by Phillis Fuller-Clipps, Cleveland Western Reserve, Ohio Companion
Precious Blood spirituality is the welcoming feeling you receive when you enter a parish or a room for the first time and you feel at home. It is feeling appreciated as a person; it is being welcomed to share your gifts and talents with your church community. It is being missed when you do not attend Mass. It is the overwhelming feeling of “Hey, where have you been?!” when you return to Mass after missing a few Sundays for whatever reason, with no questions or judgement. It is the love and support you receive through the struggles of life just by attending Mass.
Our nurturing and spiritual stories as African American Catholics in Cleveland are intertwined with the history of St. Adalbert/Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament (sa/olbs) and St. Edward parishes. Both were staffed by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and Precious Blood priests, brothers, and sisters. We learned life lessons about faith, family, perseverance, and challenging work. Some of us attended Catholic schools and were taught the value of daily prayer and discipline. Some of us are converts as a result of our children becoming interested in the Catholic faith while attending St. Adalbert school.
Our introduction to Precious Blood Companions was a courtship. Our pastor invited a group of us to dinner, where he prepared the meal, we had light conversation and discussions about spirituality and Precious Blood Companions. In retrospect, he served us and taught us about Precious Blood spirituality the same way Jesus served and taught his disciples. There were about fourteen of us; nine completed the process to become Companions and have enjoyed our relationship with the Precious Blood community since 2005.
These are the lessons and charisms we learned from our Precious Blood priests and brothers for over seventy-two years, but when our parish was suppressed in 2010, we were forced to see how unloving, unwelcoming, and unappreciated we really were as African Americans in the larger Catholic Church. We visited approximately fifty churches within the Cleveland diocese. Sadly, the ethnically-centered churches (Hungarian, Sloven, Slovak, Polish etc.) tended to be the most indifferent as well as intolerant.
Because we understand that Catholicism is really “universal,” we continued undaunted and revisited places that were unwelcoming, not to intimidate or agitate, but to show that we are the Church, not our nationality or the color of our skin. Some treated us the same as the first visit, while others were more welcoming. The coldest comment we heard was, “We hope you find a parish.” The most insensitive gesture we experienced was when no one would join the line we were in for Communion but joined a separate line. During the same Mass, the priest refused to distribute the Blood of Christ, leaving it on the altar. It should be noted that though this occurred in a Hungarian parish, it is located in the heart of the African American Community. The church had the appearance of being closed, but we found the Mass schedule on the Diocesan website. Thank God for technology.
We were not looking for a church home; we were being challenged to continue the life lessons we had learned through our relationships with the Precious Blood community while appealing the decision to close our parish. We had become “Roamin’ Catholics.”
The visits had a range of eye-opening experiences, both positive and negative, and gave us opportunities to form and continue relationships. Along our journey, we met people from other churches that had been closed who appealed their parishes’ closings. Like us, some of those parishioners had begun visiting other parishes or just stopped attending Mass. The Mass was and continues to be important to us because we are one with Jesus each Sunday that we gather at the table of God and share in the Eucharist. The body and blood of Jesus sustains us always, gives us the encouragement, energy, and hope to continue.
During the appeal process, we gathered with former sa/olbs parishioners in January to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.; early summer for Black Catholic Sunday at the Sorrowful Mother Shrine in Bellevue, Ohio; and in the late summer for a healing Mass with Fr. Gene Wilson. We also continued to gather monthly as Companions, visit with fellow Ohio Companions for an annual gathering that rotates between Cleveland and Columbus, as well as attend retreats at Maria Stein and St. Charles.
Finally, exactly two years after our parish was closed, it was allowed to reopen. Although we were delighted, we were also heartbroken because the Precious Blood community had taken its leave from Cleveland and would not be returning. We worked through our adjustment with a diocesan priest using the circle process with the assistance of the Precious Blood community to help us express our fears, expectations, strengths, and weaknesses.
We Companions met with our new pastor and a Precious Blood priest at the main altar of our church. It was a very difficult and rewarding process. We were able to openly and honestly express how each felt about the two years without our parish, the loss of Precious Blood community, and the acceptance of a diocesan priest. We were able to acknowledge our differences and were reminded it was new situation for each of us. We shared stories of our spiritual growth and traditions. Most importantly, we learned of our similarities. We agreed to disagree and work together to glorify God and carry his message in our community.
Our new journey has been challenging. Over sixty percent of our parish members had joined a new parish, stopped attending church, changed churches, or had passed away. All of the “Roamin’ Catholics” returned to sa/olbs and have served as church leaders and organizers. Developing a relationship with our new pastor was difficult for us because we longed for the spirituality we had experienced with the Precious Blood community that wasn’t there with our new pastor. He is a wonderful person, and we have grown to know, love, and trust each other. We were blessed to learn that he had volunteered to be our pastor when he learned we would be allowed to reopen. And so we let go of the past, treasure our memories, and forge ahead with new relationships, a new beginning, and the opportunity to continue to share our lessons learned.
We continue to share our Precious Blood spirituality with everyone who attends our parish. We continued the practices and lessons learned from the Precious Blood community.