On Saturday, Aug. 14, I purchased a beautiful painting of a priest recently declared venerable by Pope Francis.
The painting, created by a local Franciscan priest, was part of the silent auction at the 34th annual African American Catholic Leadership Awards Banquet held in Louisville.
The portrait features Father Augustus Tolton, declared venerable on the road to canonization in June 2019.
Father Tolton lived only 43 years. In the less than a dozen years in which he served as a priest, Father Tolton showed great leadership, including the development and construction of St. Monica Church in Chicago just four years before his death.
I mention Father Tolton because we all need great examples of leadership for young men and women called each year to follow Christ. This 34th annual event honored Catholic leaders from the African American community, both young and old, and honorees shared some very strong messages with the more than 300 banqueters in attendance.
One of the clear themes was the need to honor leaders, both past and present, for we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us and those who continue to be present in the community.
The Acacia Award was given to Deacon John and Genevieve Churchill, James and Rita Holman and Robert Jackson as well as Amy Olson of Sacred Heart Schools. In addition, the Genevieve Boone award was given to Kimberly Hickman and Deloise Logan and the Deacon James and Mrs. M. Annette Turner African American Catholic Adult Leadership Awards were extended to Denise Bivens, Michele Harbin, Andrew Boone, Carolyn Moore, W. Kay Frazier and Deloris White. What outstanding leadership throughout the archdiocese!
There were also a dozen young people who were recognized and awarded with scholarships. They are both the present and the future leadership in the African American Catholic community and fittingly, they were raised up for their accomplishments.
I always love to listen to their witness. This year I was pleased to hear two students who spoke about the gifts of Catholic schools as an essential part of their formation.
The Catholic community throughout the Archdiocese of Louisville has been working diligently to do our best to provide financial aid to those families whose children desire a Catholic education. The scholarship awards at this banquet help eighth-graders attend Catholic high schools and help seniors attend college.
Through the tremendous archdiocesan-wide help of the Catholic Education Foundation, the overall number of students throughout the archdiocese who have been given tuition assistance has risen from less than 1,500 just seven years ago to 3,350 last year.
While more outreach is necessary to attract and assist youth from the African American Catholic community to benefit from a Catholic education, some steady progress is occurring. The overall enrollment from the 2020-2021 school year at Catholic schools indicates that there were 689 African American students.
While we want to attract more African American students, this total is more than 50% higher than the 2014-2015 school year, and so we ought to be encouraged as we seek efforts to do more. The recent legislation in Frankfort that allows for Education Opportunity Grants bodes well for the future.
What is clear is that Catholic education will continue to have a mighty role in calling forth and developing strong leaders in the African American Catholic community as we look to the future.
A strong theme also emerging from the banquet is that we are a family. In the midst of all of the challenges that every family endures, we have had our share, including the challenges of COVID-19.
As a family of faith, we seek to treat each other with great dignity, care and civility. In the past, when I have spoken of issues related to the respect for all human life (of which our strong opposition to racism is a key part), I have spoken of the four virtues or the four “c’s” so necessary: courage, compassion, civility and calm.
I pray that we will never cease our efforts together to exhibit these qualities. With the leaders we have honored and those whom Christ will call forth in the coming days, I join with Annette Turner and the Office of Multicultural Ministry in tirelessly promoting that leadership so evident at the 34th banquet.
I am looking for the proper permanent place to hang the framed portrait of Father Tolton. May its presence be a permanent symbol of a beautiful priest, just 43 years old when he died, who received gifts and talents from God and put them at the service of Christ and His people. What an outstanding example of an African American Catholic for us all to emulate.