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Symposium on Fr Clarence Rivers and 'What We Have Seen and Heard' set for Nov. 22-24 in Dayton

The 3-day event will feature keynotes, breakouts, and a Rivers Gospel Mass with Cdl Wilton Gregory of Washington, one of the letter's authors.

(Meet Father Rivers/X)

A symposium on the late Fr Clarence Rivers and “What We Have Seen and Heard,” the U.S. Black Catholic bishops’ 1984 letter on evangelization, is accepting proposals ahead of a Dayton, Ohio, gathering in November during Black Catholic History Month.

The event, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and the University of Dayton, will feature two days of on-campus keynote lectures and workshops. On Sunday, Nov. 24, Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington—the world's first African-American cardinal—will celebrate a Gospel Mass with Rivers’ music at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Peter in Chains.

Gregory will also be joined as a keynote speaker by Dr. Kim Harris of Loyola Marymount University; Bishop Emeritus Edward Braxton of Belleville; and Fr Joseph A. Brown, SJ of Southern Illinois University.

“Fr. Rivers’ work in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and beyond tore down walls of racial exclusion and placed the American Church on a path toward acceptance of all its members—a path we continue to walk, often with faltering steps,” reads an official call for papers.

“To honor Rivers’ legacy, [we] heed the call of ‘What We Have Seen and Heard’ encouraging our pilgrimage toward greater unity, and in the Akan spirit of ‘sankofa’ (learning from the past as we move into the future).”

Presenters will synthesize the work of Rivers, known as the “father of Black Catholic liturgy,” and “What We Have Seen and Heard,” which marks its 40th anniversary this September. 

Rivers, who died 20 years ago on November 21, was ordained in 1956 as the first Black Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and pioneered in bringing Black musical stylings to the Catholic Mass following the Second Vatican Council. This included singing a gospel-influenced tune, “God Is Love,” at the nation’s first official English Mass in 1964. There, he also shared additional music from his 1963 “An American Mass Program,” which combined African-American spirituals with the Catholic liturgy.

The Black bishops’ letter, released two decades later, is notable for its bold proclamation of an Afrocentric Christian narrative in the United States and beyond. An outworking of the Black Catholic Movement, it was written by the first 10 openly Black Catholic bishops in the U.S.—including Cardinal Gregory, who is one of three signatories still living.

The symposium is being led by a steering committee that includes Emily Strand and Eric Styles, who have hosted the podcast series “Meet Father Rivers” since 2021. Styles says one goal of this fall’s event is to have a wide range of voices present among the presenters, with funds provided for travel and lodging.

“We want a diverse cross section of presenters,” said Styles, who with Strand is joined on the committee by Deacon Royce Winters of Cincinnati, Dr. Cecilia Moore of the University of Dayton, Fr Thomas DiFolco, and the well-known Black Catholic liturgist Rawn Harbor.

Prospective presenters are asked to prepare a 300 to 500-word proposal and a short bio to send to Strand at or Moore at The deadline for submissions is Monday, July 1, and applicants will be notified of a decision by the end of the month.

More information on attending the symposium, which will take place at Daniel J. Curran Place at the University of Dayton, is forthcoming.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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