A Mission for Justice: The History of the First African American Catholic Church in Newark, New Jersey

Article excerpt

A Mission for justice: The History of the First African American Catholic Church in Newark, New Jersey. By Mary A. Ward. (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press. 2002. Pp. xv, 215. $35.00.)

In the latter pages of this work, Mary Ward quotes a "man from Georgia" who said, there "ain't no special religion called Black Catholicism." The complex and fascinating story of Queen of Angels Parish in Newark, New Jersey, proves him right.

Ward credits Cyprian Davis for inspiring this book, and acknowledges the influence of Robert Orsi. Meticulously researched,/! Mission for justice draws from sources beyond diocesan and parish archives. Fortunately for the author, several pioneers of the parish were still alive to recount their stories; and many from the turbulent 1960's and 1970's offered their papers and recollections. Thus, the voices of African Americans resound throughout.

This is not a traditional "parish history." Because of the wide range of Queen of Angels influence, it is the story of African-American Catholics in the entire Newark archdiocese. Thanks to the skill of the author, it also fills a significant gap in the history of New Jersey's African-American community.

Always conscious of the importance of context, Ward introduces us to Queen of Angels by offering a well-craftecl synthesis of the history of Newark's AfricanAmerican and Catholic communities. Black Catholics, few in number, were "almost invisible" in the Newark diocese of the 1920's when their story begins. A small group of Black Catholic women would change this, going to the diocesan authorities to ask for and, eventually receive, a priest to minister to their community. Ward's attention to oral history clarifies the parish's origin, which, in official diocesan documents, was the original idea of the bishop.

Ward describes the complexity of the Black community of 1930's Newark, the status-conscious Protestant Black churches, and the community's relationship with various city offices and civic organizations. While, to contemporary eyes, the pastoral care of that era might appear paternalistic, Ward shows that it was an enlightened Catholic application of the Protestant "Social Gospel" of the era, with parishioner participation in decision making. …

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