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Church commission investigates Baltimore Archdiocese role in slavery

May 12, 2023 Catholic News Agency 3
A view of Baltimore’s basilica nestled amid the city’s famed row houses. / Public domain

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 12, 2023 / 14:40 pm (CNA).

A 17-member commission created by the Archdiocese of Baltimore will investigate the roles that bishops, clergy, and other prominent Catholic figures within the archdiocese played in American slavery.

The commission, which is still in its early stages, includes academics, archivists, and other researchers who are poring through old documents for information on the subject. The commission first met in March and hopes to unveil some of its findings to the public within the fall of this year. 

“It’s striking that … Catholics, clergy and lay, are people of their times and accepted the institution of slavery as just part of life in America,” Bishop Bruce Lewandowski, an auxiliary bishop in the archdiocese, told CNA. “It’s very sad to say that.”

Lewandowski said the commission is engaging in “significant research” at the moment and said the goal is to eventually make the history known to the public. Although the means by which they will unveil the information are yet to be decided, he said it could be through articles, presentations, a web page online, or something in document form.

The archdiocese will also use the material for education within churches and schools.

“[We plan to] use it, for example, at the parish level, in Catholic schools, [in the] seminary, [in] education [and] formation so the history is known,” Lewandowski said.

In addition to education, Lewandowski added that the archdiocese intends to “prayerfully reflect” on the information, and the commission will provide recommendations on “atonement and reparations” for the role of the archdiocese in slavery. 

“This is part of an ongoing process … of coming to terms with racism in the present by looking deeply in the past,” Lewandowski said. 

“We also want to engage the community … [and] evaluate the efficacy of our approaches to systemic racism in the archdiocese,” Lewandowski continued.

The idea for a commission sprang from a working group that developed into a permanent structure in the archdiocese called the Racial Justice Coordinating Council. The group, which interviewed nearly 80 people about their experiences with racism within the archdiocese, provided recommendations on racial justice. At a later date, the council requested a serious study into the archdiocese’s participation in slavery. 

“That working group came up with a significant number of recommendations for the archbishop to implement,” Lewandowski said. “And those fell into different categories: education, clergy and seminary formation, the Catholic Center and its internal workings. So, a number of different recommendations.”

Lewandowski added that the participation in slavery is part of the history of the archdiocese, and “we need to continually address it.”

“This is just part of the next phase,” the bishop said.


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Why Baltimore? Here’s the reason U.S. bishops meet there every year

November 15, 2022 Catholic News Agency 3
A view of Baltimore’s Basilica nestled amid the city’s famed row houses / Public domain

St. Louis, Mo., Nov 15, 2022 / 06:00 am (CNA).

The bishops of the United States are meeting this week for their fall assembly in Baltimore. They’re gathering to elect a new president and discuss issues facing the Church such as the Ukraine war and the Synod on Synodality, among other things. 

In the early days of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in the early 2000s, the bishops held their fall meeting in Washington D.C. — a location that makes a lot of sense, given Washington’s status as the nation’s capital, as well as the city where the USCCB is headquartered. 

But since 2006, the bishops’ fall assembly has been held in nearby Baltimore. 

But what’s so special about Baltimore? For American Catholics, quite a lot.

For starters, Baltimore was the first diocese in the United States, having been established as such in 1789 and elevated to an archdiocese in 1808. Before its establishment, Catholics in the young United States were under the jurisdiction of the Apostolic Vicariate of the London District in England. 

Maryland, at the time, was the most Catholic of the 13 colonies, having been founded by Catholic colonists wishing to create a society where they could practice their faith. The territory of the Diocese of Baltimore originally included the entire fledgling country. 

John Carroll was chosen as Baltimore’s first bishop, and thus the de facto leader of Catholics in the U.S. A cousin of Charles Carroll — the sole Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence — Carroll’s tenure as bishop led to many Catholic firsts. In 1791 he founded the first seminary in the country, and he ordained the first priest in the U.S. in 1793. Carroll laid the cornerstone for the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore’s present co-cathedral, in 1806. In 1809, the future St. Elizabeth Ann Seton arrived in Baltimore and started the country’s Catholic school system. 

Though several other dioceses in important cities such as New York, Boston, and Bardstown (now Louisville) would be established after 1808, Baltimore would remain the only archdiocese in the country until 1846. The Archdiocese of Washington was not created until the 20th century. 

In 1858, the Vatican issued a decree granting the right of precedence in the United States to the Archbishop of Baltimore. This means that the Archbishop of Baltimore takes precedence over all other American archbishops — cardinals excluded — in councils, gatherings, and meetings of the hierarchy regardless of seniority, the archdiocese explains. 

In addition to being “first,” Baltimore has historically played an important role in hosting councils and meetings in the U.S. According to the archdiocese, the first Baltimore synod was held in 1791 when 22 priests met with Bishop Carroll to draw up guidelines for the practice of the faith by the clergy and laity, and later synods took on a national character since the diocese was the only one in the country. Most notably, plenary councils of all the country’s bishops were held in Baltimore in 1852, 1866, and 1884. One enduring effect of the last plenary council was setting in motion the process to create the Baltimore Catechism, which was the primary teaching document in U.S. Catholic schools for nearly a century. 

According to the archdiocese, Baltimore today “enjoys a position of importance in the American Church as a leading center of ecumenical, social and civic progress, along with being one of the prime locations for priestly formation in the United States.”

Given all this history in Baltimore, it’s not too surprising that the bishops’ annual fall assembly was moved to Baltimore in 2006. 


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‘Everybody needs a little Jesus’: How a Catholic repair man brings his faith into his work

March 18, 2021 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Mar 18, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Darren Stern, a Catholic HVAC repairman near Baltimore, Maryland, is not shy about sharing his faith with customers.

In an interview with EWTN News In Depth that aired on March 10, Stern talked about how he provides customers with a small “wind-up Jesus” figure to keep near their air conditioner.

“Well, a lot of times I’m like, if you want this air conditioner to keep running keep this little Jesus by it because I think it’s the only thing that’s going to make it work,” Stern said. When customers ask him if their unit’s problem is “that bad,” he says he replies “it’s that bad!”

“Everybody needs a little Jesus in their life,” Stern said.

Stern says his faith carried him through his sufferings from chronic anxiety, which he says he struggled with for nearly 20 years.

“I was like a perfectionist, and I didn’t want to let people down,” Stern told EWTN News In Depth. His worry and stress affected him so much that he couldn’t eat.

“I would just keep going because it’s in my mind. It was all you could do, just keep going, just keep going, keep running,” he said of dealing with his anxiety.

Stern turned to God when all else failed. “It got so bad that I was ready to give up and I said, ‘Jesus you got to help me. I got to get through this, and I didn’t know how to get through it. I didn’t know what was going to happen,’” Stern recalled.

“When you have nothing, then Jesus is all you have, and I was down at the end,” he said.

After years of prayer, Stern said he learned to abandon himself to God. “Just talk to Him and just listen,” he said of his prayer to Jesus.

“I surrendered. I said to myself, ‘let Jesus take all the bad stuff,’” he said.

“I started embracing all that energy that just had stored up inside me, stopped worrying so much about what other people thought and about all the problems,” he said. “Just go out and do the best you can, and that’s what I kept focusing on.”

And Stern’s faith gave him hope as well. “You know I still wake up with anxiety, everybody does. You’re gonna have that, but now it’s different.”  

“You know Jesus is right there, what can go wrong?”