African American Catholics gathered Nov. 12 at St. Odilia Church in Los Angeles to honor more than 50 pioneering Black Catholics who in the early 1900s congregated for the first time locally to worship together.

“All saints and souls is not a general term,” Josephite Father Roger Caesar, pastor of St. Brigid Church, told the assembly during the mid-morning First Annual Black Catholic Memorial Mass.

“The faithful departed have a name,” he continued, “so we lift up the names of those who were committed to the African American community who struggled with injustices due to their color and race. By Christ’s baptism we are all united whether dead or alive and this --- the month of All Saints --- is not only a good time for a memorial, but it is also a good place, St. Odilia, assigned by the archdiocese for the evangelization of the African American community.”

Acknowledging the growth of the Black Catholic community in Los Angeles (most of them had arrived from Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma by the end of the 19th century), Archbishop John Cantwell in 1927 named St. Odilia as the “Negro National Church,” assigning its pastoral care to the Society of African Mission priests, who led the parish for the next 60 years.

St. Odilia was also the mother church for a second wave of African Americans who moved to Los Angeles during World War II to work in the defense industry. As they settled in different areas of South and Central L.A., other parishes started welcoming African Americans, reflecting their presence with lively music and preaching.

St. Odilia was also the home of the first unit of the Knights of St. Peter Claver, a national fraternal organization with mostly Black Catholic membership.

Father Caesar urged the assembly to keep building on the legacy of “faith and open love” of the honorees.

Concerns about vocations among African Americans were also addressed by St. Odilia’s pastor, Franciscan Friar of the Atonement Father Francis Eldridge.

“We need to work on vocations,” he told the assembly, “so encourage your children and grandchildren to really think about serving Christ in the Church.”

Parishioners also learned about a three-year grant recently won by the archdiocesan African American Center for Evangelization, to be used for education and formation of Catholic African American youth.

For more information about the African American Catholic Center for Evangelization, call (323) 777-2106 or visit

{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2011/1202/olablack/{/gallery}