The First Black Catholic Congress, 1889

WASHINGTON, Jan. 1— A national convention of  colored Catholics, composed of delegates from nearly all of the colored Catholic churches and societies throughout the country, began its sessions this morning in the St. Augustine Colored Catholic Church in this city. Every seat in the church was occupied when at 10:30 o’clock Father Tolton of Quincy, Ill., the only colored Catholic priest in the United States, began the celebration of solemn high mass. Immediately in front of and beneath the pulpit sat Cardinal Gibbons, who delivered the sermon. He was clad in the scarlet robe of his office. At the conclusion of the sermon the Cardinal welcomed the delegates in his own name, in the name of the clergy, and of the congregation, which he eulogized. This gathering, he said, would mark an era in the history of the colored people in the United States, for never before had colored Catholics of the country met in convention. He trusted that the deliberations of the convention would be marked by moderation and discretion. The actions of the convention would be watched by the country, not with the kindly eyes of friendship, but with the sharp ones of criticism. He suggested that the convention discuss the education of the children—the religious education necessary to the life of the Republic. Temperance was also a fruitful theme which should be looked into, for the destructive powers of strong drink were evident. The universal level of the Catholic Church—its equality—was eloquently dilated on, and attention was directed to the fact that a colored priest had celebrated the mass in company with two white clergymen.
The convention proper was called to order at 1:15 o’clock. Temporary officers were elected as follows: President—William H. Smith; Vice-Presidents— J.S. Butler and J.H. Fletcher; Secretaries—Charles H. Butler, Dr. William S. Lofton, and Thomas W. Short; Sergeants-at-arms—Charles H. Johnson, Robert Coats, and Ananias Herbert.
Mr. Smith, on taking the chair, welcomed the delegates and was enthusiastically applauded. Messrs. S.F. Hardy, Minnesota; A.E. Robinson, Georgia; Joseph Wilkinson, Missouri; Willis J. Smith, District of Columbia; Nicholas Gaillard, Minnesota, and E.L. Ruffin, Massachusetts, were appointed a Committee on Credentials. A Committee on Permanent Organization was also appointed.
At this moment Cardinal Gibbons entered the convention hall, and, in response to a greeting by the audience, said that it was the happiest New Years’ Day he had ever spent—it was a red-letter day. He counseled moderation and harmony in the proceedings of the convention. “In essential things, unity,” said the Cardinal, “in non-essential things, liberty; in all things, charity.” Every one who so desired then had an opportunity to greet the Cardinal and to kiss his ring. Only a few of those in the room neglected the opportunity.
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