Historically Black Catholic Schools Essay

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With the emancipation of the slaves in 1865, Roman Catholic bishops expressed in the Second Plenary (1866) and Third Plenary councils (1884) that bishops and their parishes should make every effort to establish churches, schools, orphanages, and homes for immigrants, Blacks, and the poor. The few Catholic schools that served Black children were operated by Black Catholic men and women (Josephite Fathers, Fathers of the Holy Ghost, Fathers of the Divine Word, African Mission Fathers, Capuchin Franciscan, Franciscan Sisters, Mission Helpers, Servants of the Sacred Heart, Sister Servants of the Holy Ghost, Oblate Sisters, Sisters of the Holy Family).

Prior to 1954, a quiet but firm desegregation of Catholic parishes and schools marked the migration of Blacks from the South to inner cities and communities in the Northeast, Midwest, and West. After 1954 and throughout the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the Catholic Church required in its theological teachings and schools respect for the individual, thereby embracing the education of Black students and its community. White flight between 1960s and 1980s placed many parishes and schools, once supported by immigrant communities and students, in dire financial condition. Today, historically Catholic African American schools continue as viable and important alternatives to public schooling. But African American Catholic education is challenged by poor neighborhoods and rapid demographic shifts. The traditional mission of Catholic elementary and secondary schools and the thirty-two historically African American Catholic high schools is being tested as parochial schools (Lutheran, Episcopal, and Methodist), also educate large numbers of racial and ethnic students.


  1. Irvine, J. J., & Foster, M. (1996). Growing up African American in Catholic schools. New York: Teachers College Press.

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