We Have Been Believers:
Black Catholic Studies
DIANA L. HAYES AND CECILIA A. MOORE
On a typical sizzling New Orleans afternoon, C. Vanessa White and her classmates were socializing just minutes before their first class in Introduction to Black Theology at the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University. Amid the chatter, in stomped an unkempt black man screaming, “Somebody stole all my stuff!”1 He turned, slammed the door, and repeated, “Somebody stole all my stuff.” Angrily he searched the faces of the class and again asserted, “Somebody stole all my stuff!” Completely thrown off guard and frightened, White remembers thinking, “Does he think I took his stuff?” “What stuff is he talking about?” “Where is our teacher?” At that moment, the irate and scary stranger introduced himself to the class as Father Bede Abram, O.F.M. Conv., their instructor. According to White, this dramatic introduction was just the beginning of an unfolding of a Catholic world she and her classmates had never seen or even imagined, even as it also laid bare an experience they knew all too well.
As with the best-executed thefts, one knew something was missing, but just quite what one could not say. In this summer class, Father Abrams’s objective was to teach these students to retrieve and restore the record and memory of black Catholic thought, experience, history, and theology, and to redeposit it into the minds of black Catholics—and all Catholics for that matter—for the purpose of transforming the Church and the role Catholicism could play in black communities.
Black Catholic Studies as a formal field came into being in a time of social, political, and religious tumult and transformation. The waning days of the civil rights movement, the waxing days of the Black Power movement, the reforming spirit ushered in by the Second Vatican