The Church begins November by commemorating the holy men and women of every age and place — those individuals whose holiness, “keep the world from turning into hell, ”as the late Cardinal Francis E. George, O.M.I., once put it.
Among their number are what some us call the “Holy Six” — the Black Catholics who ministered in the United States and who are currently under formal consideration for canonization. Each of these men and women — Venerable Pierre Toussaint, Venerable Henriette Delille, Venerable Augustus Tolton, and Servants of God Mary Lange, Julia Greeley and Thea Bowman — dwelled in Christ’s love and reflected that love amid a broken world.
Along with celebrating “all saints” and “all souls” during November, American Catholics also in this month mark Black Catholic History Month. Celebrated each November since 1990, Black Catholic History Month is fitting time to reflect on the witness of the Holy Six, and to foster devotion to these heroes of the faith.
This was one of the motives for my book, “Black Catholics on the Road to Sainthood” (OSV, $9.95), which was the first to gather the biographies of all six in one place. Each biography is accompanied by a reflection from a contemporary Catholic writer.
The witness of each of them inspires and challenges us as we seek to respond to the call to holiness in our own lives and the effects of sin in the world. Since the holiness and discipleship of the Holy Six draw us more deeply into the mystery of Christ’s saving love, we need their witness.
The lives of each of these holy men and women show us what holiness looks like. More specifically, they show us what it means to love, even when we have been shown in this world everything but love. The Holy Six teach us how to remain faithful to Christ’s call for us and how to make his heart our own. While they experienced hardships, suffering and animosity, they did not let themselves succumb to it or respond in kind.
As Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles wrote in the foreword to my book: “The inspiring witness of America’s black Catholic communion of saints gives us hope that we can indeed free ourselves from the sins of our past, heal old wounds and divisions, and come together to work for a society that reflects God’s beautiful plan of love for the human person.”
At Archbishop Gomez’s invitation, and in honor of Black Catholic History Month, I will be leading an online study of these holy men and women, starting November 9, on lacatholics.org. We will explore their lives and witness and try to gain a new appreciation for their holiness and spirituality, and their courage and heroism.
I hope you will join me and invite others. The study is suitable for Catholic schools, and religious education programs, as well as for adults. Visit LACatholics.org/holy-six for details.
The most contemporary of the Holy Six, the Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman, once said, “Maybe I’m not making big changes in the world. But if I have somehow helped or encouraged somebody along the journey, then I’ve done what I’m called to do.”
May that be true for us, too, as we strive to become the saints God calls us to be. And may the Holy Six help us by their example and prayers.