One Sunday, my mother and I visited Immaculate Heart of Mary, a historically African-American parish in West Louisville, for the 9 a.m. Mass.
They had a bake sale afterward with one giant, beautifully glazed bourbon whiskey cake baked by Father John Judie. Father Judie is the retired pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary.
I asked to speak with him sometime, to get his bourbon whiskey cake recipe but more importantly, to hear about his experiences and to learn more about the Catholic Church in the West End.
We met at Shoney’s on Fern Valley Road and had a lively conversation about his experience in ministry, from discrimination to discipleship, tribulation to triumph. As our meal concluded, I had one burning question: If I was ever in a leadership position in this community, what could I do to help West Louisville?
Without a moment’s hesitation, Father Judie’s response was simple: “I would want Julian to be in right relationship with the community he was seeking to serve. I would want to know that you had eaten with the Black community, prayed with the Black community, that you had spent time with us and gotten to know us, because you can’t help us unless you love us first.”
For Father Judie, any act of service or leadership had to start with being in right relationship.
He didn’t give me the concrete policy solution I was looking for, but in one of America’s most racially segregated cities, it was fitting that Father Judie’s first piece of advice to someone seeking to make Louisville a better place was to start by building relationships.
Some say that there are two Louisvilles, east and west, each with insurmountable differences. Many of us Louisville Catholics often forget that we have Catholic brothers and sisters west of Ninth Street and many others outside of Jefferson County.
While the diversity of our parishes should be celebrated, the limited interaction we have with each other is unacceptable. If we Catholics continue to accept the status quo of a divided culture, ignoring the diversity of our archdiocese from rural parishes like Christ the Healer in Metcalfe County to the African-American parishes in Louisville’s West End, we’ll continue to fall out of right relationship with each other. And the same racial tensions and neglect that have occurred in our city, state and archdiocese will continue for years to come.
So much of our relationship with God depends on our relationship with others. The Body of Christ cannot be complete if its constituent members can’t sit at the table, eating together, drinking together and, most importantly, praying together.
I encourage all of my Catholic friends and family: Visit a culturally different parish, learn about the unique spiritual experiences Louisville and its surrounding counties have to offer, learn about your brothers and sisters. This Catholic community of ours has so many colors and experiences, no one superior to the other, but all united in Christ.
As St. Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” I would add to this, that there is neither Black nor white, rural nor urban, we are one archdiocese, based in one city, spread across one state.
If we want to realize Pope Francis’ appeal for unity, we have to get in right relationship with one another, especially those who look and worship differently than we do.
My experience of Black Catholicism, of its uniquely loving and soulful spiritual charisms has enriched my faith. Most importantly, this experience has educated me on the rich history and traditions of Black Catholicism.
Black and African Catholics have changed not just the country but the world: from Clarence Thomas to Sister Thea Bowman, and my own Confirmation namesake, St. Augustine of Hippo. This history is the truth of our diverse and global Catholic Church and it deserves to be celebrated.
The Body of Christ will only be most complete when we learn to celebrate the many different mysteries and history of our faith together, as one, holy Catholic Church.
Julian Colvin is a 2019 graduate of St. Xavier High School and a parishioner of St. Rita Church. He is studying engineering at North Carolina State University.