June 3, 2016

‘Rebel with a cause’ is new coordinator of Black Catholic Ministry

By John Shaughnessy

Pearlette SpringerPearlette Springer remembers the first time she fully embraced the Catholic faith—and the woman who gave her that gift.

It happened when she was in the fourth grade at St. Monica School in Gary, Ind., and the ever-vibrant Blessed Sacrament Sister Beatrice Jeffries arrived at the predominantly black Catholic parish and school in the Gary Diocese.

“She was very welcoming, supportive and she did everything with a smile,” says Springer, smiling at the memory.

“When Sister came, she could play the guitar, and she introduced liturgical dancing. In my youth, girls were not altar servers. So when she introduced liturgical dancing, it gave us girls a chance to be close to the altar. Without saying it, she made a statement that black women and women in general were welcome in the Church.”

Nearly 50 years later, Springer wants to offer that same combination of welcome, joy and connection to the Church in her role as the new coordinator of Black Catholic Ministry in the archdiocese, a ministry of the archdiocesan Office of Intercultural Ministry.

“As I grew up in my faith, I realized that the Church belongs to me also. I am an integral part of this Church,” says Springer, who wants others to share in that experience. “The main goal of the Black Catholic Ministry is evangelization and formation. I would like to see young adults formed deeper in the faith to empower them to evangelize.

“That doesn’t mean knocking on doors, but it does mean ‘wearing your faith’ so people can see your faith. I think of the song, ‘They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love.’ We can evangelize in that way individually. We can do it as a family. We can do it parish-wide.”

Part of Springer’s motivation to share her faith and deepen the faith of others is her separation from the Church for 14 years.

“One of the rules of my parents was, ‘As long as you live at home, you will go to church,’ ” says Springer whose father was a convert to Catholicism while her mother’s side of the family has been Catholic for at least six generations. “At 19, I ran as far away from the Church as I could.

“At 33—even before 33—I was looking to find what was missing in my life. I looked at other Protestant churches, but never felt at home.”

The turning point came when she attended a Cursillo weekend retreat that seeks to help Catholics draw closer to Christ.

“I realized the Catholic Church was where I belonged,” says Springer, now 57. “It was the reconciliation part that was stressed—that God not only loves you but accepts you, no matter what. His arms are always open for you to return.”

With her own faith transformed, Springer wanted to transform other people’s faith, so she became the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) coordinator at the Cathedral of the Holy Angels Parish in Gary.

“I used to be a rebel without a cause,” she says with a laugh. “Now I’m a rebel with a cause.”

Her eyes light up as she recalls a teenaged girl who experienced her own transformation through RCIA: “Her parents wanted her to be baptized Catholic, but she came reluctantly. [By the time she entered the Church], she hugged Father. It was at that point that she embraced the faith. That was a very powerful moment for me.”

That embrace of the faith reflects the approach of black Catholics, Springer says.

“The culture of blacks is more community than individualistic,” she says. “Their parish, their religion is the center of their lives. They go to church as a community and share the love of God and their faith. Everything grows out of that faith community. Pastors need to be prepared so they can respond to this culture.”

At the same time, she stresses that “the needs of black Catholics are the needs of people in general.”

“I like the way the Archdiocese of Indianapolis has it set up [regarding intercultural ministry.] It gives the opportunity for intercultural ministries to work together and build relationships among ourselves. And then it feeds into the greater Church. It lets us bring about the awareness that we have more in common than we have differences.”

Springer served 12 years as the coordinator of Black Catholic Ministry in the Gary Diocese. She also has a master’s degree in theology from the University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind. That experience and education are just part of the reason she was chosen to coordinate Black Catholic Ministry, according to an archdiocesan official.

“Her sense of humor and pleasantness serve her well in ministry,” says Deacon Michael Braun, director of pastoral ministries for the archdiocese. “When you combine her personal gifts with the experience and knowledge she brings, I’m confident she’ll be able to connect with people in her ministry.

“In our efforts to serve parishes better, we are hopeful that Pearlette can help us grow the ministry to the African and African-American Catholic community that is so vital to the Church in central and southern Indiana.”

Springer believes she has the essential ally to help her.

“God is the center of my life,” she says. “I pray all the time. I remember one of the talks that a priest gave at a Cursillo. He said, ‘Any decision you make, you should ask God first.’ That’s what I do.” †

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