The National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus of the United States designates November as Black Catholic History Month to celebrate and remember the heritage of Black Catholics. Africa traces its Christian roots to the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch by Philip the Deacon as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles (8: 26-40). North Africa subsequently became an important Church center in early Christianity.
The following is just a sampling of those who help form the heritage of Black Catholics. For more, please consult the National Black Catholic Congress website.
(A different person will be featured each week of November)
Patrick Healy Builds a University
James, Patrick, Sherwood, and Michael Healy were four remarkable sons from a family of ten children born to Michael Morris and Mary Eliza Healy of Jones County, Georgia. Their birthdates were April 6, 1830, February 27, 1834, January 24, 1836, and September 1839, respectively. Michael Healy, the father, was an Irish immigrant who came to America by way of Canada. Successful in land lotteries held in Georgia after the War of 1812, Mr. Healy was able to turn his good fortune into a prosperous cotton plantation on the banks of the Ocmulgee River near Macon, Georgia. Mary Eliza had been a mulatto domestic slave on the plantation of cotton magnate Sam Griswold until Mr. Healy purchased her in 1829. Deeply devoted to her, Michael Healy took Eliza as his wife, despite the fact that the marriage was technically against the laws of Georgia and that any offspring would be classified legally as slaves.
Considered property by law, Healy’s sons were barred from schools in Georgia. Unable to educate his sons properly at home, the family determined to send them North for schooling. Mr.
Healy’s attempt to escape the stifling Georgia Black Codes was hampered by the shocking amount of bigotry and prejudice displayed to him by Northern school officials. After an exhausting search, he located a Quaker school in Flushing, Long Island, willing to accept his three eldest sons.
The educational paths of all four boys eventually converged on the College of the Holy Cross at Worcester, Massachusetts. Here James, Patrick, and Sherwood fully embraced the Catholic faith of their father, who had fallen out of practice because of the lack of Catholics and churches in Georgia at the time of his settlement. These three would later pursue priestly vocations which would stimulate and illustrate their talents for service, compassion, and learning. James would become the first black bishop in the American Catholic Church; Patrick would serve as president and rector of Georgetown University; Sherwood became director of the seminary in Troy, New York, and rector of the Cathedral in Boston. The future Captain Healy was baptized at Holy Cross like his brothers, but would undertake a career in the Revenue Cutter Service, a branch now part of the Coast Guard. Known as “Hell-Roaring Mike,” he is still a legendary figure in Alaska and the Coast Guard.
Having been freed from the clutches of legal and overt prejudice by a father of devotion and foresight, the four Healy brothers would take advantage of their opportunities to become important figures in American history as well as the Black heritage of the United States.
-William M. Ferraro C ‘82A