COLORADO SPRINGS. Members of the Colorado Springs Council for Black Catholics were happy on Saturday, July 27, when five visitors showed up to the regular meeting at Holy Apostles. Two came from Castle Rock because they were looking for a connection and cultural identity in the Catholic Church. Two were from Holy Apostles Parish and one was a member of the military stationed in Colorado Springs; all were looking for a sense of belonging in the community.
After the regular meeting ended and the visitors left, council members settled down to talk with The Colorado Catholic Herald about why it is important for Black Catholics to have a voice in the diocese, what they’ve done in the past, and what they are doing now. Sandra Jordan, Vice President and Recording Secretary, Janella Caperton, Senior Member, and Bernadette Marquez, Financial Secretary were present. Not present but active in the organization are Aisha Young, President; Melanie Fields; Deacon Andre Mason, Spiritual Advisor; and Elaine DeWitt, Senior Member.
“We were so proud to have these people today,” said Jordan. “We hope it turns into being members, that they come back. Our membership has dwindled.
“The Council should continue because of the demographics of Colorado Springs. I’ve only been here for about for nine years,” she said, “I checked before I came here about what’s there for me, and I couldn’t find very much. I was here for about four years before I came upon a Kwanzaa at Hillside Community Center and one of the members (of the Council for Black Catholics) was manning an information table there. I walked up to her and said, ‘I have been looking for you guys!’ I think that’s what it is — people may be looking for something that is culturally significant to them, and maybe they can’t find it, or don’t know where to look, and we just want to let them know, here’s one organization that’s trying to do something.”
The Colorado Springs Council for Black Catholics was formed in 1991 under Bishop Emeritus Richard Hanifen.
“I think the original reason for this organization, why we’ve continued, at least for me, is that when Bishop Hanifen talked to us about this organization and helped us develop it and told us how to go about getting the scholarships and all, one of the (concerns) was that the Catholic Church was losing a lot of the black people,” Caperton said.
She explained that, as a girl growing up in Kansas City, Missouri, she and her siblings — a family of 12 children in all —went to a Catholic school. The family couldn’t afford for all the children to attend school, but the pastors of the parish made it happen. This experience formed her Catholic identity.
“Through the years there’s been a lot of things that have caused black families to break from the Catholic church. All my kids were born Catholic, raised Catholic, but they don’t attend. So we’re trying to let people know that we still exist,” Caperton said.
Even a well-formed Catholic can experience isolation in the primarily white landscape of the Catholic Church in Colorado Springs. Caperton’s sense of aloneness vanished when she attended the 2018 conference of the National Black Catholic Congress.
“When I went to the Convention in Orlando, I was so impressed,” she said. “Five thousand black people — all Catholics. They would stand up and say what state they were from. Louisiana, I think, had the most.”
Many people at the conference were also were surprised to find so many fellow black Catholics, Caperton said.
“It felt wonderful. So, we need that, because we are so spread out in this city,” she said. “I’ve been here for 40 years; I’ve been here at Holy Apostles for over 25 years, and before that, Holy Family, and I can still count the black people that attend here on one hand. That’s why it’s important that we stay together and let them know that, even if it’s just a sprinkle here and a sprinkle there, we still exist. So, it’s important for the Catholic Church, for the diocese and for the people.” Caperton noted that being African-American is not a requirement for membership in the council.
The council raises funds to give scholarships to students attending Catholic schools. “The scholarships are not just for African Americans,” said Caperton. “They’re for anyone attending a Catholic school in the diocese.” The council distributes the scholarship applications to the schools, and they can also be found on the council website.
The St. Martin de Porres celebration is an annual dinner put on by the Council. This year’s event will be at Corpus Christi Parish on Nov. 2 after the 5 p.m. Mass. St. De Porres is the patron saint of the council.
“We also have it on our plate to reach out to the military community,” said Marquez. “Sometimes the military, especially the Army, are so temporary in location. This is an organization in Colorado Springs that they can be a part of while they are here. Maybe even continue if they decide to retire here. We have on our to-do list to reach out to the military, but at the same time we would like to make people aware that we are here. Our motto is ‘Be Seen,’” Marquez said, which is an acronym for “Building, Enlightening, Service, Educating, Evangelizing, Networking” — primary activities for the council.
The council donates books to the school and church libraries of the diocese. Two years ago, the Council made sure that all the parish libraries had the African American Catholic Bible for children. This year’s books are “When Jesus was Twelve,” for younger grades, “Cloud of Witnesses,” for upper grades, and the “The Healing of Families” for high school students. Most of the books come from the Josephite organization. The council also gives out calendars with holy days and artwork of significance to African-Americans.
Information about the council can be found at www.diocs.org/Ministries/Colorado-Springs-Council-for-Black-Catholics. Meetings are every fourth Saturday, January to October, from 11-1 at the Holy Apostles Parish Library.