The following continues our series of reflections on our Parish Statement on Racism:
“We acknowledge that our own parish has its own history of racism. We commit to better understand the ways that structural racism has operated both in the past and today. Our Church strives to achieve racial equity and to come closer to its ideal of valuing the equal dignity of all humans.” (from St. Margaret of Scotland Parish Statement on Racism)
Easy to say, but what is our parish’s history of racism? To know more deeply will likely involve years of research and conversations with people most affected by our parish’s actions. The Racial Equity Team has recently committed to doing so on behalf of our parish, but in the meantime, we can learn more about our own parish’s situatedness in the larger history of the systemic racism that has shaped our own neighborhood, as well as the archdiocese and U.S. Catholic Church. Did you know, for instance, that the Catholic Church was the largest corporate slaveholder in the United States? That most of our diocese’s early founders and religious held people in slavery? Our first bishops, DuBourg, Rosati, and Kenrick, held people in bondage. And, before Black Catholics pushed the Jesuits to found St. Elizabeth Church, the first Black Catholic parish in the city, in 1873, Black worshippers were forced to sit or stand in the back pews or in the galleries of churches when attending services. And it still happened long after.
For Lois Jean Turner, the racism she experienced in St. Louis parishes compelled her to leave the Church. You can hear her recount her experience in her own words here: https://youtu.be/5O2EiG4FybU?t=410. These experiences are not just a thing of the past, though they are morphing into new forms. This knowledge leaves us with some pretty big ramifications regarding our role in addressing these wrongs. For many who may not have learned it before, this history may come as a shock. Where does it lead us when we reflect on it more deeply? How have we as a Church failed to value the dignity of our sisters and brothers of color? What are we called to now when learning this history, knowing that its vestiges still live within our communities?
Dr. Kelly L. Schmidt co-chairs St. Margaret of Scotland’s Racial Equity Committee and is a historian of slavery and the Catholic Church.
Over the course of nine weeks, the SMOS Living Justice Ministry – Racial Equity Team will present reflections from various parishioners on the Parish Statement on Racism. To read more about the Statement, please go to the front page of the Parish website at stmargaretstl.org.