BY JOSIE SCHUMAN | December 15, 2020
In response to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) racial reckoning, through the call of the Gospel, Jesuit and all Catholic parishes are called to live out a faith that does justice by deepening their commitment to racial justice and equity. Two Catholic parishes in Seattle, Washington, Immaculate Conception Parish, the historically Black Catholic church in the city, originally founded as a Jesuit parish in 1891 and later transferred to the Diocese of Seattle in 1929, and St. Joseph Parish, a Jesuit parish, collaborated in order to answer this call.
In July 2020, Immaculate Conception started the Say Their Names BLM project and created a visual installation at their parish to honor people, many of them Black and Brown, who were killed by the Seattle Police Department in the last decade.
Dr. Ngozi Oleru, chair of Immaculate Conception’s race and social justice Health & Human Concerns Commission, explained the motivation behind the project. “Immaculate Conception Parish started the Say Their Names project out of the realization and frustration that we were rightly mourning and condemning the deaths of Black and Brown people killed by police from across the country with no acknowledgement that the same evil was occurring right here at home in Seattle.”
“If all life is sacred and racism is a sin, as the Catholic Church teaches, we should as people of faith hold ourselves to account by speaking out and working against unjust systems especially in our localities,” she continued. “Local civil rights leadership is in Immaculate’s DNA.”
To raise awareness about the grave ills of systemic racism and police brutality, Immaculate Conception invited every parish in the South Seattle Deanery to do the same.
At the invitation of Immaculate Conception, St. Joseph’s Anti-Racism Committee started their own Say Their Names project and installed 30 signs on the parish lawn in November, each containing the name of a person killed by the Seattle Police Department in the last 10 years. These signs were decorated by families and individuals from the parish and the community.
As an integral part of their All Souls Day celebration on Sunday, November 1, St. Joseph’s held a public witness at their parish with members of Immaculate Conception to dedicate the sign installation. Members of both parishes stood in solidarity to pray and lift up each name aloud.
Cathy Murray, a member of St. Joseph’s Anti Racism Committee, facilitated the public witness and explained why the parish felt called to the Say Their Names project. “When we join in solidarity with them [Immaculate Conception], we are bearing witness to the effects of unjust systems and institutions that disproportionately harm our brothers and sisters based on skin color,” she said.
“We bear witness in order to awaken to our own complicity in those unjust systems. We bear witness so we will work to transform those unjust systems so they are administered fairly to all.”
In a letter to the entire parish, the St. Joseph Anti-Racism Committee echoed Murray’s sentiments: “We believe in the Catholic doctrine that all life is sacred, and that killing, especially without trial or due process, is a result of disordered systems. We cannot accept a system that leads to the death of so many of our brothers and sisters, a disproportionate number of them Black, all loved by God and deserving of life.”
They concluded, “This project is a call for reconciliation, peace, and dialogue.”
To answer this call by initiating or deepening your parish’s commitment to racial justice and equity, explore ISN’s resources for Jesuit parishes.
Josie Schuman is a former ISN intern and graduate of John Carroll University. She is currently a member of the Urban Catholic Teacher Corp at Boston College, pursuing a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction while teaching 5th grade English. Josie is passionate about faith-based antiracist education and hopes to inspire students of color to use reading and writing as tool for social change.