My Sarcoidosis. Is it a Curse or Blessing?


I am an African American female and a Catholic lay minister suffering from chronic pulmonary sarcoidosis. This is my personal journey on learning about and living with the disease that still seems to have medical professionals stumped. My prayer is that those who know someone or have someone in the family stricken with sarcoidosis may find some answers to many questions they will have.



Jerry Davis and Deacon Anthony Willoughby met recently to talk about Anthony’s journey to last month’s ordination. (See June Newsletter.)

But Anthony was not the first Deacon in the Willoughby family.

No, that honor belongs to his 84-year old father, Deacon Harvey L. Willoughby. Deacon Harvey has been a member of Bible Way Baptist Church in West Philadelphia for 50 years and Deacon for 15 years.

Deacon Harvey was pivotal in Anthony’s formative years and still is today. Deacon Harvey couldn’t be happier that his son is also serving in God’s ministry as a Deacon. 


Army of the Lord

By Laura Blackwell, St. Cyprian Parish

I have never been in the army, but after spending a week at the Institute for Black Catholic Studies, I feel I know what it is like to be in boot camp.  The Institute is kind of like basic training for the army of the Lord.

It was established in the late sixties to train Black clergy, religious and lay people to minister to the black community.   It also offers the only interdisciplinary master’s degree program of its kind. Next year it will celebrate its fortieth anniversary.  Over those years its faculty has included such illustrious figures as Fr. Cyprian Davis, Sr. Thea Bowman, and Father Bede Abrams.


On Being Black, Catholic and Philadelphian

Thernell Oakman
Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church

Black Catholic History Month has emerged at a time in Philadelphia’s history that appears to challenge our sensibilities. Black Catholics have migrated to Philadelphia from the American South, the Caribbean, and Africa to create a kettle of cultures. Many of these cultures bring with them a Black perspective on Catholicism that firstly, embodies their rich traditions and merges with an existing rich African American culture, already rooted in Philadelphia’s traditions. Out of the 270 million black Catholics worldwide, 3 million reside in the United States. Some of the 21,000 Black Catholics in the Philadelphia region make up many of the 16 predominately Black parishes. It is in these parishes that we often hear French spoken from the islands or at the same time, we can pause to hear Spanish dialects from South America, and many other languages, all spoken in the same room.

Historically, Philadelphia has been built on a framework of religious freedoms that were passed down from its’ Quaker founder, William Penn. Penn and other Quaker leaders believed that everyone had to seek God in his or her own way. Pope Francis in his 2015 speech at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall proclaimed, “The Quakers who founded Philadelphia were inspired by a profound evangelical sense of the dignity of each individual and the ideal of a community united by brotherly love. This conviction led them to found a colony which would be a haven of religious freedom and tolerance.” This religious tolerance opened the door or Richard Allen in 1794 when he started the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first A.M.E. Church in America. This religious tolerance paved the way for former slaves, Jamaicans, West Indians, Portuguese, among others, to open St. Peter Claver Parish, as a church and school for Black Catholics in Philadelphia.

Black Catholics in Philadelphia are from the threads of diverse Black cultures sown into the “cross stitch” of African American life — in our pews, at our Masses, in our parishes. We can hear the call of our forefathers through the words etched on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./ Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:/ I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” These words echo in the hearts and minds of each Black emigre, as they are absorbed into the African-American milieu, another thread in the fabric of the Black Catholic embroidery.

Lastly, it is the teachings of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, that provides the bedrock that anchors our beliefs as Black Catholics to a rich tradition of worship steeped in our Philadelphian ancestry. His presence is the only constant in an ever-changing political and cultural environment. His Word allows us to be Black Catholics in this American Catholic framework today; first as a mecca for religious freedom then as a destination for those pursuing a better life.


Raised Catholic then lapsed, she now has ‘a love affair with God’

By Lou Baldwin • Posted November 7, 2017 ▪

Black Catholic History Month opened in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia this year at the Annual St. Martin de Porres Mass celebrated by Archbishop Charles Chaput at St. Athanasius Church on Friday, November 3, 2017.

As part of the celebration, the St. Martin de Porres Medal was presented to Cynthia Brown of Our Lady of Hope Parish as a “Catholic leader who advances Catholic values and community engagement.”

Her accomplishments are many. At Our Lady of Hope, she is the Finance Council chair, served twice as co-chair of the parish Heritage of Faith Capital Campaign and as served twice as chair of the Our Lady of Hope Gospel Revival.

Brown is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia, a member of the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary African American Vocation Task Force, a member of the Vocation Office Development Committee and a member of the Knights of Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary Court 342, among other outreach programs.

All of this activity has happened within the last decade or so. When Brown decided to get involved, she hit the ground running.

To start at the beginning, Cynthia grew up in the former Holy Child Parish, the predecessor to Our Lady of Hope, and that’s where she attended elementary school. Although she and her brother were birth Catholics their parents were converts.

Jackson and Olivia Brown came North during the Great Migration and met and married in 1950 in Philadelphia. Both were Protestant at the time, a matter of fact Cynthia’s paternal grandfather was a Baptist minister.

Jackson Brown was a blue collar worker with truck manufacturer Eaton, Yale & Towne, and while Olivia had a nursing certificate she elected to be a stay-at-home mom. She was introduced to the Catholic faith through her beautician, who was a member of St. Benedict Parish. She liked what she saw, and she and her husband became Catholic and active members of Holy Child Parish.

They raised their children Catholic and after Holy Child School, Cynthia went on to the former Melrose Academy that was conducted by the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart. After her 1975 graduation she went on to the University of Pennsylvania and studies in business and anthropology followed by a career in sales, marketing and fundraising.

As happens so often with young people during her college years she drifted away from the practice of her faith. It wasn’t a matter of joining another faith, she simply stopped going to church. Meanwhile her parents remained staunch Catholics, attending Mass regularly at Holy Child and its successor Our Lady of Hope until old age inhibited that.

As they aged, Brown would occasionally take her beloved parents to church and after her mom died in 1991 she continued the practice with her dad, a man who never missed saying his prayers at night.

It was after his death in 2005 that she resolved, if for no other reason than to honor his memory, to return to the practice of the faith. Although she lives in the Valley Forge area she opted to return to her roots at Our Lady of Hope for worship.

Coming back to the faith after a long period away was almost like being a convert and Brown has the fervor of a convert. Father Efren Esmilla, her pastor, didn’t ask her permission, he simply appointed her to various committees. She obeyed and has happily served ever since.

A true revelation for her was attending the 2012 National Black Catholic Congress in Indianapolis where she encountered 2,200 Black Catholics all on fire for the Lord.

“It was overwhelming,” she said. “I was in shock seeing people committed to the faith.”

Musing on her journey, Brown said, “It has been fulfilling. I feel complete. The Catholic Church has helped so many people. It has been a homecoming with the Lord and a love affair with God.”

With that said, having been almost lost to the faith herself, she is well aware of the challenges young Black Catholics face, possibly even more so than young Caucasians because they live in a culture that is predominately Protestant. Many young black Catholics marry Protestants and become Protestant.

But her parents gave her not only her faith but social values worth preserving. “

Just because of my shade of color doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be able to conjugate a verb or speak proper English,” she said. “You go out where there are opportunities and act upon them. No one promises you a rose garden, but you have to go out and do the right thing. Don’t tell me what you can’t do, tell me what you can do.

“My Dad and Mom believed in hard work and they believed in God. Because of all the sacrifices our parents made we have to give back to the community and respect God.”


Drawn by Love, Sent on Fire

Janice Paige
St. Athanasius Catholic Church

On Saturday, October 21, 2017, Twelve Hundred Fifty (1250) women attended the 2017 Catholic Women’s Conference at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, PA. Women from across the country were present for this national event with the goal to be inspired and to be lit on fire for our faith.

We were blessed to have a wonderful full day conference, starting with a welcome greeting from Archbishop Chaput. This was followed by beautiful praise and worship music led by recording artist, Amanda Vernon.

The theme of the Conference was Drawn by Love, Sent on Fire. Several dynamic speakers inspired us to live our faith with renewed confidence and commitment. Kelly Wahlquist (Catholic author and founder of WINE: Women in the New Evangelization) spoke on why the Church needs women who are on fire with the love of God, who’ve been transformed by love of Jesus and who are eager to spread the good news. I had the chance to speak with her. She was personable and faith-filled. She was so delighted that this was my second year attending and that 18 other women from my church came with me that she wanted to take a picture with me and my attendee list! Other speakers shared their personal stories and journeys that led them to Christ and how He has sustained them through good and bad times. They were joyful stories that made us laugh and, sometimes, cry.

There were several vendors who educated us about various organizations and services that witness for our Catholic faith, including Dr. Monique Ruberu, local Coordinator of the 40 Days for Life Movement. We had the opportunity to go to Confession as well as Adoration. In addition, there were prayer teams available to us.

The day ended with Mass celebrated by Bishop John McIntyre. It was a wonderful, spirit-filled experience that I feel all women should attend to empower themselves to go forth and evangelize for the Church in the name of Jesus. The Church needs us.


How Might our Church Better Celebrate the Diversity Within It?

Kerry Weber
November 13, 2015

In the midst of the many national conversations about race and freedom now taking place in the public square,
it is valuable to note one opportunity for continued conversations about diversity within the Catholic Church.
November marks Black Catholic History Month, which was founded by the National Black Catholic Congress in

  1. The month was chosen because it includes both the birthday of St. Augustine (Nov. 13) and feast day of
    St. Martin de Porres (Nov. 3), and it is dedicated to celebrating “the long history and proud heritage of Black

National Black Catholic History Month serves as a reminder of something we should keep in mind throughout the
year: at its best, ours is a diverse and welcoming church, and there is much to be learned from one another, if only
we would make the effort:

Consider the history of Black theology and the legacy of oppression in an essay by M. Shawn Copeland, professor
of systematic theology at Boston College.

See the world through the eyes of one young, black, Catholic women, who refuses to let the world define her. And
then through the eyes of her mother, who offers support for her daughter’s faith experience and is challenged by

Accompany Cora Marie Billings, R.S.M., as she describes the joys and challenges of being a part of a church that
once owned her great-grandfather as a slave.

Challenge our educational institutions to do more to undo the harms of racism.

Imagine a church that truly reflects the diversity of its people with Bishop Edward K. Braxton.

How else might our church celebrate this month and the diversity that exists within the kingdom of God?


Young Men and Seminarians Set the World Ablaze!

On June 26th through June 29th, 2017, 116 young men, from across the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, joined 48 Seminarians from Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, 12 Priests, 2 Permanent Deacons and 4 lay volunteers, all from local parishes, to find out how to set the World Ablaze!  If the radiant smiles, the joy and laughter and the new and renewed friendships were an indication of a fire burning, then Quo Vadis 2017 was a roaring success.

The Quo Vadis Retreat is sponsored annually by the Philadelphia Vocation Office for the Diocesan Priesthood, with the support of the Martin de Porres Foundation and the local Serra Club.  Quo Vadis is a Latin phrase meaning “Where are you going?” and has been attributed to what was said by Peter to the risen Jesus when he encountered Him as Peter was leaving Rome.

“Where are you Going? The young men, all current 8th-12th grade students, met at Blackrock Retreat Center in Quarryville, Pa, in Lancaster County, for a 4 day and 3-night retreat where the focus was Faith, Fun and Fellowship.   The Quo Vadis retreat, this year, represented the most diverse group of young men ever.  They were joined by an outstanding, energetic and enthusiastic group of Seminarians, who served as Team Leaders.  Each Team of retreatants and their Seminarian leaders participated in group activities and meals together.  This fostered a remarkable sense of group identity and competition that was clearly evident in the sports activities and the faith sharing.   Each day began with morning prayer and Mass. Then, on to breakfast and the daily activities which included vocation talks by a Seminarian, Priest or Deacon, small group sharing and fun.  The fun activities included swimming in the lake or the pool, a great water slide and water trampoline, basketball, soccer, and ultimate frisbee.  One evening featured a hilarious activity called bubble soccer where the participants were encased in inflated bubbles as they competed in a game of soccer.  As if all this wasn’t enough, the group spent an entire afternoon at Urban Air, an indoor trampoline park where they ran, jumped, catapulted and jousted their way to weariness.

On Wednesday evening, as we turned back to prayer, we were joined by Bishop Senior, the Rector of St Charles Borromeo Seminary, for a Eucharistic Procession, adoration and prayer.

Throughout the four days, there were opportunities for prayer, confessions, and intense discussions about what God is calling each young man to be.  It is hoped that, through this experience of being with men and young men who have recognized and responded to God’s call to a vocation of priestly life, that more young men would “Heed the

Quo Vadis and its related events like “Come & See Weekend” and Brothers of Borromeo Vocation Camp (B.B.V.C) are just a few of the opportunities available for young men to explore what God is calling them to.  As Father Steve DeLacy, the Archdiocesan Vocation Director has often said, “The goal is not to get all of them into the seminary, the goal is to get them all seeking what God’s will for them is,” For some that call may lead to the seminary.

Vocations to the priesthood and religious life are everyone’s responsibility.  This is especially true in our African American community, where it is so important that we foster the vocations of our young folks who will lead the Church for years to come.  Look around you; look around your Church.  Is there a young person who has the qualities of a priest, or religious person?  Pray for them!  Support their call!  Have them speak with your Pastor, who will get them in touch with Fr DeLacy.  We as a Church and community must support vocations. We need more priests!  Please pray for the success of the good work of the Vocations Office and Fr DeLacy and his team.  I ask that you also support the Seminary and its committees who are working hard to foster vocations.

For more information including a vocation survey and other resources to help discern a vocation, visit the website  If you have any questions about how you can help, call the Vocations Office at 610-667-5788, or Fr. Richard Owens in the Office for Black Catholics at 215-587-3541


St. Charles Borromeo Seminary Increase in Enrollment

43 New Men Push St. Charles Seminary Enrollment to Highest in 14 Years

By Lou Baldwin • Posted August 28, 2017.

Tuesday, Aug. 22 marked what is easily one of the most important days on the calendar for St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and the Church of Philadelphia as a whole.

It was Move-In Day for 43 young men who are formally entering their journey that, hopefully after a period of years of formation and further discernment, will culminate in their ordination to the priesthood.

Some were coming straight from high school, at least one was home-schooled and others came with college studies under their belt or even with graduate degrees and positions in the workplace.

(See our photo gallery with 17 scenes from Move-in Day.)

With this year’s additions the seminary is seeing an enrollment of 167, the highest number since 2003. Of the 43 new men, 11 will be studying for the priesthood for the Philadelphia Archdiocese and the balance for 11 dioceses around the country.

“It is always an exciting moment, seeing these men come for the first time,” said Bishop Timothy C. Senior, the rector of St. Charles Seminary, who would be the celebrant of the Mass for that special day. “It is a wonderful testament to the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of young men of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and our partner dioceses.”

Each man had a different story and a different background, Bishop Senior noted, saying, “we can be proud of the cultural diversity in our archdiocese.”

While one would expect a class with mostly European ancestry at one time, this year’s arrivals include men who can boast Chinese, Korean and African ancestry. Also, in years gone by almost all would be products of Catholic schools. That is no longer a given.

Luke Borrajo is a member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Buckingham and a graduate of Central Bucks East High School.

“It is exciting, I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” he said. “I went on the Quo Vadis vocation retreats and the Come and See program and I was accepted in December.”

Joining Father Stephen DeLacy (center), vocations director, on a walk through campus are, from left, Thomas Cipolla, Dominic Mirenda, Luke Borrajo and Declan Cole.

His mother, Susan Borrajo, agrees that the seminary was always an option. “When he was 9, his whole football team was asked to tell what they wanted to be when they grew up. His answer was either a NFL football player, an actor, or priest.”

Now that the priesthood has won out, “I’m proud and excited for him,” his mother said.

Tom Cipolla is a graduate of La Salle College High School and a member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Jenkintown. He doesn’t remember when he wasn’t thinking of the priesthood.

“I always felt called,” he said. “My parents tell me when I was little I would pretend to say Mass in the pew. The Lord said, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,’ and growing up in a strong, loving Catholic family helped.”

Philip Cheung, who is post-college and will start in the Spirituality year that precedes Theology studies, first received his call while attending Temple University. “It was a call that God gave me,” he said.

Debby Mirenda of St. Peter Parish in West Brandywine was there with her son, Dominic, as he was beginning his journey toward the priesthood.

“We watched this unfold,” she said. “It’s awesome and I couldn’t be happier.”

Terrance Fulton is a member of St. Vincent Parish in Germantown but he usually worshiped at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul. He is a graduate of Philadelphia’s Central High School.

“What would it be like to be that person on the altar?” he often asked himself, but did not immediately answer the call.

Last year he was studying international affairs at De Paul University in Chicago when his vocation hit home just about Christmastime.

Because Terrance received his faith through his father, and the rest of the family is not Catholic, they were accepting of his decision but for the most part a bit confused.

“Does this mean we won’t see you for eight years?” he was asked. Fortunately, that’s not the way St. Charles works.

Declan Cole is a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Southampton, and an Archbishop Wood High School graduate. He thought of the priesthood since he was a little kid, but more seriously for the past two years.

New seminarians Robert Lane and Andrew Nichols, from the Diocese of Raleigh, are welcomed to the seminary by Bishop Timothy Senior, seminary rector.

“My mother who came straight from Ireland when she was 21 is Catholic; my father is not Catholic, but he was OK with this,” Declan said. “I’m a little nervous but excited to be here.”

Thirty-two of the new seminarians were from other dioceses, for example Raleigh, North Carolina, where until recently Bishop Michael Burbidge, a former St. Charles Rector, served as bishop.

Bill Lane, who is a member of St. Raphael Parish in Raleigh, accompanied his son Robert north to St. Charles for the beginning of his seminary studies.

“We are excited and very proud of him,” Bill said. “This is what he wants to do and we will pray for him and hope it works out the best for him. During high school he went on vocation trips, then he went to Roanoke College for a year, but he really wanted to go to the seminary.”

It was not just the seminarians who are excited about the new term. Father Dennis Carbonaro, who served on the faculty from 1989 to 2006 and has just returned as director of spiritual formation for the College Division, has seen many opening days.

“It is so exciting to everyone that these men are answering the Lord’s call,” he said. “It is new life in our seminary and their faith and zeal bodes well for the future.”

Indeed it does. Pray for these young men, as they continue to discern their call.

Dominic Mirenda’s family helps him unpack as he moves in to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood.


A Reflection Post: The NBCC XII Orlando, Florida 7.6.17-7.9.17

By Kanika J. Stewart-Jones, MHS St. Martin de Porres ChurchThe first thought I had post the conference (coupled with tears of joy, gratitude, and humility) was GOD IS GOOD!!! That felt so good writing, I feel the need to write it again GOD IS GOOD!!! To have brought me from such a dark place to being a part of such a blessed experience…and to top it off I was able to experience it with my husband and son. When I tell you GOD IS GOOD…HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH!
The realization of it all started to set in at Philadelphia International Airport. It worked out that there were lots of familiar faces from Philadelphia’s Archdiocese gathering to board the same flight as my family and I were. There was an unspoken, yet defined purpose amongst all of us there. There was an openness that we all shared in addition to the Christ driven determination that said “We” will work to make the required changes in our parishes, families, and communities that is so very desperately needed.
Once there I chose the sessions that focused on racism. I made this choice because I recognized the levels of cluelessness (whether intentional or unintentional) people of non-color have. In my personal and professional lifetime, I have come across people who have no awareness of “OUR” struggles and triumphs, of our battles and defeats, and why “WE” as a people must fight onward to bring about acknowledgement, understanding, and acceptance so that process of equality can began.
While at the sessions I felt like a sponge absorbing all the information that was being given by not only the presenters, but by those in attendance as well. From the sessions, I feel like I have a good foundation to start the process of ending racism in the Catholic Church.
The highlight of the conference for me was seeing and reconnecting with sister Patricia “Patty” Chappell, SNDDEN. Anyone who attended St. Columba Catholic School or parish (now known as St. Martin de Porres) in the 1980’s will absolutely relate to what I am about to say. Seeing Sister Patty brought everything into focus for me. Her presence and message solidified my purpose for being there. See, many many, many, years ago while attending St. Columba Catholic School, in the kingdom of North Philadelphia, we were blessed with Sister Patty. She was the first black nun I had ever seen, and let me tell you, she left a lasting impact on my life. At a young age I was taught what it meant to be black and catholic from her. I was taught my roots as a catholic and my roots as an African descendant. Through her teachings and guidance I was taught how to love Christ and my culture. Through her I was taught to have pride in our walk, talk, music, and dress. She not only promoted Catholicism and “OUR” heritage with us as students but, she promoted them both with our parents and our community members as well. And forty some years later she is still doing it, but on a national level.
I say all this to say that what we came together to illuminate or bring resolve to at the NBCC XII has long been instilled in me way before this conference. This conference was the motivating spark that I needed to aggressively become the change agent I was taught to be. Thank you Sister Patty for planting the seed!

God Bless and Harambee!