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'It's not monolithic'

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. | Passionist Fr. Bob Crossmyer 's seen a lot in his more than 30 years of ministry in the African American community.

After a career as a teacher in the Detroit public school system, Fr. Bob was ordained in the mid-1980s and assigned to St. Clotilde Parish in Chicago's Chatham neighborhood. There, he found some distinct differences in his flock.

At his early Mass, the pews were filled with African Americans of Creole origin, coming from Louisiana. With a long Catholic history and influence from the French and Spanish, Fr. Bob said their worship was very subdued. At the later Mass, the congregation consisted largely of converts, who brought with them a very lively style of worship. It taught the young priest a valuable lesson he's carried with it through the decades.

"It's not monolithic, he said. "There's no black Catholic 'reality,' but there's a history."

Having just wrapped up 20 years as pastor of Birmingham's Holy Family Catholic Church, Fr. Bob said his parish played a central role in the lives of generations of the city's black population: it allowed their children to be born in a hospital.

After segregation ended, the population of the neighborhood decreased and the hospital closed. The parish's elementary school followed a few decades later, and the high school nearly followed, until they adopted a Cristo Rey model.

With a focus on sending low income students to college, the school prepares students for life outside the Ensley neighborhood. That means partnering with businesses around the city to provide the students with jobs, which they work one day a week, giving the paycheck to the school to subsidize the students' educations.

After touring the school, Passionist Fr. Alex Steinmiller, the school's president loaded us in the school's bus and gave us a tour of the economically depressed neighborhood, stopping at a Catholic Worker House. It was the first time many saw urban desolation up close and personal.

Lord, let us walk each day with thee. Amen.

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