History Lessons


We need to do more during Black History Month.

I am grateful for the stories published to honor and reflect on the purpose of this important recognition month, most often done by highlighting remarkable Black leaders from past and present, but it is a Catholic News Service story that had the most effect on me.

It was commentary from Shannen Dee Wiliams, an Albert Lepage assistant professor of history at Villanova University. The piece, “Why every Catholic should make a pilgrimage to Elmina Castle in Ghana”—shares the story of Elmina Castle in present-day Ghana. Elmina was the site of the first Roman Catholic chapel in sub-Saharan Africa.

I had no idea that a church (my church!) erected a chapel on land that was used to facilitate the slave trade, selling humans into a life of brutality and enslavement. The article was uncomfortable to read, but truth sometimes brings discomfort. I was shocked to learn about Elmina Castle’s history, but even more shocked that after years of practicing my faith and attending Catholic schools, I did not learn of this history until now.

We need to devote more effort, resources and energy sharing the Catholic Church’s history with slavery and why it is our obligation to learn this history. If we do not know this history, we cannot do better. Being uninformed leaves us unequipped to help our Black brothers and sisters who suffer from our country’s ugly period of slavery by still experiencing societal inequities and institutional racism.

If this is not being done on the parish level, then it should be. We can educate in the pulpits, in our schools, in our parish ministries, and in our publications.

Marlene Boyd
Staten Island