Patrick Augustine Feehan (1829-1902) was the first Archbishop of Chicago. Born in Ireland, he was ordained in St. Louis in 1852. In 1865, he was named Bishop of Nashville, where he served for fifteen years before coming to Chicago. In October 1890, Chicago celebrated his twenty-fifth anniversary as a Bishop. Representatives from various groups in the Archdiocese gave speeches in his honor. Mr. Lincoln Charles Valle gave the following address on behalf of the African-American Catholics in the Archdiocese.
Details about Valle’s life are scare, but it’s clear that he was a leader in the Midwest’s Black Catholic community from the 1880’s through the 1920’s. He was working as a journalist in Chicago when he first attracted notice. He was also an active parishioner of St. Monica’s, Chicago’s first Black parish. By the turn of the century, he moved to Milwaukee, where he and his wife played a leading role in founding St. Benedict the Moor Church for the city’s African-Americans. He later moved back to Chicago, where he continued to write until his death. He made an effort to found a Black Catholic newspaper, The Catholic Truth, but unfortunately no copies seem to have survived.
Most Reverend Archbishop, Rev. Fathers, Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I should not describe to you my feelings if I did not at once say that I feel specially honored by the invitation which brings me before you on this occasion, and, as I enter upon the duty which the acceptance of this invitation imposes, I realize my inability to meet your expectation by treating, with fullness of learning and power, the subject upon which I am to speak.
Most Rev. Father, you have heard from different nationalities during the course of this, your Silver Jubilee, and while we, the Negro Catholics of Chicago, rejoice in your long ministerial life, we think it most fitting to present ourselves before you to-night, with a few points for your consideration. We wish to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the just and cordial treatment you have always accorded to us under your administration.
Your love for us has been genuine, pure and holy. We will ever cherish your memory in our minds and hearts. We feel, also, very grateful to you for bringing into our midst the Rev. Augustus Tolton,* our worthy brother, in race and creed, as through him the salvation of our people, in a great measure, greatly depends. We, the Negroes of the United States, owe to Father Tolton a debt of gratitude for the space that he has covered.
We have in this great city at least 27,000 Negroes; out of that number but a few are Catholics. A larger number are clear outside of any church; they have souls, and could be brought into the Catholic Church if the proper steps were taken; all we ask is, that all our Catholic friends excite that one Catholic zeal and help us in reaching our own dear neglected people.