On May 25, George Floyd, an unarmed, Black man died in Minnesota after being pinned down by a police officer kneeling on his chest and neck. Mr. Floyd died saying, "I can't breathe, I can't breathe." Neither can we breathe freely while people of color are so frequently targets of brutality and injustice.
The Board of Administration of Divine Word College has encouraged me to publish a statement on the tragic situation in which we find ourselves as a nation. I do so most willingly. In January 2020, the Chicago Province of the Society of the Divine Word issued a statement on immigration, refugees and racism. The document notes a growing intolerance of people of color and affirms the Society’s “commitment to promote just relationships between peoples, races and nations.”
From its earliest days in the 1870's, the members of the Society of the Divine Word have worked to oppose racism and provide care for those who are marginalized and unwelcome. Our founder, St. Arnold Janssen, always stressed the need to move beyond narrow nationalism and ethnocentrism. Divine Word College is rooted in this tradition of welcoming every race, language, and people.
In 1895, when the first Divine Word Missionaries came to the United States, they found segregated parishes that treated African Americans as second-class members. In 1906, the SVDs began to push back against the discrimination and established their first African American mission in Vicksburg, Mississippi. In 1923, despite racist opposition within the church, the Society opened St. Augustine’s Seminary for the training of Black priests and brothers, and for other missionaries to work with Black Catholics. It was the first seminary in the United States to train Black men for religious life and priesthood. Even into the 1970's, many White Catholics were scandalized to see Black priests celebrating Mass and the sacraments.
Two years ago while gathered in assembly, SVDs of the Chicago Province decided to document our Society’s history and commitment with this missionary ministry. A formal statement on racism was drafted and distributed to all members. The importance of that statement is magnified in these days when protesters across America are calling for equal treatment for all people, especially African Americans, following the killing of George Floyd in May, Breanna Taylor in March and Ahmaud Arbery in February.
The SVD statement condemns “racist rhetoric of government leaders and others that fuel the fires of racism, prejudice, xenophobia and White nationalism.” It also recognizes our own need for constant conversion and outlines a desire to work in partnership with other organizations, religious communities and movements that share similar concerns.
Of particular importance for the Divine Word College community is the Society's commitment to "seek to educate those under our care, collaborate with other organizations defending the rights of immigrants and refugees, and work with others in calling out structural racism and making changes in local and national policies as needed."
The Chicago Province Council also approved a longer text that focuses on the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church and the efforts of the worldwide Society of the Divine Word. The Statement on Immigration, Refugees and Racism, underscores the Society's position on a historically divisive issue. “Rooted in a long history of serving African American and immigrant communities..., (we) stand in solidarity with those facing racism, discrimination and marginalization in the North American context.”
I encourage you to read the Province statement. Click Here