Benedictine Priest, Top Chronicler of Black Catholic History, Dies

National Catholic Reporter, June 5, 2015 | Go to article overview

Benedictine Priest, Top Chronicler of Black Catholic History, Dies


By CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

ST. MEINRAD, IND. * A funeral Mass was celebrated May 21 at St. Meinrad Archabbey here for Benedictine Fr. Cyprian Davis, who died May 18 at Memorial Hospital in Jasper. He was 84.

Davis wrote six books, including The History of Black Catholics in the United States, published in 1990. He was working on a revised edition of the book at the time of his death.

He had also written what is considered the definitive biography of Mother Henriette Delille, the black foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Family in antebellum New Orleans. Her sainthood cause was opened in 1988 and she was declared venerable in 2010.

Born Clarence John Davis on Sept. 9, 1930, in Washington, he joined the Catholic church as a teenager.

He studied at St. Meinrad Seminary from 1949 to 1956, was invested as a novice monk in 1950, professed simple vows in 1951, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1956.

Davis received a licentiate in sacred theology from The Catholic University of America in 1957 and a licentiate and doctorate in historical sciences from the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, in 1963 and 1977, respectively.

He began teaching church history at St. Meinrad in 1963, and in 2012 became the school's first professor emeritus.

Davis was an archivist of the archabbey. He also belonged to the American Catholic Historical Association and the Society of American Archivists.

He also Served as archivist for the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, of which in 1968 he was a founding member. Davis contributed to the second draft of "Brothers and Sisters to Us," the U.S. bishops' 1979 pastoral letter on racism, and helped write the initial draft of "What We Have Seen and Heard," the 1984 pastoral letter on evangelization from the nation's black Catholic bishops.

His other books include Christ's Image in Black: The Black Catholic Community Before the Civil War; To Prefer Nothing to Christ: St. Meinrad Archabbey, 1864-2004; and The Church: A Living Heritage. He was co-author of Taking Down Our Harps: Black Catholics in the United States with Georgetown University theology professor Diana Hayes and Stamped With the Image of God: African Americans as God's Image in Black with Dominican Sr. Jamie Phelps.

"Fr. Cyprian Davis was a significant leader as a Benedictine monk and priest of Saint Meinrad Archabbey and as a spiritual writer, historian, and advocate for the vibrant presence of African American Catholic leaders," said a May 18 statement from Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. bishops' conference.

"Most of all, Fr. Cyprian was a humble child of God who sought in an unassuming way to live a life of holiness and to place his considerable talents at the service of Christ and his Church," Kurtz added.

Davis was honored numerous times. In 2007, he received the Marianist Award from the University of Dayton in Ohio. In 2003, he was awarded the Johannes Quasten Medal for Excellence in Scholarship and Leadership in Religious Studies by Catholic University. …

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