Beginning Saturday, July 23rd, the Black Catholic Joint Conference is taking place over the next six days on the campus of the University of Notre Dame, the first in-person gathering of the group since 2019.
The event is expected to bring 150+ African and African-American clergy, sisters, seminarians, deacons, deacons’ wives, and special guests to South Bend for discussion, planning, and fellowship, centered around the national associations representing each of the first four groups.
These include the National Black Sisters’ Conference (NBSC); the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus (NBCCC); the National Association of Black Catholic Deacons (NABCD); and the National Black Catholic Seminarians Association (NBCSA).
The theme for this year’s conference is “Walk Together, Children” and concerns trauma and healing, according to a recent interview from Today’s Catholic with Deacon Mel Tardy of South Bend, president of the NBCCC and a professor at Notre Dame.
“We Black Catholics are far too often an afterthought in the mind of the Church,” he said.
“To do our thinking at Notre Dame might bring more attention to the particular needs, concerns and gifts of Black folk both in and out of the Church. Some issues include evangelization, systemic racism, sainthood and vocations.”
The conference will begin with the NBSC’s board meeting on Sunday afternoon, the first in a series of official business meetings to be held throughout the week, including for the election of new officers.
It will also feature a number of public events, including an opening reception at the Morris Inn on Sunday, July 24th at 7pm ET with Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend and hosted by Srs Barbara Croom, ASC and Gayle Lwanga Crumbley, RSG.
The opening Mass on Monday, also at 7pm, will be celebrated at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart by Archbishop Shelton Fabre of Louisville, the nation’s newest Black metropolitan, and a young adult panel of priests and sisters will take place at the same time on Tuesday.
The community is also invited to the conference’s closing banquet and Harambee celebration on Wednesday night at 7pm, where a number of honors will be presented—including among them the conference’s Father Al McKnight Award and the NBCSA’s Father Clarence Williams Award.
Founded in 1990, during the height of the Black Catholic Movement, the Joint Conference is the only event of its kind and followed the establishment of its constituent organizations beginning in the late 1960s. Over the next three decades, African-American Catholic priests and sisters began to more openly integrate Black culture into their public witness, liturgical norms, and private faith practice.
Now in its 32nd year, the conference is still going strong and serving its original purpose of Black uplift.
“As a fraternal organization dedicated to the spiritual, theological, educational and ministerial growth of Black Catholic clergy, religious and seminarians, we serve the people of God,” Tardy said, “particularly the members of the Black community—in order to more effectively meet their spiritual and social needs.”
Those interested in more information on the Joint Conference, including attending this year’s public events, can contact Tardy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).