August 7, 2015

Seminarian, priests honored at joint black Catholic conference

By Natalie Hoefer

At a recent annual joint conference for black Catholic priests, sisters, deacons and seminarians, two priests from the archdiocese—Father Kenneth Taylor and the recently deceased Benedictine Father Cyprian Davis—and transitional deacon Douglas Hunter, an archdiocesan seminarian, received special honors.

The recognition was given at the joint conference on July 27-30 in Charleston, S.C., of four black Catholic organizations: the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus (NBCCC), the National Black Sisters’ Conference, the National Association of Black Catholic Deacons and the National Black Catholic Seminarians Association (NBCSA).

The NBCSA awarded outgoing president Deacon Hunter with the Father Clarence Williams Award—the organization’s highest award. The award is named after the founder of the association, and is given to a seminarian who distinguished himself in working on behalf of the nation’s black seminarians.

“One of the things [Deacon Hunter] did was to travel to different regions of the country to try to get [black seminarians] to meet regionally, because not all of them can make it to the national meeting,” said Father Taylor, pastor of Holy Angels and St. Rita parishes, both in Indianapolis, and current president of the NBCCC.

“He also launched a Facebook page [for the association]. That helped with being in communication with guys across the country about events going on and issues pertinent to their status as seminarians.”

Deacon Hunter will be ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in June of 2016.

“I feel very honored to have been chosen by my peers to receive the award,” said Deacon Hunter. “I was surprised they selected me out of all the members [of the organization].”

While each of the groups involved in the joint conference awarded their own honors, together they posthumously recognized Father Cyprian, a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, with the Father Al McKnight Award. Father McKnight dedicated his priesthood to working for social justice for the African-American community.

Father Cyprian, who died in May at the age of 84, was given the award in recognition for the work he did in bringing the history of black Catholics to the forefront of the Catholic Church.

He is the author of six books, including The History of Black Catholics in the United States, and a book considered to be 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.

“I know that there’s a deep respect for him in all four of the [black Catholic] organizations,” said Father Taylor. “There’s a deep respect for him and the efforts he has given throughout the years and the work he’s done. There was just this desire to acknowledge what he has done in some way.

“So even though it was posthumous, it was a sign of how much we all appreciate him and the work he’s done.”

Additionally, the joint conference announced that it would create an award in Father Cyprian’s honor to be given every three years to a scholar whose work carries on his spirit.

During the conference, the NBCCC elected Father Taylor to a second consecutive term as president. The leadership role is a two-year commitment.

During his time as president of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, Father Taylor strived to increase the organization’s visibility by attending funerals of deceased members.

“The ones I attended, whether a religious superior of an order or the bishop of a diocese, I know it was expressed to me how much they appreciated the fact that the caucus was being represented in an official way at the funeral,” he said. “We’re getting to the point now where many of the original or early members are passing on. We don’t want to lose their legacy, or have people feel as though we’ve forgotten them.”

One task Father Taylor is already looking forward to doing as president in his upcoming term is holding the next joint conference in San Diego. It will be the first such gathering held on the West Coast.

“I was a strong proponent of that because, first of all, we have black clergy that have never been able to be a part of [the joint conference] because they’ve not been able to travel so far for the meeting,” he said.

“Second, we are a national organization, so we need to touch as much of the nation as we can.”

In addition to announcing the award and leadership winners, other highlights of the conference included the writing of an official statement regarding the death penalty (see related story below), and a visit to the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were nine black citizens were killed on June 19.

“We were able to hear the story of what happened, and were able to offer prayer in the church,” Father Taylor said. “That was something that was very touching as part of our meeting.” †


Related story: Black Catholic religious organizations release statement on death penalty

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