Racism and the Catholic Church in Acadiana – My Experiences

One of the latest displays of systemic racism (institutional racism) in Acadiana was not only overt but was shameless and loud. It was a stark reminder that not only does racism exist, but it also persists even after death. Not only could this man not be buried in the cemetery, but it was also written in the “rules” that it wasn’t allowed.  So the person saying this justified their behavior based on a law made to continue to mistreat and unfairly treat black people.  There is no other way to put it.  The conversation and rule were both racist.

Segregation and the Local Catholic Church

It is apparent Catholic churches in Acadiana are segregated – we can probably all visually see this dynamic. I attend a black church and it is just a normal part of my life. I honestly didn’t think much of it until I had a child, and because of the pandemic, I have been reminded about different types of racism that continue to persist. I have attended several church parishes throughout Lafayette, and I can recall several examples that I myself have experienced racism. On several occasions of attending a church in town (this still happens to this day at this church parish), parishioners would not shake my hand (or my mother’s hand) prior to communion for “Peace Be With You.” The most concerning example was when the entire pew of people would rise and leave to move to another location to not sit next to us – the entire group of people. I didn’t get a call back to baptize my child recently at a different church parish – I really had trouble getting my daughter baptized during the pandemic. Take a look around your church parish – what does it look like? What does it represent? Are all visitors welcome? I will say this – Black people are not welcome at several church parishes across Lafayette and Acadiana.

My experience with racism at burial sites

In 2018, my grandmother passed away. I was shocked to learn that the cemeteries were segregated in Maurice, Louisiana. For a little background: Maurice has two catholic churches (with a population of fewer than 1,800 people) one white and one black. St. Alphonsus is the white church and St. Joseph is the black one. Black catholic churches (and in most cases black schools) exist because black people were not allowed to attend white churches. There was no place to safely worship or learn for blacks. The story goes this way – When St. Joseph was founded, the people at St. Alphonsus gave St. Joseph a portion of land to bury their parishioners.  The land is separate from where St. Alphonsus parishioners are buried. The cemetery is segregated – one small portion has black people buried there and the other white. I could go on further to explain how blacks didn’t and couldn’t own land due to various different laws, etc, but that would take much longer than this post. So, today and in 2018 when my grandmother passed, there were no more available plots of land for the parishioners of St. Joseph’s church – the black one. BUT there are available spots for St. Alphonse parishioners.  For a community of fewer than 1,800 people, there isn’t enough land to bury black people. Across the Acadiana area, this is true. Black people aren’t and can’t be buried because there is no land to do so. My church parish has no more available land for our parishioners either. The segregation is a tad more obvious to the blind eye in smaller towns across the area – Youngsville has a black and a white church and so does Broussard, LA.

The truth remains blacks and whites are still not equal, even at and after their deaths here. We make local and national headlines because of the racism that persists in the Acadiana area. The catholic church and my experience with the inability to bury a family member is merely one example of this type of institutional racism.  There are numerous examples of black and white proms, segregated cemeteries, inability for black children to attend certain mother’s day out programs, etc.

In a recent conversation about City Bar in Maurice, someone asked if I used to go there because my grandmother lived there. Short answer: No. Why? Because blacks weren’t allowed to enter the front door when my mother was able to go there. Until recently, blacks were served at the side door if they wanted a drink. The side door. No. I won’t patron a place that deliberately treats blacks as less than any other race. Hard no. Honestly, would you?

Christina was born and raised on the northside of Lafayette. After graduating from THE Northside High, she completed pharmacy school at Xavier University of Louisiana. For her sanity, she runs, plays tennis, watches every Serena Williams match, sews, volunteers, and actively seeks to learn, educate, and foster an anti-racist environment around her. She loves learning, reading, book clubs, glitter/sparkles, Beyonce & Serena’s work ethic, athleisure, stationery, bright colors, and all things East Coast. When she is not training for a race or completing some random goal, you can find her swimming (or on the beach), visiting with family and/or friends, and spending time with her husband Cortney and rainbow baby Evie.

6 COMMENTS

  1. The Oaklin Springs Cemetery is run by the OAKLIN SPRINGS BAPTIST CEMETARY ASSOCIATION (P.O. Box 151, Oberlin, LA 70655), and is not in any way associated with the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes it very clear that the equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it: “Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.” (CCC 1935, quoting Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, No 29.)

    This article is either evidence that the author completely fails to understand Catholic teaching on race and social justice or evidence of a weak attempt to smear the Catholic Church. Out of an abundance of charity, I am going to assume that they author is merely unfamiliar with Catholic teaching on race and social justice. Therefore, I further assume that the author has made an honest mistake, based on ignorance, rather than an intentional effort to maliciously smear the Catholic Church. In either case, however, the author should print a retraction and an apology, and make a decent effort to educate themselves on Catholic teaching.

    The Holy Roman Catholic Church is a powerful advocate for anti-racism to the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics, and is a leading promoter of social justice in the U.S. and around the world. See also: Kammer, F. “Catholic Social Teaching (CST) and Racism” JustSouth Quarterly (Fall 2009). http://www.loyno.edu/jsri/sites/loyno.edu.jsri/files/CSTandRacism-Fall2009jsq.pdf

    • First of all, love the Catecism reference. It’s one of my favorite quotes.
      Secondly, why are you talking about “the Oakland spring cemetery” run by a Baptist church when the author clearly stated she is a Catholic attending Church in Maurice, La?
      A quick google map search showed me that these two Churches mentioned in Maurice, La are only a half mile apart, an 11 minute walk. Behind St. Alphonsus is indeed a place called “The Catholic Cemetery of Maurice” and you can see ample vacant land for more departed parishioners. It’s typical of Catholics in close proximity to share sacred facilities like these.
      Your comment comes across as pretty condescending with phrases like “honest mistake based on ignorance.”
      Just like Pope Francis said, as Catholics, we must build bridges toward one another; your comment feels more like a wall. Don’t discount the experiences of other Catholics because we are all collectively striving toward a more perfect Church, remember the parable of the Good Sheppard & one sheep in need. The Sheppard would leave the 99 who never strayed to save the one, and rejoice greater in his return than the sheep that stayed put. This article was not an attack on the Catholic Church, but rather the societal sin of racism, that so many Catholics brush off as empty complaints. The catechism and the Church do have beautiful and perfect policies on racism & social justice, but we American Catholics have not lived up to standard. We can do a better job at loving our neighbors as commanded. To paraphrase your quote, Every form of discrimination must be eradicated as incompatible with God’s design. Let’s rebuild this Church like St. Francis bro. Let’s prove ourselves universal.

  2. Christina, thank you for this article. Hopefully those who make decisions surrounding burials we simply make it right and do better!

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