Catholic schools have ‘mighty role’ for Black Catholic leaders, Louisville archbishop says

Armonté Snodgrass Armonté Snodgrass, freshman at Louisville's Saint Xavier High School, who received the 2021 Rodriq McCravy Scholarship award at the 34th annual African American Catholic Leadership Awards banquet | Saint Xavier High School

The Louisville archdiocese has made steady progress in enrolling more African-Americans in Catholic schools, and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville has praised these schools’ service in forming Black Catholic leaders.

“What is clear is that Catholic education will continue to have a mighty role in calling forth and developing strong leaders in the African American Catholic community as we look to the future,” Kurtz said in his Aug. 24 column for the archdiocese newspaper The Record.

“While more outreach is necessary to attract and assist youth from the African American Catholic community to benefit from a Catholic education, some steady progress is occurring,” the archbishop said.

Local Catholic school enrollments in the 2020-2021 school year indicated there now were 689 African-American students, a 50% increase from six years ago. The archbishop said that Catholic schools still want to attract more Black students, but these numbers were nonetheless cause for encouragement.

The archbishop credited the Catholic Education Foundation for helping increase tuition assistance for students. Last year 3,350 students received assistance, compared to under 1,500 seven years ago. State legislation allowing for education opportunity grants “bodes well for the future,” Kurtz said.

His comments came in a reflection on the 34th annual African American Catholic Leadership Awards Banquet, which drew nearly 400 people to the Galt House in Louisville on Aug. 14.

Armonté Dominique Snodgrass, a freshman at St. Xavier High School, was one of five high school students to receive a Rodriq McCravy Scholarship Award. The honor is given to Black Catholic students who show leadership in their churches, schools and communities. The award’s namesake graduated from Louisville’s Trinity High School in 1986.

Snodgrass told the banquet that he was “was one of the lucky ones able to attend Catholic schools from a young age until now.”

“Catholic schools are not just preparing me for college, they’ve prepared and are preparing me for life,” said Snodgrass, a parishioner at St. Martin de Porres Church.

Seven other students received McCravy college scholarship awards, according to The Record.

Dr. Laura Dills, president of Presentation Academy, told the banquet that 35% of her school’s students are Black, Asian, Latina or multi-racial.

“We welcome students from all zip codes,” she said, adding that Presentation alumni consistently include “doctors, lawyers, playwrights, principals and teachers.”

The banquet’s highest honors for leadership, the Acacia Awards, went to several couples and individuals, including Deacon John Churchill and Genevieve Churchill, who recently celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary.

At the banquet, the archbishop had bought a portrait of Venerable Augustus Tolton. In his column, Kurtz praised Tolton’s life, saying “we all need great examples of leadership for young men and women called each year to follow Christ.”

In 1889 Tolton became the first widely recognized African American to be ordained a Catholic priest. He was born into slavery in Missouri in 1854. With his family, he escaped slavery during the Civil War by crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois. He went to Catholic school and was baptized in Quincy, Ill.

No American seminary would accept Tolton because of his race, so he studied for the priesthood in Rome. After he was ordained he returned to Quincy for three years before moving to Chicago, where he died at the age of 43.

“In the less than a dozen years in which he served as a priest, Father Tolton showed great leadership, including the development and construction of St. Monica Church in Chicago just four years before his death,” Kurtz said. Tolton “received gifts and talents from God and put them at the service of Christ and His people.”

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“What an outstanding example of an African American Catholic for us all to emulate,” said the archbishop.

For Kurtz, the recent banquet helped advance the message that “we are a family.”

“In the midst of all of the challenges that every family endures, we have had our share, including the challenges of COVID-19,” he said.

“As a family of faith, we seek to treat each other with great dignity, care and civility,” he said. “In the past, when I have spoken of issues related to the respect for all human life (of which our strong opposition to racism is a key part), I have spoken of the four virtues or the four “c’s” so necessary: courage, compassion, civility and calm.”

“I pray that we will never cease our efforts together to exhibit these qualities,” he said.

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