Tag Archives: black

Why a parish just for black Catholics?

February 1, 2012

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St. Peter Claver Church has served black Catholics in Minnesota’s state capital for nearly 125 years, but the archbishop who established the parish wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do.

Archbishop John Ireland

Archbishop John Ireland, the legendary leader of the Archdiocese of St. Paul, was ahead of the curve when it came to racial equality, preaching that blacks were just as much children of God as were whites.

He acted on what he preached as well.

As St. Paul’s first archbishop (1884 to 1918), he was the first American bishop to allow a black man to study at the diocesan seminary — the St. Paul Seminary — and be ordained a diocesan priest in the United States. Father Stephen Theobald was ordained in 1910 and served at the Cathedral of St. Paul before being named pastor of St. Peter Claver Church in St. Paul.

Archbishop Ireland’s vision was that there should be no “race problem,” that the United States should be an integrated society. Daniel Rudd, the editor of a widely read black Catholic newspaper of the time, the American Catholic Tribune (circulation 10,000), saw in the archbishop an ally in his own vision that the Catholic Church was the best hope for racial justice and equality for black people in America.

Rudd was a sought-after lecturer, and in 1890, through a series of benefit speeches, he raised funds to build the first permanent church for St. Paul’s St. Peter Claver Parish. Archbishop Ireland had founded St. Peter Claver as a parish for “Colored Catholics” two years earlier and named it after the Spanish Jesuit who ministered to slaves in New Spain. But it wasn’t until 1892 that St. Peter Claver Church was built.

Historian Gary B. Agee, writing in the just-released biography of Rudd, said the black Catholic newspaperman and the archbishop both heard the demand from black Catholics for their own parishes, just as other ethnic groups had theirs, but they had trouble with that line of thinking.

Here’s an excerpt from “A Cry of Justice: Daniel Rudd and His Life in Black Catholicism, Journalism and Activism, 1854-1933” (University of Arkansas Press):

“Rudd’s position on the existence of separate black parishes seems to have paralleled that of Archbishop Ireland. For example, when Ireland dedicated a new black parish in the city of St. Paul in 1892, the prelate expressed some ambivalence over the matter. He stated the establishment of a separate church for African American Catholics was only a temporary measure designed to benefit blacks. Further, Ireland desired all races to worship together. He also emphasized the fact that blacks were free to attend any of the city’s parishes.”

In his newspaper, Daniel Rudd echoed much the same sentiment, again excerpting from Agee’s book:

“If every so-called Colored Catholic church in the world was done away with instantly the Colored Catholics would be at home in any other Catholic church beneath the Sun.”

Obviously, given the racial history of our country and our church, both Archbishop Ireland and Daniel Rudd were ahead of their time in their vision.

 

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What if the early black stars had been given their baseball seasons in the sun?

March 29, 2010

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The End of Baseball cover“The End of Baseball,”

by Peter Schilling Jr.

What if major league baseball hadn’t waited until 1947 to enjoy the athletic prowess of black ballplayers?

What if, in the midst of World War II, innovative Bill Veeck Jr. had purchased the Philadelphia Athletics and stocked the team with the stars of the Negro Leagues — Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Buck Leonard, Monte Irvin — during their prime?

During their heyday these players were the likes of Willie Mays, Henry Aaron and Ernie Banks, and we know what just those three hall of famers brought to the big leagues.

Pete Schilling gives us a taste of how a season might have gone if baseball had been integrated before Branch Rickey took a gamble and put Jackie Robinson in a Brooklyn Dodger uniform. It’s a story filled with drama, with racism, with emotional moments on and off the field, with the wacky promotions that even the creative mind of Bill Veeck might never have tried.

And with baseball —  pure, unadulterated baseball.

Precursor to the exploding scoreboard?

Veeck — in real life the non-traditional owner at various times of the Cleveland Indians, the Chicago White Sox and the St. Louis Browns — brought fun and fans to the ballpark — and he’s the centerpiece of Schilling’s book, challenging the “gentleman’s agreement” among baseball owners to keep their sport lily white. (And the father of St. Paul Saints’ innovative owner Mike Veeck — he of the pig that brings new baseballs to the umpire!)

Tidbits of baseball history and lore are sprinkled throughout, signs that heroic research has been poured into the writing by Minnesota resident Schilling, who noted that he put seven years in at the St. Louis Park (MN) Home Depot to pay the mortgage while writing “The End of Baseball.”

In what may or may not be based in fact, Veeck fights off famed baseball commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis to break the major league’s color barrier. Veeck’s memoir claims that he tried to do this very thing in 1942 but Landis — who was both judge and jury when it came to baseball policy during his 24-year reign — stopped him, fearing letting blacks play would be “the end of baseball.” Whether the novel captures history accurately or not, the battle makes for a fictional morality play and great, tension-filled reading.

And the innovations the fictional Veeck tries in order to fill seats at Philadelphia’s old Shibe Park are just as kooky — and successful! — as any of the promotions the real Veeck pulled off as a major league owner, including the scoreboard that shot off fireworks every time those pennant-winning 1959 Go-Go White Sox homered, the movable outfield fence in Cleveland (moved in or out 15 feet depending on the power of the opponent) and his most famous stunt, having a midget bat for the St. Louis Browns in order to induce a base on balls.

Famed supporting cast

Veeck may be the protagonist, but this is a book with a cast of worthy characters including the ageless Satchel Paige, the “Black Babe Ruth” Gibson, and future National League MVP Roy Campanella, a star for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950s.

The blatant racism fans, hotels and restaurants in many cities show to the novel’s all-black A’s isn’t unlike what Robinson encountered when he played for the Dodgers in the late 1940s and what major league players like Fergie Jenkins and Dick Allen encountered even in the 1960s. While racism still exists in America, the fact that today white fans can cheer the likes of Torii Hunter, Ryan Howard and Derek Jeter only makes the “what-if” of the storyline of  “The End of Baseball” a cause of sorrow and regret.

So read this excellent book, then go online and do a search for the names above — some of the greats of the Negro Leagues who never got to shine at the major league level. One excellent source, too, is http://www.mlb.com.

Plug “Black players” into the search box and you’ll find page after page of history worth knowing and stories worth remembering. — bz

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