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Institute for Black Catholic Studies receives national Catholic history award

Xavier University of Louisiana's summer institute dedicated to the study of Black Catholicism has received a prestigious award from the American Catholic Historical Association.

(Xavier University of Louisiana)

The Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana has been awarded the American Catholic Historical Association’s 2023 Distinguished Service Award for its more than four decades of academic exploration and education.

The news was announced on November 17, roughly ten months after the ACHA held its 2022 annual meeting in New Orleans and toured XULA as part of its proceedings. It is the second time the school has been connected to the award, with former president Dr. Norman C. Francis receiving the honor in 2012.

“The IBCS has provided truly extraordinary historical, theological and pastoral training in Black Catholic Studies to the Black Catholic Community, the broader Church, the scholarly community and the wider public,” the ACHA said in a statement.

“We celebrate the IBCS’s remarkable work of advancing scholarship and ministry through their rich archival holdings, their summer program and their incredible research projects and programming.”

Founded in 1980, the annual summer institute hosts students and faculty from around the world for three weeks of fellowship, learning, and liturgy, complete with a Master of Theology program as well as continuing education and enrichment courses.

The degree program’s focus on Black studies in a Catholic context makes it the only one of its kind in the Western Hemisphere—much like XULA itself, which was founded in 1925 by St. Katharine Drexel and her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for the education of Black Catholics. It is today the nation’s only Catholic HBCU.

“Because history is a core element of the people’s culture, Black Catholic history is foundational to the work of the Institute,” said IBCS director Dr. Kathleen Dorsey Bellow in an announcement from the school on receiving the new honor.

“The prestigious ACHA award affirms the commitment of IBCS professors and students to archival research that evangelizes as it verifies the steadfast role of the Black community found missing in most accounts of Catholic history.”

The IBCS is the eleventh annual recipient of the Distinguished Service nod from the ACHA, with the award having been founded in 2010 to honor exemplary organizations and individuals connected to Catholic historical research in the United States.

A number of notable Black Catholic scholars have passed through the halls of the institute in its 43 years of service, including the noted scholar Sr Jamie Phelps, OP, whose congregation recently announced a $500,000 endowment for the IBCS in her name. Servant of God Thea Bowman, whose sainthood cause was opened in 2018, was also a faculty member in the early years of the program.

Other well-known historians who have helped lead the institute include Drs. Cecilia A. Moore; M. Shawn Copeland; and Sr Eva Marie Lumas, SSS—all of whom once served as IBCS associate director—and the late Fr Cyprian Davis, OSB, who was a founding faculty member.

The Distinguished Service Award will be presented in Philadelphia on January 6, 2023, during the Presidential Luncheon at the ACHA’s annual meeting. Registration for the three-day gathering is open now, and attending the luncheon involves a $30 fee. Membership in the ACHA is open to anyone “involved or interested in the study and research of the history of Catholicism.”

Correction 1/18/23: A previous version of this story referred to Sr Jamie Phelps, OP, as a co-founder of IBCS. This error has been corrected.

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).

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