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As year 42 approaches, a brief history of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies

XULA's Institute for Black Catholic Studies (IBCS) enters its 42nd year this summer, continuing a long tradition of self-initiated innovation and education.

The 42nd annual session of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies (IBCS) is fast approaching, and applications are now open.

To be held from June 25th to July 16th, the pioneering graduate program will be virtual for the second consecutive year, after decades as an in-person summer event on the campus of Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA)—of which it is an official department.

Even before the pandemic, Hurricane Barry delayed the planned celebration of the program's 40th anniversary in 2019 (which COVID later precluded entirely), but plans are for the program to return to campus in 2022.

The Institute houses a Master's of Theology (ThM) program, as well as a number of Certificate and Enhancement (C&E) tracks. This years’ slate of courses for the degree program cover theology, history, psychology, Christology, Negro Spirituals, and faith formation.

In addition, the 3-week slate of events includes fellowship, reflections, prayers, and liturgies (including an ancestor commemoration).

Founded in 1980 with the help of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus (NBCCC), IBCS today features faculty from around the world, most of whom are visiting professors.

The NBCCC had proposed an IBCS-esque project in 1969, the year after their founding, and a little over a decade later the idea came to fruition with the help of Msgr Edward Branch, Sr Dr. Jamie Phelps, OP, and Dr. Norman C. Francis.

Inaugural instructors included the late Fr Cyprian Davis, OSB, the legendary Black Catholic historian who recently had an academic prize named in his honor.

Two years later, the master’s program was born, after which Servant of God Sr Dr. Thea Bowman, FSPA, joined the faculty alongside the late Fr Bede Abram, OFM Conv., and Sr Dr. Delores Harrall, SNDdeN.

The first graduates of the program included a crop of notable names, including Sr Dr. Eva Marie Lumas, SSS, who went on to help write the authoritative text on Black Catholic liturgy. She now heads up the IBCS certificate and enrichment programs as associate director, a position she has held for over 20 years.

Also in the inaugural graduating class were Fr James Voelker, a controversial White priest known for his dissenting views, and Sr Dr. Addie Lorraine Walker, SSND, who now heads the Sankofa Institute for African American Pastoral Leadership (an ecumenical analogue to IBCS housed at the Oblate School of Theology).

The National Black Sisters’ Conference (NBSC), formed in the same year as the NBCCC, spearheaded in 1981 what is now the IBCS’ “Vocations Enrichment Program”, a program designed to assist discerning, vowed, and ordained Black Catholics, and also the vocations coordinators that work with them. It was first led by the late Sr Patricia Haley, SCN.

The IBCS youth ministry program was first proposed by Janice Jackson and Roxanne Byrd and enacted in 1992 by Sr Jane Nesmith, SBS and Valerie Shields; a young adult component would eventually be added.

A certificate practicum was later spearheaded by Shields as well.

A parish ministry program was proposed in 1992 by the late Fr Joseph Nearon and Sr Haley, Fr Donald Sterling handled the blueprints, and the late Leon Henderson put it into action in 1993.

Past directors of IBCS include Sr Dr. Phelps, Frs Nearon, Davis, and Abram, and the late Sr Dr. Eva Regina Martin, SSF. Noted scholar Fr Joseph A. Brown, SJ, has also served in the role.

Associate directors have included Sr Drs. Phelps and Walker, as well as Drs. Cecilia A. Moore, timone davis, and M. Shawn Copeland.

Dr. Kathleen Dorsey-Bellow (a relative of Fr John Henry Dorsey, SSJ) was promoted from associate director to director in 2019. Dr. C. Vanessa White, of the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, was hired as associate director of the ThM program last year, succeeding the late Dr. Kirk Gaddy.

The IBCS Policy Committee helps guide the institute as well.

Alongside those noted above, other notable IBCS alumni include Bishops Fernand J. Cheri III, OFM, and Brendan J. Cahill; Fr  Tony Ricard; and the late Fr Albert McKnight, C.S.Sp.

"Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and our cloud of witnesses, ancestors in the faith, have charted for us a multitude of ways to build God's realm here on earth, in our nation, in our communities and families.

The Institute for Black Catholic Studies is dedicated to the Church's mission of forming disciples for more effective ministry in the Black Catholic community, the Church and the community at large—the gifts of Blackness in service to God's people."
(Dr. Kathleen Dorsey-Bellow, IBCS director)

Applications close in late Spring, and scholarships are available.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder of Black Catholic Messenger, a priesthood applicant with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).