Archdiocese’s first Black archbishop celebrates African American Catholic history in Bardstown

Yvette Stith, left, and her mother Anna Stith, parishioners of St. Martin de Porres Church, chatted with Irene Lyons and Lillian Coleman before the African American Catholic History Celebration began Nov. 19. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

BARDSTOWN, Ky. — The Archdiocese of Louisville’s history is rooted in Bardstown, Ky., where the diocese was founded — then the Diocese of Bardstown — in 1808.

It’s where Daniel Rudd, a Black Catholic journalist, was born in 1854 and is buried. It’s where, in 1871, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth opened St. Monica School for the children of Black Catholics.

And, it’s where the archdiocese’s first Black archbishop celebrated the 34th annual African American Catholic History Celebration in 2022.

“This is where our ancestors have worshiped for a very long time,” said Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre during the Nov. 19 celebration at St. Monica Church.

“It fills my heart to be here today, in this place, as the first African American bishop of this historic archdiocese. I stand on the shoulders of giants,” he said. “I knew when I got here it would be emotional,” he said. “I am very much aware of the holiness of this place.”

Knights of Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary members chatted with St. Monica Church parishioners before the African American Catholic History Celebration began Nov. 19. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

The archbishop told his listeners — most of them Black Catholics — that given the way Black people have been treated by the church throughout history, he is sure they’ve heard criticism for staying and keeping the faith. But, he said, “We were part of this church from the very beginning. … It is indeed part of our history to be here.”

The things God asks of his people — to believe in the communal nature of the church, to be people of the Bible and to believe in the kingdom of God — are ingrained in the African American way of life, the archbishop said.

“We have a stake in others’ salvation,” he told his listeners. “We as Black Catholics celebrate the history of our strong ties to community and recognize our call to celebrate those ties.”

And as a people of the Bible, Archbishop Fabre said, “There are Scriptural realities that we have lived in a very real way.”

Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre spoke on the history of Black Catholics in the church during the African American Catholic History Celebration at St. Monica Church in Bardstown, Ky., Nov. 19. Archbishop Fabre is the first Black archbishop of the Archdiocese of Louisville. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

Black Catholics have lived “from bondage to freedom, from suffering to new life,” the archbishop said, because they’ve been called to build up God’s kingdom.

He said the kingdom of God begins on Earth but that it’s imperfect. Black Catholics have historically “lived their lives knowing the kingdom was not complete and that’s why there’s suffering,” Archbishop Fabre said. “They knew God’s kingdom was here and that’s why there’s joy.”

More than 75 people gathered for the celebration, including Lillian Coleman, a parishioner of St. Martin de Porres Church in Louisville.

Coleman said she attends the history event every year because it gives her a feeling of delight and enjoyment and time to reminisce.

Celebrating this year with the archdiocese’s first Black archbishop was exciting, Coleman said.

“What he’s already bringing us — joy, guidance, a bunch of everything — it’s wonderful,” she said.

Sitting near Coleman were Anna Stith and her daughter Yvette Stith, also from St. Martin de Porres. The Stiths told stories about Anna’s father, Richard R. Smalley, who was at one time the oldest Black Catholic in the archdiocese, and about Sister Thea Bowman, a pioneer for the rights of Black Catholics in the church.

Their stories spoke directly to the historical nature of Black Catholics in the church that Archbishop Fabre discussed.

During the celebration, elders, young adults, youths and Parish Leadership Team chairs processed in and introduced each other. An image of Sister Thea Bowman sat on the altar alongside photos of Daniel Rudd and Venerable Augustus Tolton. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

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