A Living link to Black Catholic History, Parishioner Leads the Way into Future

Alma Elizabeth Bailey of Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, Darby.

By Msgr. Francis A. Carbine • Posted August 16, 2016 – CatholicPhilly.com

At age 91, the matriarch of Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Darby carries the honorific title “Mother Bailey” — along sharp memory for many experiences yesteryear and today for Black Catholics in America.

“When my mother was a girl, she named her doll, ‘Alma.’ So when I was born in Middleboro, Kentucky, in 1925, I was named after her doll! I was a twin, and one of seven children. My entire family was very active in our Baptist Church. It was in California that ‘I turned around,’” said Alma Elizabeth Bailey of her journey toward the Catholic Church.

The daughter of parents who were college graduates, Alma was accepted in 1943 into the United States Cadet Nursing Corps. This program was conducted at Tuskegee University, Alabama, home of the celebrated African American airmen of World War II, with whom she shares an association.

The war ended before her graduation but she became trained in both practical and psychiatric nursing.

From 1943 until retirement in 1987, Mother Bailey worked in the nursing profession in Kentucky and Alabama. Locally, she worked in the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, St. Vincent Home for Children, and Lankenau Hospital.

“In 1949, I found a medal of the Sacred Heart and Blessed Mother among ashes in a back yard incinerator. I spent hours polishing ‘whatever it was’ and I am still wearing this medal. I then took a correspondence course to become a Catholic.

“When I completed the course, the priest in Middleboro would not receive me into the church. I was angry! He told me that by becoming a Catholic, I would be estranged from many of my family and friends. He was right! Even today, I am the only Catholic in my family.

“Later, I was baptized in St. Julian Church, Middleboro. When I came to Philadelphia, I was confirmed in St. Francis de Sales Church. To this day I wear a gold crucifix given to me when I was confirmed. “

Mother Bailey has been a parishioner at Blessed Virgin Mary Parish since 1981. To acknowledge her major contributions to parish life, Father Joseph Corley, the parish’s pastor, provided her with a special parking place. The sign reads: “Mother Bailey Reserved Parking.”

Parishioners know not to park in this space. Offenders can be challenged by Mother Bailey with “Can’t you read?”

She explained: “Some of the parishioners whom I was bringing to church had difficulty walking. This parking place is convenient for them. It was Father Corley who had the sign installed. He also decided that I should be called ‘Mother.’”

The pastor noted that “a title of honor with Baptist congregations is ‘Mother.’ Mother Bailey reminds me of the Mother Superiors I remember from my school days. She is also a ‘superior person.’”

As a parishioner — and especially in her retirement — Mother Bailey has a high profile. She assists with parish food and nursing programs. She serves as extraordinary minister of the Eucharist and a member of the parish pastoral council.

The sculpture “Mary, Queen of Africa” encourages Marian devotion at Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Darby. Created by Father Leonard Carrieri, a Missionary of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, the three-and-a-half- foot tall statue is praised by African American Catholic parishioners and those arriving from West Africa.

According to Father Corley, “Mother Bailey is the most popular lector in the parish” – to which she responded, “It was about time that somebody asked me!”

She was also active on the transition team when St. Louis Parish, Yeadon, became a worship site attached to B.V.M. Parish in Darby. Her talent as a fund raiser is likewise notable.

“When Father Corley was trying to clear parish debt of $90,000, he put a notice in the parish bulletin asking for help,” Mother Bailey said. “I contacted four Protestant friends. Each gave $500. We cleared the debt!”

Apart from parish life, Mother Bailey belongs to the Third Order of Dominican Sisters, is a member of the Tuskegee Airmen’s Association, and involved with the Nile Swim Club in Yeadon. “This club was founded in 1956 when Blacks were not permitted in white swim clubs,” she recalls.

In 2015, Father Corley installed a sculpture of “Mary, Queen of Africa” in the church. The statue is three and a half feet tall and sculpted by a priest, Father Leonard Carrieri, a Missionary of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

“I am glad that our pastor placed a Black monument in my church,” Mother Bailey said. “More and more African Blacks are attending. They come from Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Congo and Ghana. They are happy to see a statue that they can connect with.

“They say, ‘The Blessed Virgin Mary looks just like us! The Blessed Virgin Mary looks just like me! She is an African woman!’”

Alma Elizabeth also has high praise for Father Corley: “He is one priest carrying two churches on his back. This is heavy responsibility. In addition, many of our African parishioners come here with nothing. He helps them with food, clothing and finding apartments. He enrolls their children in our parish school.”

Reflecting on her many years as a Catholic, Mother Bailey recalls that “the Catholic Church has always been available and helpful to Blacks.”

Even in the South, the first integration of churches was done by Catholics.

“It was a Black lady — Mary Burton, a member of St. Julian Parish in Kentucky — who was my godmother,” said Mother Bailey.

Father Corley calls her “an authentic Catholic woman. She is involved, honest and realistic. She doesn’t dance around!” he said.

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Let us Not Forget to Include Black Catholics in Black History Month

Article by: Bro. Alonza Baker St. Athanasius Parish Philadelphia, PA

It’s February already and that means it is Black History Month here in the United States of America. During this time of year many of us display our African Art, and visit Afro-American history museums and cultural events; and television programs are loaded with stories of the many Afro-Americans who were involved in our struggle for freedom, equality, and dignity.

I am sure many of us would have some of the same names on a list of favorite Abolitionists, Civil Rights leaders, and workers. Harriett Tubman, Fredrick Douglas, Booker T Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X., and Daniel Rudd top my list.

According to Wikipedia, Harriett Tubman and Fredrick Douglas were born into slavery and became abolitionists after escaping; and Booker T. Washington was born into slavery and freed after the Civil War. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. were major players in the civil rights struggles of the sixties, but who was Daniel Rudd?

Daniel Rudd was born into slavery two years before Booker T. Washington and was also freed after the civil war. He published a Black newspaper, the Ohio Standard Tribune. A year later he directed its content to the Afro-American Catholic community and changed its name to the American Catholic Tribune – the first of its kind in the U.S.

This man had many things in common with the other names on my list and since many of us have never heard of him, I think it is about time we included him in our thinking when considering Black History Month. November is Black Catholic History Month. During that time our focus seems to be more on Black and African Catholic Saints, Martyrs, and Causes, and not on the Black laity of the Catholic Church. Daniel Rudd was a Lay Catholic, and his efforts were directed within the Roman Catholic Church, but his main focus was always the African American, his community and the Afro-American Laity of the Catholic Church.

Take this excerpt from “The History of Black Catholics in the United States” by the late Father Cyprian Davis:

On a winter afternoon in January 1889, a group of almost a hundred men, all African Americans, made their way through the streets of Washington, D.C., to the White House to be ushered into the presence of President Grover Cleveland. It was a unique occasion. Cleveland was in the last days of his first term as president, and blacks were not frequent guests in the White House. What was more significant, however, was that this body of men were both blacks and Catholics from all parts of the nation and that this was the first time in the Catholic church’s history in the United States that blacks had come together as a body, consciously aware of themselves as a group. President Cleveland told them that good religious people were a powerful help to the government and administration of a nation.

Who was this man, who could get 100 black men, to travel across the country to meet and discuss issues to better the condition of African Americans?

Again, according to Father Davis:

The visit to the White House was surpassed only by the cablegram from Pope Leo XIII’s secretary of state, Cardinal Rampolla, which made known to the delegates of the congress that the pope had sent them his apostolic blessing. Less than a quarter of a century after the end of slavery, a Roman pontiff had given his approbation and blessing to a nationwide assembly of black Catholic men.

Who was this man, that the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church in Rome Italy would know what he was doing here in the United States of America and give him his approval and blessing?

Daniel Rudd and other black men met in this fashion for Five (5) consecutive years. The meetings were called “Colored Catholic Congress.” The agenda of these congresses included issues like education of our youth, employment, housing and equality of treatment for all Afro-Americans. The Colored Catholic Congress is known today as the National Black Catholic Congress.

A lot more that can be said about Daniel Rudd and why he should be included in all serious discussions of black leaders in our historical struggle for freedom, equality and dignity. Find out more by reading “The History of Black Catholics in the United States, by the late Father Cyprian Davis, now in its second edition; or take a class at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Bala Cywd, PA. Check out their Certificate in Pastoral Ministry to Black Catholics (MBC) program at http://www.scs.edu/

The next National Black Catholic Congress is being held in Orlando Florida July 5th thru July 9th 2017. The theme for this Congress is “The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me: act justly, love goodness, and walk humbly with your God.

For more information contact your parish, or Deacon William Bradley of the Office for Black Catholics of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at http://officeforblackcatholicsadphila.org/; or visit the National Black Catholic Congress website at https://www.nbccongress.org/home.html.

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Blessed is the Man who is Faithful, Fearless & Fruitful

“In the beginning…North Philadelphia welcomes the National Black Catholic Men’s Conference” Theme: Blessed is the Man who is Faithful, Fearless & Fruitful”
October 6-9, 2016 By Reverend Stephen D. Thorne

On Thursday, October 6, hundreds of men gathered at Saint Martin de Porres Catholic Church to begin the 13th National Black Catholic Men’s Conference. As they arrived, they were greeted by a drum line to welcome them to Philadelphia. Many local clergy, religious sisters and lay leaders were present to offer their support. The inspiring evening included song, prayer and an inspirational reflection led by Mr. Jamey Moses, a Seminarian at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary. One of the highlights of the rally was the “altar call” when all of the conference participants came and prostrated themselves at the altar in prayer. The conference included workshops on various topics to help our adult men and young men grow, as the conference theme states…to be “faithful, fearless and fruitful.” The conference will end with a Mass of Thanksgiving at Saint Cyprian Catholic Church in West Philadelphia. Over 300 men from all over the country attended. Let the Church say AMEN!

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A New Initiative

I have always been blessed to be a person who thinks positively. When a challenge or difficulty comes in my life, I see it as an opportunity. It is with that same sense of hope that I share with you a new initiative. Through the vision and generosity of the Martin de Porres Foundation, a grant has been given to develop a pool of African American teachers to serve as principals in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The Foundation has enthusiastically made a commitment to this project for three years to raise up new leaders in our Archdiocese. Currently, there is only one African American Elementary School Principal in the Archdiocese and there has never been an African American high school principal in our history. So far, dozens have expressed interest in this program and the first cohort have begun classes at Neumann University. In addition to the Principal Certification Program, there will a series of networking sessions and professional development opportunities later in the Fall. There has been a long and rich history of African Americans who have been blessed by Catholic Schools. It is my prayer that more leaders will come forth so our children can see in their principal an image of themselves.

Reverend Stephen D. Thorne, M.S. Ed.
University Chaplain & Adjunct Faculty
Neumann University
THORNES@Neumann.edu

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