Jesuit Parishes Journey Toward Racial Justice and Equity

BY CHLOE BECKER | May 11, 2021

In July of 2020, the Ignatian Solidarity Network initiated A Parish Journey for Racial Justice and Equitya virtual way to convene parishes across the country to share their efforts for racial justice, as well as learn from other parishes as they consider how to expand their work. The series was created in response to the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor that surged nationwide action to confront and dismantle racism in American policing and all facets of society. The idea was born in one of the virtual biweekly racial justice meetings of the U.S. Jesuit Province staff, and also acted as an answer to parishes’ desire from the Jesuit Parish Justice Summit in 2019 for ISN to hold gathering space to support each other in their anti-racism work. The new-normal custom of meeting over Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic was an unintentional solution for how to bring parishes together to have those discussions. 

Jesuit Parishes Journey Toward Racial Justice and Equity

The first call was led by presenters from Jesuit parishes across the country: Christine Dragonette (St. Francis Xavier College Church, St. Louis, MO), Boreta Singleton and Catherine Wolfe (St. Francis Xavier Parish, New York City, NY), Monica Smith (Saint Ignatius Loyola Parish, Sacramento, CA), and Pat Berning and Tim Severyn (Bellarmine Chapel, Cincinnati, OH). Each presented about how their parish has approached becoming an anti-racist parish, and answered questions from the participants. Questions were asked about institutional anti-racism audits, why racial justice is not charity, and how parishes have been involved in protests. In response to a question about parish accountability for racism, Christine Dragonette stressed that “accountability is definitely an ongoing process and starts with building authentic relationships. The work we do must be accountable to people of color who are most directly targeted by racism.” At the end of the call, as with each of the following calls, time was left for participants to convene in breakout rooms to further discuss the featured parishes’ work and how next to move forward as individual parishes.

Bellarmine Chapel parishioners take action for racial justice in Cincinnati, OH. [Image courtesy of Bellarmine Chapel]

In August and September, the parish calls were centered on networking through small group discussions. Participants answered questions in breakout rooms such as, “What strategies have been most helpful in gaining support?” and “Is your parish talking about the upcoming election, and is racial justice an area that is being uplifted in conversations around the election?” 

Jesuit Parishes Journey Toward Racial Justice and Equity

Lisa Burks and Winnie Sullivan discuss anit-racism work at St. Francis Xavier College Church in St. Louis, MO.

To prepare for the November parish call, participants watched a presentation by Lisa Burks and Winnie Sullivan discussing the process of St. Francis Xavier College Church (St. Louis, MO) working to become an anti-racist parish. On the call, the presenters answered questions about the presentation, as well as left time for small group discussion. 

The most recent parish calls occurred in February and April of 2021. Fr. Ken Boller, S.J., pastor at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in New York City, presented to participants on February 3 about how to handle pushback in their parishes and answered their questions. After small group discussions, participants were encouraged to type a word, phrase, or idea that reflected a takeaway from their conversation. Some of the responses included: “Silence is complicit,” “Integrate anti-racism into all the ministries of the Parish!,” and “Hopeful.” 

Jesuit Parishes Journey Toward Racial Justice and Equity

St. Ignatius Parish in Baltimore’s anti-racism task force director, Toni Moore-Duggan, presents during the April 2021 gathering.

In April, the Baltimore St. Ignatius Parish’s anti-racism task force director, Toni Moore-Duggan, and member, Eric Clayton, shared how the task force—formed in the wake of George Floyd’s murder—began and sustain their racial justice work. “When we speak anti-racism, it is another way to acknowledge the Gospel call to love one another,” said Moore-Duggan. “It is not a space we arrive, but a greater call to a way of life.”

The virtual gatherings for A Parish Journey for Racial Justice and Equity are just the beginning, and will continue to offer networking and resources for parishes in any place in their anti-racism journey. Recorded videos of the parish calls are continually compiled to create long lasting resources available for anyone to reference. These are a fruitful addition to the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s existing racial justice resources, including the 21-Day Racial Justice Challenge, the Racial Justice Novena, and An Ignatian Prayer Vigil for Lamentation and Racial Justice. As our nation continues to reckon with it’s pervasive racism, the rippling impact of the parish calls provides hope for the real possibility of deep, systemic change. The potential for the growth of this work can already be seen in initiatives like St. Ignatius Parish in San Francisco’s racial justice discernment series, St. Joseph Parish in Seattle’s partnership with the city’s historically Black Catholic Church in shared work for racial justice, and ongoing work for racial justice at St. Francis Xavier in NYC, including a prayer of lamentation paired with ongoing action.  

A Parish Journey for Racial Justice and Equity will continue with the next event scheduled for Wednesday, August 4, 2021, with St. Ignatius Parish in San Francisco presenting. If you would like to join this event or for your parish to learn from and be a part of this broader movement, we invite you to join us by subscribing here for email updates.

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