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By DEBORAH ANN TRIPOLDI
St. Peter Claver Church celebrated Black Catholic History Month with a Mass this past Sunday, Nov. 12, organized by coordinators Susan Rich and Tina Schumacher, along with other parishioners.
According to Rich, of Glen Ridge, formerly of Montclair, while the church recognizes the month every year, “We never did something this big though. Last year we focused on the Venerable Henriette Delille.
“If Delille becomes a saint she will be the first native-born African American [saint].”
Rich, a parishioner for over 25 years, said St. Peter Claver is a multicultural parish, established in 1931 as a mission where black Catholics could meet.
“We embrace multiculturalism and we embrace diversity. The church is such a welcoming church. We are very welcoming to everyone. There is a hand over the door of the church that is symbolic to welcoming everyone to St. Peter Claver,” Rich said. “The church represents many tongues and many nations.”
According to the Rev. Zephyrin Katompa, last Sunday was the first time the church held the event in the five years he has been present. Katompa, originally from Africa, said most of the 200 to 250 parishioners are black.
“I met with the leaders for the English service and they gave the idea this year,” he said. The church holds services in three languages, English, Spanish and French/Creole. This year the church honored two saint prospects: Delille and Venerable Pierre Toussaint as well as the Rev. Augustus Tolton and Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange during the Nov. 12 Mass.
Delille, born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1812, founded the Sisters of the Holy Family in 1842. Its purpose was take care of the sick, help the poor, and instruct the ignorant. She also founded the Lafon Nursing home, the oldest Catholic nursing home in the United States.
Toussaint was a slave from Haiti brought to New York, and after his master died he became a free man. He did the hair of wealthy women and eventually became a philanthropist. Instead of buying his way out of slavery he used any money he had to buy the freedom of other slaves. Toussaint’s body was exhumed and then buried at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Katompa said he is the only non bishop to be buried at the site.
The parish also viewed the documentary film from The Urban Wall Street Project, “Pierre Toussaint: A Saint from Tribeca” after the mass. According to Rich, the film is a lively commentary with discussion by James Sullivan, an urban historian, who presents many interesting facts about Toussaint’s early life and his philanthropic contributions.
The National Black Catholic Clergy of the United States held the first celebration of Black Catholic History Month in November 1990. Katompa said, “[Black Catholic History Month] is a very important event for our parish that started for African Americans but also for Montclair and the nation today it helps us appreciate the history. It especially helps us highlight the people of African American descent. If that can help us to understand each other to our diverse society and diverse Montclair today, that would help. I wish we could understand each other better.”
St. Peter Claver, 56 Elmwood Ave. Montclair. 973-783-4852
Services: Sunday Mass is said in three languages—French/Creole, Spanish and English
Sunday Mass: 9 a.m. English; 11:a.m. Spanish; 12:45 p.m. French/Creole
Daily Mass is Monday through Thursday at 8:30 a.m. and Friday at 8 a.m.
Every Tuesday at 7 p.m. is a healing Mass.
Parish size: on average 500 parishioners including children. About 80 children enrolled in Sunday School
Parishioners include Haitian, Korean and Spanish.
The parish has a food pantry and a youth group.