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Fr Bryan Massingale, Dr. M. Shawn Copeland among Black nominees for Pax Christi's annual peacemaker award

Pax Christi USA's Teacher of Peace Award could go to a Black Catholic for the first time in 16 years.

The nominees for this year’s Teacher of Peace Award have been announced, and the list includes a number of Black Catholics—ranging from household names to more localized figures.

The honor, previously called the Pope Paul VI Teacher of Peace Award and given each year by Pax Christi USA, aims to honor an individual exemplifying the Catholic peacemaking tradition, specifically that modeled by figures such as Servant of God Thea Bowman and Msgr Ray East, according to the organization’s website.

African-Americans on this year’s list of possible recipients include Dr. Craig Ford, Jr., an LGBT activist and theology professor at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin. Ford also teaches in the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana, where he is also a faculty member.

Two of the more prominent names on the list are both longtime theologians in the Black Catholic tradition, Fr Bryan Massingale of Fordham University and the retired Dr. M. Shawn Copeland (currently teaching at Emory University).

Massingale’s 2010 text, “Racial Justice and the Catholic Church” has become something of a must-read in many Catholic circles, and he himself has become one of the most prominent LGBT Catholic voices in the U.S. since coming out in 2019.

Copeland, a former religious sister and now a longtime academic, has authored a number of books on Black Catholic theology and womanism. Like Ford and Massingale, she is also a noted justice advocate who has caused a stir in the past for her adventurous takes on moral theology.

The second edition of her “Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race and Being” text is due out later this year.

A less well-known figure on the list, Alvin L. Brooks, is a former civil rights leader, pioneering police officer, and public servant in the Kansas City area, and a member there of St Monica Catholic Church. He authored a book earlier this year on his life and legacy, entitled “Binding Us Together: A Civil Rights Activist Reflects on a Lifetime of Community and Public Service”.

Carolyn Townes, OFS, a New York-based poet, mentor, and a national leader in the Secular Franciscan chapter of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation organization, also made the preliminary cut.

Only once has the Teacher of Peace Award gone to an African-American, with Msgr East taking home the honor in 2005.

According to the nominees page, the Pax Christi USA National Council—five of whose 11 members are Black—will consult with the Teacher of Peace Committee before announcing a winner later this month.

The recipient will receive the award at this year’s Pax Christi USA National Conference, a virtual event scheduled for July 30th-31st—where National Catholic Reporter’s opinion editor Olga Segura will give the opening keynote.

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

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