as a way to address your feelings of anxiety or guilt, trying to put the responsibility for your feelings onto someone else.

Avoiding situations or assigning blame can hurt your relationships in the long run, so denial is likely to cause more problems than it solves over time.

"What Is Denial Psychology & How To Address It"


Sunday, May 22, 2022



Some who had come down from Judea were teaching,“ Unless you are circumcised
according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.” Because there arose no little
dissension and debate by Paul and Barnabas with them, it was decided that Paul,
Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and
elders about this question.
Acts 15

Many times, when Catholics use the phrase "changes in the church," they assume that the only "changes" that have occurred happened in their lifetimes - probably at Vatican Council II back in 1962 to 1965! When we think that way, we reveal a glaring ignorance of church history. To talk about "changes in the church," you have to go all the way back to the changes agreed on at the Council of Jerusalem in about 48 AD that is referred to in today's first reading.

The Council of Jerusalem is generally dated to about 48 AD, roughly15 to 25 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. That meeting was called to debate whether or not male Gentiles who were converting to become followers of Jesus were required to be circumcised - that is to become Jews first! At the time, most followers of Jesus were Jews by birth. Even converts would have considered the early Christians as a sect of Judaism. According to scholars, Jewish Christians affirmed every aspect of the then contemporary Judaism with the addition of the belief that Jesus was the Messiah. The belief among them would have been that unless males had undergone Jewish circumcision, they could not be part of God's Chosen People. The meeting was called to decide whether circumcision for gentile converts was requisite for community membership since certain individuals in the community were teaching that "unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." Others disagreed, making it necessary for an official decision to be made.

There was another council mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles to consider "changes in the church." This time is was about how to deal with the problems of rapid growth and fairness. Here is what it says in chapter 6:1-6. "At that time, as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The proposal was acceptable to the whole community. They presented seven men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them."

Not counting these two church councils, there have been 21 ecumenical councils to deal with changes in the church. "Changes in the church" was not something that we invented in our lifetimes. It is something that has been part of the church since its beginning. It's laughable to think that the church was "change resistant" in the 1950s and that we should go back there and stay there!

What the first reading teaches us today is this - change is a fact of life and there would be no life without it, even for the church. Pope Francis, earlier this month, said this: "Wanting to go back to the way things were in the past is not Christian. Looking back to find inspiration is good because “without roots we cannot progress,” he said. “But to go in reverse is to go back in order to have a form of defense, a safety measure that saves us from the risk of going forward, the Christian risk of carrying the faith, the Christian risk of journeying with Jesus Christ.”

The message in today's first reading comes at a good time. Changes are coming at us faster and faster, making some people in the church and in our country more and more nervous. Like our first reading today said, we are again in that space where “no little dissention and debate has arisen.” We need to know some facts about the process of change and how to handle those changes as they unwind.

In my estimation, the best scriptural story to explain what happens during a major change, welcomed or not, is the story of the Exodus. The story of Exodus is the story of people being called to something new, setting out in excitement at first, being tempted in discouragement to back out of the process when things got tough, the decision to keep going and finally arriving at a new level of happiness and satisfaction. It would be worth reading the whole story at length sometime.

In that story, the People of God are trapped in slavery in Egypt. They get an opportunity to escape and go to a country of their own. At first, they were excited and filled with joy thinking that happiness would be theirs almost immediately. They did not realize that making a drastic change like that meant they had to personally change too and that change would bring them great hardship for a while. In a desert for 40 years, the People of God lose patience and want to go back to their imagined "good old days" of Egypt. Moses had to keep the vision of where they were going alive and keep prodding them to go forward.

The story teaches us that making a decision to change and setting out is always the easy part - whether its to go on a diet, to enter a treatment program or to change jobs. That is why so many people, undergoing difficult changes, often try to “go back to Egypt” when the “harshness of the desert” gets to be too much. Under the stress that comes with change, they start yearning for “the good old days” and start telling themselves that things weren't so bad "back then" after all compared to the stress of change they had to go through to get to the where they were going. Many, during the hardships of change, begin to idealize their old life and forget about the problems they had back then by telling themselves that “at least in Egypt we had meat and bread to eat."

That story is a template for all difficult changes we set out to make. Take the example of an abused spouse who gets a chance to escape her abuser. She is happy to be free at last, but once away from her abuser, having been stripped of her self-esteem by her abuser, she begins to get scared of what is ahead of her. She begins to tell herself, “What if I can’t make it? Where will I live? What if I end up living on the streets? Some tough it out and rebuild their lives, but many return to their abusers because the fear of the unknown becomes scarier than their abuse. They “return to the slavery of Egypt” so to speak. They go back to their abusers because, as bad as it was, it was not as scary as being out there on their own.

Take the example of the person who is an addict. One day, they finally get up the courage to go to their first “recovery” meeting. They get excited about a possible new life. They like the program and the people around them going through recovery. Then a sober life gets to be too hard. It gets worse before it has a chance to get better and so they seek relief by going back to alcohol, drugs or serial sexual encounters. They convince themselves that their old life may have been bad, but it was not as bad as trying to stay sober.

Take the example of the changes in the church initiated at Vatican Council II. For many lay people and priests, the control exerted from the very top had become a version of slavery. I remember the excitement after the Council. For me and many of the people who went through it, it was like “leaving the slavery of Egypt.” Looking back, we were pretty na├»ve. It never crossed our minds that we would have to go through a “desert,” many years of confusion and disappointment. Now some of our members want to “go back to Egypt.” They are idealizing the “good old days” and tell themselves that they were not that bad after all - in fact much better than the chaos that all the Vatican II changes have brought on! Others, refusing to turn back, are determined to get through the chaos of major change and push on! Pope Francis, our modern day Moses like the Moses of old, keeps telling us to "keep going forward and don’t look back!" Like the Moses of old, he is being cursed by those who want to “return to Egypt” and rebuild the old Pre-Vatican II church! Pope Francis knows that if the Church is to survive, grow and nourish the faith of the next generation, it has to change and adapt just as it always has in the past. If it doesn’t, it is doomed to become an inbred little cult that will shrink even more into irrelevance.

Our country is going through a similar time of chaos and crisis. The country has been gradually changing for many years now. Some (women, minorities and immigrants) like the changes and the freedom that they have brought. On the other hand, these changes are forcing others to give up their privileged positions of power and status. They want to “return to Egypt,” “the way America used to be,” when things were “better” for them, of course! As much as they try to keep our country from changing, they are fighting a losing battle. Women are not going to stand back and shut up! African Americans are not going back to Africa or return to their days of slavery. Immigrants are not about to give up their hopes to experience the “American dream.” Women will lead! Our country will continue to become browner. Immigrants will continue to arrive, one way or another. We are not going back to Egypt, no matter how uncomfortable the "desert" gets! We need to listen to the Moses-types among us who encourage to "remain calm and carry on" until we get to that "new day in America" that we are giving birth to right now!

It is my belief that the pain and chaos we are going through as a church and a country can be compared to a gigantic egg that is hatching. Some of us were going along quite content until one day we woke up and noticed that there are fine cracks forming all over that egg. Each day the cracks got bigger and scarier. Some of us panicked and started running around with tape, ropes and glue, trying to "fix" those cracks. Some assumed that we are "falling apart." Others of us, even though we are scared and nervous, are yelling, "Stand back, make room, the damned thing is hatching!" I grew up in the country. I have watched eggs hatch up close! The dumbest thing you can do is to try to tape the shell closed while it is hatching!

My friends, we are not going through the pains of dying! We are going through the pains of giving birth! Some of you here have given birth, and you have told me that when you were going through it, you thought you would die! Big changes are always like that - whether it is personal change or changes in our church or in our country! We are not dying. We are just giving birth to something new again! When undergoing great change, we can often get confused about which is which!