A new HBCU Catholic student initiative was launched by a coalition of advisors on Saturday, July 22, during the 2023 National Black Catholic Congress, where young adults and college students met and discussed their experiences as young Black Catholics in the Church. Their unique gathering took place during a special session at St. Joseph Seminary in Washington, D.C.
According to recent estimates, only 11 out of America’s 107 historically Black colleges and universities currently have a Catholic campus ministry. This often leaves Catholic students on HBCU campuses with little community or support when it comes to their faith lives. As a result, many stop attending Mass while they are away from home for school. The purpose of the new initiative is to fill in that gap.
From my perspective as a Catholic HBCU student, it is important that students at HBCU campuses have opportunities to express and grow in their Catholic faith. College is a demanding and defining time in people’s lives. As a Church, we cannot leave our young members to navigate this turbulent time alone.
“Having a ministry gives me a community that allows me to remain grounded in the faith that I grew up in. Beyond weekly Mass, having fellowship and the opportunity to connect with each other has been a meaningful experience for me,” says Fiona Williams, a junior chemistry major at Howard University
Though HU Bison Catholic, the Archdiocese of Washington’s campus ministry at Howard, celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2022, it is in a rebuilding stage. One of their successes during the 2022-23 academic year came when the archdiocese purchased property for a dedicated Newman Center off-campus. Having a space to gather and host events for Howard students will be a great opportunity for evangelization.
Students from Xavier University of Louisiana, the only Catholic and historically Black university, were also present at the NBCC gathering in Washington.ﾠ
“I enjoy going to Mass, and if I am ever going through anything, it is comforting to know that I can always speak to someone sharing my religious background,” explains Robbie Bailey, a sophomore pre-med student studying chemistry. His comments demonstrate the necessity of a support system for Catholic students at HBCU campuses.
The goals for the new HBCU initiative are 1.) communicating with Catholic campus ministers to hear and respond to their needs and challenges, 2.) identifying HBCUs that have or could establish a Catholic campus ministry, 3.) focusing on Catholic campus ministry programs that would benefit from the support of the local and national Church, and 4.) fostering vocations/vocational discernment of Black Catholics at HBCUs.
The initiative’s new website will ultimately become a resource hub to share information about Catholic happenings at HBCU campuses, according to Ricardo Givens, one of the initiative leaders.
This initiative is extremely important as we think about the current demographics of the Black Catholic Church, and the Church in general. We need to support young people, let them know that they are not forgotten, and show them that they have a place in the Church. My personal hope and prayer is that this initiative will be the beginning of a movement of students on HBCU campuses embracing, growing in, and owning their identities as Black Catholics.
List of HBCUs with active Catholic campus ministries (as of July 2023):
- Bennett College (Greensboro, N.C.)
- Clark Atlanta University (Atlanta, Ga.)
- Hampton University (Hampton, Va.)
- Howard University (Washington, D.C.)
- Morehouse College (Atlanta, Ga.)
- Norfolk State University (Norfolk, Va.)
- North Carolina A&T University (Greensboro, N.C.)
- South Carolina State University (Orangeburg, S.C.)
- Spelman College (Atlanta, Ga.)
- Texas Southern University (Houston, Texas)
- Xavier University of Louisiana (New Orleans, La.)
Those who would like to share information about the new initiative at your HBCU campus, assist in establishing a Catholic campus ministry at an HBCU campus, or be involved in any other way, can contact Givens at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ali Mumbach is a Houston, Texas, native in graduate school at Howard University, studying to get her master’s degree in sociology, as well as using summers to earn her master’s in theology from the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana. She is the graduate assistant for the HU Bison Catholic campus ministry.