My two brothers and I awoke in an unfamiliar place. This new house was different. It squeaked with unfamiliar noises—sounds that weren’t eerie but new. The different, yet comfortable, smell of the new house hung in the air, waiting to embrace my family, the new owners. The smell of the previous owners would linger until we made this place our own.
We moved in two days earlier on a Friday in 1957. Boxes were strewn all over the large attic, which my brothers and I claimed as our new bedroom. It had windows looking down into the backyard, which made the room airy and bright.
We no longer lived in the one-bedroom, third-floor apartment on the South Side of Chicago with our parents and sister. We no longer made the small dining room our bedroom, as we had since birth. Now our family lived in a huge house, with a backyard, a porch, and a front yard. We could make noise without worrying about someone tapping on their ceiling in the apartment below us, scolding us for being too rambunctious.
We fell in love with our home in a neighborhood that didn’t want us there.
Prayers of Healing
We barely slept before the morning sun filtered through the windows over our beds. Unaccustomed to sleeping alone, on that first night we pushed our single beds together into one large bed. Sleeping apart from one another was unknowable.
The three of us got up knowing Mom was going to make us go to church. After readying ourselves, and a quick bowl of cereal, we walked to St. Clotilde Catholic Church, which was two blocks from our home. It was our first Mass in our new community. It was a quiet walk, with the normal warnings of good behavior from Mom. There was hesitation and nervousness, which came over my mother as we approached the church.
Upon entering, we were greeted by an amalgam of white faces. They turned and stared. We found a pew near the back of the church and sat quietly as the priest began the service. He prayed in Latin and spoke in English, while my brothers and I busied ourselves by poking one another.
There was a quiet tenseness on my mother’s face during the service—and she didn’t go up for Communion. My brothers and I, though older, had not yet received our first Communion. After Mass concluded, we walked out of the church through the sea of white parishioners who, strangely, parted as we approached them. My mother, who was kind and soft-spoken, moaned through a barely opened mouth as we walked home.
It was difficult to determine what she was saying, but whatever it was, she was not happy. I was unfortunately holding her hand as her fingers dug into the flesh of my hand. Again, she muttered something, but we dared not ask what was wrong.
Then I began to understand her angry words: “That man is not going to put me out of my church! ” she said over and over.
We later learned the priest was not welcoming to the new Black parishioners. He wanted us to go elsewhere. Evidently, he didn’t realize who my mother was and the depth of her faith and determination to confront what was so terribly wrong. From that day forward, she attended daily Mass and sat in the front pew. But what I found extraordinary was the tenacity of my mother’s faith. For at every meal, as we prayed for God to bless the food, she’d always whisper, “Please heal your priest. ” Day after day, meal after meal, she prayed: “Please heal your priest. Please heal your priest. “
What I learned from my mother’s simple prayer was that the reason the priest didn’t want us at the church was because we were Black. He didn’t want us there because he was broken—by fear, ignorance, anger, and by a society that taught him to be afraid of what he did not know. He needed to be healed.
Over the next few years, the priest, Father Mattimore, got to know my mother, and my mother got to know and forgive him. On my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary, he came to our home and blessed their marriage and was blessed in return. That day, Father Mattimore became our pastor.
A great truth was taught to me long ago: We are all God’s children. If I discriminate or hate someone—for reasons of race, gender, capabilities, or lack thereof—it is not that person who is broken. It is me.
Let Us Pray
Lord, there is no better
time than now for our
faith to become more
vibrant, more evident,
more on fire with love.
Our love is needed
in our parishes, our
families, and our communities.
have told us you are
the way. With your
grace, we shall follow.