Was first black priest black enough?

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Native Americans/First Nation, Passing, Religion on 2010-05-13 22:13Z by Steven

Was first black priest black enough?

Chicago Tribune

Manya A. Brachear, Tribune reporter

Healy, son of a plantation owner, isn’t mentioned as often as Tolton, who is being pushed for sainthood

More than a year after some African-Americans scrutinized the blackness of the nation’s first black president, America’s Catholics are now wrestling with the same questions to determine who was the nation’s first black priest.

The debate emerges as the Archdiocese of Chicago seeks sainthood for the Rev. Augustus Tolton, long hailed in Chicago as the first African-American clergyman to serve in the U.S. Catholic Church.

A rival for the title is Bishop James Augustine Healy, who was ordained in 1854, the year Tolton was born. But Healy, the son of an Irish-American landowner and a mixed-race slave, was light-skinned enough to pass as a white man. And in many cases, he did…

…As bishop of Portland, Maine, Healy served another marginalized population: Native Americans.

The eldest of 10 siblings, Healy was raised Catholic but attended a Quaker school in New York. In 1849, he graduated valedictorian of the first class at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.

He attended seminary in Canada and was eventually ordained in Paris. But he distanced himself from an African-American identity. He declined to participate in African-American organizations and turned down invitations to address the National Black Catholic Congress, citing the New Testament — “Christ is all and in all” — as his reason.

James O’Toole, author of “Passing for White: Race, Religion and the Healy Family [, 1820-1920],” said that denial comes across to some as betrayal. To others, it gives a new dimension to the struggle. But he believes contemporary categories or agendas shouldn’t be imposed upon historical figures.

“In a sense, that can look like racial treason. Why are you denying who you are?” said O’Toole. “Those are very much the standards of today. But they’re not their standards. As a historian, that’s what ought to govern here. … We should be assessing them on their own terms.”

But Michelle Wright, associate professor of African-American studies at Northwestern University and author of “Becoming Black [: Creating Identity in the African Diaspora],” cautions that ceding to Healy’s self-identity could further the misconception that African-Americans did not contribute to society…

Read the entire article here.

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