BALTIMORE (CNS) – When Sister Michelle Proctor was a young child, she was taught by the Oblate Sisters of Providence from grades 3 to 10.

The hospitality of the sisters and their trust in Divine Providence inspired her to become a nun in their order based in Baltimore.

After 53 years of love and service for the Lord in the Oblate community, the current Superior General of her religious community had the honor of participating in St. Ann’s Church in Baltimore on November 1, in a procession of six candidates for canonization.

She held a portrait of the foundress of the community – and of one of these candidates for holiness: Mother Mary Lange, who bears the title of “Servant of God”.

Five other members of the African-American Catholic community came to the altar with portraits of other prominent black Catholics whom they hope to be canonized.

They are: Sister Thea Bowman, the first African American member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, and Julia Greeley, known as the “Angel of Charity” of the city of Denver – both bear the title of Servant of God – as well as Mother Henriette Delille, founder of the Sisters of the Holy Family, Father Auguste Tolton and Pierre Toussaint. The last three bear the title “Venerable”.

The title of “Servant of God” is given by the church to a candidate for holiness when his cause is officially open.

The first step in the process after this is the declaration of a person’s heroic virtues, after which the church grants the title of “Venerable”. The second step is the beatification, after which he or she is called “Blessed”. The third step is canonization.

In general, for beatification, a miracle must be accepted by the church as having occurred through the intercession of the future saint and a second verified miracle is required for canonization.

After the procession, Auxiliary Bishop Bruce A. Lewandowski of Baltimore, urban vicar of the archdiocese, celebrated a mass on the feast of All Saints. Nearly 200 people were present.

The Mass was organized by a nationwide campaign comprised of members from three parishes in Baltimore, St. Ann, St. Francis Xavier and St. Wenceslaus, as well as long-standing members of the St. Ann’s Social Justice Committee.

The purpose was to educate and educate the American people about the stories of these six candidates for holiness.

Campaign members collect signatures in a letter to Pope Francis asking him to speed up their canonization.

“Although there are no African American saints in the United States, there are 11 white Americans who have been canonized,” the letter said. “We know there is a process, but it doesn’t work for black American Catholics and their supporters. The process reaps unfair and uneven results, especially when you realize that the six Black Saints are waiting a total of 714 years if you add up the time since their deaths.

Toussaint died 168 years ago, and a few of the others have been dead for over a century. Sister Bowman is the most contemporary, who died in 1990.

The letter asked the Pope to canonize the six candidates “immediately”. “If not now when?” It said. “If not you, who?”

Delores Moore, one of the national campaign leaders, a member of St. Ann’s social justice committee and a parishioner there, said the campaign began when parishioners serving the African American community realized that only a few people knew about the lives of these African Americans. holy men and women, who despite their struggles against systemic racism, have remained faithful to God.

Father Donald Sterling, the first African-American priest ordained in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and pastor of New All Saints in Liberty Heights, portrayed Father Tolton, the first African-American diocesan priest in the United States.

“As well as being historic, it is humbling to think that in all these years I am the first African American priest in the Archdiocese of Baltimore,” said Father Sterling. “It is a call for humility from God.

Many in attendance knew Sister Bowman, including Father Sterling and Therese Wilson Favors, a longtime Catholic educator and former director of the Archdiocesan Office of Black Catholic Ministries in Baltimore, who portrayed her friend and colleague.

Wilhelmena Braswell, a parishioner from St. Ann, met Sister Bowman in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in downtown Baltimore and said that “her presence would light up the room.”

Bishop Lewandowski said that in the church there are saints for every community and every person, but not in the case of the African American community.

He invited the congregation to share the stories of these future Saints with everyone, to make sure their parishes display pictures of them, and to ask for their intercession.

The bishop said it is important to have Masses to celebrate African American saints because the faithful identify with the saints who “are like us, speak our language, live our experiences and can understand our struggles.”

Although the process of canonization can be long and tedious, Bishop Lewandowski encouraged the congregation by reminding them: “We do not make saints; God does it.


González de Doran writes for the Catholic Review, the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s media outlet.