Few spread the Good News clearly
1st October 2012 · 0 Comments
By Fr. Jerome LeDoux
In her efforts to collect salient facts about the life and times of Bishop Harold Robert Perry, S.V.D., D.D., Barbara Duhe encountered an unbelievable vacuum. Her comment was, “I was absolutely stunned this past week when my own good Catholic hairdresser never heard of Bishop Perry. I then thought that perhaps there are many more younger people in our churches and in our schools who may have never heard of Bishop Perry.” And this as New Orleans Black Catholics are preparing to celebrate the bishop.
How is it possible that a young, Black, active Catholic in New Orleans had not heard of Bishop Harold Perry? Perhaps it began as a deficiency in history coincident with deemphasizing civic and history courses in schools curriculum. What is lacking in public schools curriculum is partially lacking even in the religious curriculum of private schools.
This is akin to the vacuums many of us have experienced while discussing various personages with young African Americans in schools. Perhaps the most jarring moments are those when youngsters draw a blank on the likes of folks such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., not to mention icons like Dr. George Washington Carver and Sojourner Truth.
Nothing like this would happen among the Jews, because they have a practical and effective tradition of integrating into their workaday lives whatever events or people are vital to their history both remote and current. Yes, they even have numerous museums and memorials of the dreaded Holocaust in dozens of countries around the globe.
We have made memorializing baby steps by projects like The Mount Rushmore National Memorial, a sculpture carved by Danish-American Gutzon and his son, Lincoln Borglum, into the granite face of Mount Rushmore near Keystone, South Dakota.
Mount Rushmore features 60-foot sculptures of the heads of former United States Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Standing 5,725 feet above sea level, the entire memorial covers 1,278.45 acres. Compare this to the tallest mountain in the region, Harney Peak, at 7,242 feet.
Of course, France gave us a great memorial start by absorbing most of the expenses of the Statue of Liberty built for us by France as a gift of friendship. The construction took place part by part over the span of the decade preceding 1885, when the parts were crated and shipped to the U.S., for assembly on American soil.
Standing on Liberty Island and towering 151 feet and 1” by itself, the statue reaches 305 feet and 1” into the sky measuring from the bottom of the pedestal to the torch. The Statue of Liberty was dedicated on October 28, 1886, designated as a National Monument in 1924 and restored for her centennial on July 4, 1986.
Lesser memorials are Presidents’ Day, the third Monday of February, unevenly observed as a federal holiday commemorating the birthdays of Washington, Lincoln and, according to many, all the U.S., presidents. Martin Luther King Day is celebrated on the third Monday of January.
Bishop Perry’s life could be celebrated at a more local level.
Putting Black Catholic history into perspective, James Augustine Healy, the son of a white plantation owner and a biracial slave, was the first African American to be elevated to the Catholic episcopate, albeit in the 19th century. He was ordained Bishop of Portland, Maine at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception June 2, 1875.
Harold Robert Perry was the second African American to be ordained a Catholic bishop, the first of the 20th century and the first to claim his African American heritage fearlessly and unconditionally. He knew that racial epithets were no match for the pride of Black Catholics who saw him as a symbol of great things to come.
Though not so elaborately as Mount Rushmore or federal holidays, heroes and heroines should be memorialized. Pope Saint Victor I — the first Latin-speaking Pope — served all Christianity in the second century from 186-198. Pope Saint Miltiades (also spelled Melchiades) served from 311-314. Pope Saint Gelasius served from 492-496. Ethnically, they were brown-skinned Berbers from present-day Algeria, Mauretania, Numidia and Tunisia. They were all saints/martyrs, all Popes, all Africans.
The Bishop Harold Perry First Annual Evangelization/Vocation Conference at Xavier University on November 3 is a good start at memorializing a trailblazer.
This article was originally published in the October 1, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper