History in the Archdiocese of Detroit
In the early 1900s, a man named Norman Dukette visited St. Mary’s Parish in Greektown, Detroit. There, he volunteered to help organize a black Catholic mission inside the church. Dukette also joined the seminary and in 1926 became the first African-American to be ordained a priest in Detroit.
Similar chapels and missions for black Catholics were set up throughout Detroit beginning in the 1870s.
Dukette’s mission at St. Mary's was later moved to the Sacred Heart Church near Eastern Market where it became known as St. Peter Claver Parish, the first full parish in Detroit dedicated to black Catholics.
From the Bible
In the New Testament, Acts of the Apostles [8:26-40], Philip the Evangelist is called by God to leave Jerusalem and travel south. On the road he meets an Ethiopian whom he converts to Christianity. This is believed to be the story of the earliest known African Catholic and significant to today’s black Catholics because the converted man went on to create the Ethiopian Church. Today the Church has approximately 40 million members.
Another early connection between the Catholic Church and Africa was made during the era of the Roman Empire, which included many modern-day nations surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, including Africa. Between 189 and 496 AD, three popes from the northern African region of Rome rose to the papacy—popes Victor I, Gelasius I and Melchiades—all three of whom were later canonized.
Notable Figures in the Catholic Church
Other notable figures
Throughout the first two centuries of Christianity many black Catholics were also canonized for their contributions to the Church.
St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) was a bishop of modern-day Algeria in northern Africa. He was known as a defender of Christianity who worked throughout his life to convert others to his faith. He was also a writer who lived a mostly monastic life.
St. Martin de Porres (1579-1639) is perhaps the best-known black Catholic from the Western Hemisphere. His father was a Spanish nobleman, his mother a black former slave. De Porres worked on behalf of the poor throughout his life. He was canonized in 1962 during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
St. Peter Claver (1580-1654) was a Spaniard who lived in the port city of Cartegeña, Columbia, which was a center of African slave importation to the Americas during the 1600s. Claver was moved by the inhumane treatment of slaves and spent his life serving them. He is remembered for baptizing thousands of people and attempting to protect the helpless.