By Gordon Nary
Gordon: When did your join St. Irenaeus Catholic Church and what aspects of the parish do you find most rewording?
Dr. White: Our parish is very active in social justice and working with other faith communities on issues that impact the community. We have a food pantry, community garden and provide spiritual events for the community such as our monthly peace prayer for justice. Furthermore our parish is very diverse both generationally and ethnically and has a very active lay ministerial presence. When I came to this parish over 15 years ago, I was impressed with the welcoming nature of the parish as well as the socially conscious nature of the community that is rooted in their faith as Roman Catholics.
Gordon: What are your primary responsibilities as Assistant Professor of Spirituality and Ministry and Director of the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies and Master of Arts in Specialized Ministries at Catholic Theological Union (CTU)?
Dr. White: I regard myself as a practical theologian and minister. My focus is on the practical applications of the spiritual life and how spirituality impacts and transforms the individual and community. My primary responsibilities are as a professor of Spirituality (I teach three courses per year at CTU) as well as direct the 5 Master Degree Programs in Specialized Ministries (Liturgical Ministry, Spiritual Ministry, Hispanic Theology and Ministry, Intercultural Ministry and Biblical Ministry) which are 26 credit hour programs as well as direct the Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry which is a 48 credit hour program. We are a global school, where the classroom reflects the diverse nature of our world. At the same time, most of our students are preparing for ministry in the Catholic Church, where the majority are lay persons. (Students preparing for priesthood are in the Master of Divinity Degree Program.) I see my role as guiding and journeying with the student as he/she discovers how God is calling them to ministry in the Church. It is an amazing journey!!
Gordon: As the former director of the CTU Augustus Tolton Pastoral Ministry Program, approximately how many students are enrolled in the program?
Dr. White: The Augustus Tolton Program which began in 1990, was named h was named after Fr. Augustus Tolton (the first recognized black priest in the United States) I have had the opportunity to journey with over 25 Black Catholic Lay men and women who have graduated with Masters programs in Ministry and Theology and are now ministering in the Archdiocese of Chicago and beyond. Currently we have 6 students who are pursuing their graduate degrees. Our scholars serve as pastoral associates, campus ministers, high school religion teachers, youth ministers, prison ministers/advocates for justice, chaplains and directors of religious education. Many have gone on to pursue doctoral degrees in theology and ministry and now teach in colleges and institutes of pastoral ministry.
Gordon: What is the current status on the anticipated canonization of Father Augustus Tolton?
Dr. White: The documents for the canonization cause are currently in Rome before the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. It is here that the documents will be translated to Latin to be reviewed by the congregation and the Pope. The postulator for the cause in the United States, Bishop Joseph N. Perry (Auxiliary Bishop and Episcopal Vicar of Vicariate VI, Archdiocese of Chicago) remains in communication with Rome regarding the cause. As a member of the Tolton Guild (that promotes the monetary and spiritual endeavors for the cause), I work with Bishop Perry in coordinating our annual pilgrimages to the birth, pastoral and burial site for Fr. Augustus Tolton.
Gordon: You are also member of the faculty for Xavier University’s summer Institute for Black Catholic Studies in New Orleans What subjects do you teach?
Dr. White: The Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana is the only immersion program of its kind in the United States, whose purpose is to prepare ministers to work in the Black Catholic Community in the United States. I have been enriched as both a former student and graduate of the program and now as a member of the faculty. I teach the Black Spirituality in the Master’s Degree Program, as well as courses on Spirituality and Health in the Continuing Education program and coordinate the Elder’s Retreat (a one week experience for participants 55 years and beyond). I also direct the Certificate in Black Theology and Ministry which is a collaboration of IBCS and Catholic Theological Union.
Gordon: What are the primary challenges to the spiritual and pastoral life of African Americans?
Dr. White: One of the primary challenges for the spiritual and pastoral life of African Americans is the disconnect from our spiritual rootedness and history. In the busyness of our lives and in the mobility that now faces so many people in the United States, there is not the time for the sharing and reaffirming of our history in the forms of storytelling, witness, testimony and faith sharing. Also the nature of the American culture is one of individualism and the nature of African culture is one of being community/person focused. The individual nature of our American culture can make one feel isolated and disconnected from a community. Our African American past was one of an affirmation of community in which the person was affirmed, supported and challenged to be their best. We learned our history and this education helped African Americans to cope with their daily challenges. As we have become disconnected and too busy to share our stories, our community no longer has the spiritual and cultural resources that are needed to cope with the current challenges. We must return to those practices and ways of being that made us stronger and able to survive.
Gordon: Do you have any comments on Bishop Braxton’s Pastoral Letter The Catholic Church The Catholic Church and The Black Lives Matter Movement: The Racial Divide in the United States Revisited?
Dr. White: Very few of our bishops have written about racism and the Church’s response. I refer you to Fr. Bryan Massingales’ book “Racial Justice and the Catholic Church” (Orbis Books) and so I admire the bishops who have taken the stand to write pastorally about this topic. Our Church must respond to the signs of the times and the violence that has been evident within and upon the Black community needs the prophetic voice of our church leadership.
Gordon: What can each of us do to help reduce gun violence?
Dr. White: One thing we must do is to educate ourselves regarding the proliferation of guns in our society, specifically assault weapons. We also must begin to work as a community to provide other ways of coping with the causes of increase in gun violence in our society. A spiritual renewal as well as a social renewal is needed.
Gordon: What inspired you to coauthor Songs of the Heart and Meditations of the Soul?
Dr. White: I coedited this book with Dr. Cecilia Moore and Fr. Paul Marshall, SM because at the time, there was not a prayer book that affirmed the spiritual reality and history of African American Catholics. As Pope St. John Paul II stated to the African American community in 1987, “share your gift of blackness.” This book was the black community’s gift to the spiritual life of the church.
Gordon: We appreciate your taking time for this interview, and thought that the best way to close this interview is featuring your video Joy of the Gospel: Reflections from CTU Faculty
Joy of the Gospel: Reflections from CTU Faculty. C. Vanessa White.