Black Catholic Ministry Essay Contest

By Christine Commerce, Florida Catholic Correspondent – November 14, 2017

ORLANDO | St. Andrew Catholic Church celebrated Black Catholic History Month with music from its Gospel Choir and recognition of local youth, who participated in an essay contest.

The gospel choir sang a lively rendition of “Come Let Us Worship the Lord,” for the opening song at Mass as a way to commemorate the event. Music Director Vincent Howard led the 11-member choir, which was accompanied by drums, piano, and guitar. “The more lively the music, the more it brings the message of the love of Christ,” Howard said.

Deacon Larry Herbert gave the homily at Mass, which was dedicated to Black Catholic History Month. Herbert said like the image of the brides waiting for their bridegrooms in the gospel reading, we are always waiting for something – whether it’s in the grocery store line, coffee shop, or to catch a flight in the airport.

“It makes a difference of how we wait. Who we are waiting with can color what we see going on. Do we turn a blind eye to all the things going on around us?” he asked. “If we are waiting for just one thing, we don’t want to put so little oil in our daily lamps that we don’t seek all the beauty going on around us. If we are waiting for something to happen, know that Jesus is there waiting with us, and He loves us so much. And in waiting, we are given the grace to accept the outcome.”

St. Andrews Parishioner Dorcas Dillard, who helped coordinate the essay contest, said she hopes to see more surrounding parishes become involved next year. They put a call out to three parishes for students to write an essay on how St. Ignatius of Antioch influenced the Catholic Church and them personally.

“Our first goal is to bring about more awareness of influential Catholic people of color to the Catholic community. I think it’s important because there’s not awareness that there were black saints with a Catholic influence in the church,” she said. “You don’t see a lot of black representation across the country and not a lot of black African priests. They need to know they are welcome, and that there are others who have done great things in the church and have made a difference.”

The first place winner of this year’s essay contest was Ruben, an 8th grade student at St. Andrew’s. Through his research of St. Ignatius, he learned how the saint helped the Catholic Church through his leadership and how black people also influenced the church.

“I learned I should never give up in anything I do and continue to teach the word of God,” Ruben said. “If he wasn’t a very important part of the Catholic Church, then I don’t know who is.”

Father Leo Hodges said the essay contest and Black Catholic History Month brought about awareness of the saints from Africa and helped young people realize their influence. “It’s important because African Americans have been instrumental in the Catholic Church,” Hodges said. “It’s not only important for African Americans (to know), but for all of the church.”

On July 24, 1990, the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus of the United States designated November as Black Catholic History Month to celebrate the long history and proud heritage of Black Catholics.For more information on how to get involved with Black Catholic Ministries at St. Andrew, email

Written by Mary Beth Peabody

The Diocese of Camden Black Catholic Ministries Commission supports South Jersey Catholic Schools with a high school scholarship and an essay contest for seventh and eighth graders.

Three one-year scholarships will be awarded to current eighth grade students who plan to attend a high school in the Diocese of Camden. The primary source of funding is an annual dinner dance. Celebrating its 26th year, the 2017 event will be An Afternoon of Jazz, Plus, featuring the band To the Max, on April 23

“We get strong candidates and compelling stories,” said James Andrews, director of Black Catholic Ministries for the diocese.

Priscilla Frederick is pictured at the 2016 Olympics where she represented her father’s home country of Barbuda and Antigua, where she has dual citizenship.

Candidates complete an application, write an essay and participate in an interview. Awards are based on grades, activities and the interview, which takes place in April.

The 2016 recipients were Sajan Young from Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, Berlin (now a student at Saint Augustine Prep, Richland); Jillian Benberry, Saint Mary, Williamstown (Paul VI, Haddonfield); and Erika Ezeiruaku, Saint John Paul II, Stratford (Paul VI). Keeping with tradition, they will speak at the April Jazz event.

Scholarship recipient Priscilla Frederick sets the bar high.

Priscilla Frederick’s mother has a photo from the day her daughter won a Black Catholic Ministries scholarship. With a playful laugh, Frederick claims the photo has the “fresh, geeky dork” look she sported in eighth grade.

Frederick graduated from Our Lady of Mount Carmel School (Berlin) in 2003 and began high school at Paul VI in Haddonfield the same year.

“I fell in love when I visited,” said Frederick, adding it was theater and dance that grabbed her attention first. As a senior, Frederick decided her passion for the arts would take a back seat to her talent in track, which earned her a scholarship at Saint John’s University in New York City.

Priscilla and her mother, Eve Peaco-Frederick, are pictured with Deacon William Johnson when she was a student at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in Berlin and won a Black Catholic Ministries scholarship to attend Paul VI High School, Haddonfield. Photo by James A. McBride

Frederick attributes her Catholic school experience to the faith-centered life she leads today. “[After graduating] I went to church on my own. I have my own relationship with God because of my foundation,” she said. Frederick shares her faith journey with youth groups, middle and high schools and colleges. She was a guest speaker for the Diocese of Camden’s Theology on Tap program last year.

“I’m not a perfect soldier for the Lord,” she said. “But I’m doing my best.”

Doing her best also includes the setbacks, sweat and sacrifice it takes to be a world-class high jumper. Frederick represented her father’s home country of Barbuda and Antigua, where she has dual citizenship, in the 2016 Rio Olympics. With her eye on 2020 and 2024, Frederick continues to train full time and compete internationally. In addition to speaking engagements, she coaches track at Princeton University and her alma mater, Paul VI.

In herself, Frederick sees “an everyday person living an extraordinary life.” She hopes God will lead her back to the stage when it is time to turn in her track shoes. “He has a lot in store for me,” she said.

An outspoken proponent of her Catholic faith and education, Frederick and the diocese have benefitted from the scholarship that helped her stay in Catholic school.

Essay contest underway

All seventh and eighth grade students in diocesan elementary schools have been invited to participate in the annual essay contest sponsored by the Black Catholic Ministries Commission. This year’s topic is “How are you aware of God’s presence in your life?” Each school will submit the top two essays from seventh graders and the top two essays from eighth graders.

“This contest has been going on for years,” said Andrews, citing the high caliber of writing submitted by Catholic school students. A team of reviewers from the Office of Black Catholic Ministries and the Office of Catholic Schools will review all submissions to help select the nine winning essays.

All students who write an essay will receive a certificate of participation. First and second place awards will be granted in each of three regions; diocesan awards will go to first, second and third place finalists. Winners will receive gift cards ranging from $50 to $150. Schools must submit all entries by March 10, 2017.


Read in Catholic Star Herald

Black Catholic Ministry, Catholic Schools

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