Anne-Marie Welsh


Families, students, professors and community members gathered
together to reflect on and take steps toward racial healing through
a prayer service created as a collaboration between the Diocese
of Erie and Gannon University on Nov. 4.  Photo/Anne-Marie Welsh

         “There’s a beautiful peace in coming together as a community to pray for things that can feel hard and feel overwhelming,” says Patrice Swick, director of the Office of Social Justice and Life for the Diocese of Erie. “But when you enter it through a state of prayer and a state of grace, and in kinship with each other, it feels less hard and the Spirit really ends up being the guide.”
          Swick and her colleague Jessie Hubert, director of parish support for the diocesan Faith Formation Office, collaborated with colleagues at Gannon University to create a public prayer service, So great a cloud of witnesses: Deepening our Catholic understanding of racial healing, Nov. 4. The hour-long event at Gannon’s Mary, Seat of Wisdom Chapel included music, Scripture readings, a litany of reconciliation and trust and a homily by the Most Rev. Lawrence T. Persico, bishop of Erie.
          Reflecting on the parable of the Good Samaritan, he presented a number of challenges for consideration.
          “Too many walk by the victims of racism without looking deeply into their wounds or the pain inflicted on them,” the bishop said. He pointed to continuing disparities in education, housing, employment, economic well-being and leadership as “not disconnected from our country’s shameful history of slavery and systemic racism.”
          Bishop Persico, who has been actively engaged with other church leaders through United Clergy of Erie for the past few years, asked those at the prayer service to recognize racism in their own thoughts and attitudes.

The Most Rev. Lawrence T. Persico, bishop of Erie, led the
service and offered the homily. Father Michael Kesicki,
Gannon's associate vice president for university mission
and ministry, was one of several collaborators from Gannon.
Photo/Anne-Marie Welsh

          “We must examine our individual actions and our participation in unjust structures, seek forgiveness and move towards reconciliation,” he said, noting that standing up and speaking up in the face of racism is a way to love our neighbors as ourselves.
          The service culminated in reflections on three pioneering witnesses of different races: 

  • Martin de Porres, born in Peru in 1579 — known for his charity, meekness and humility;
  • Father Augustus Tolton, born in Missouri in 1854 — who had to study for the priesthood in Rome when he was denied admittance to American seminaries, but who was then assigned as the first Black American priest to serve in his home country;
  • Mother Mary Lange, likely born in Cuba circa 1784 — founder and first superior of the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore, where she educated children and cared for the sick in spite of significant racial discrimination.

           Participants were then invited to light their own candles from those illuminated before each of the three persons featured, representing mercy, courage and advocacy, respectively.
          Dr. Keith Taylor, president of Gannon University, chose to light his candle from the one in front of St. Martin de Porres.
          “His courage resonated with me,” he said, following the event. “The university obviously has a long way to go, the way the rest of our world does, but we are working very hard as a community to come together and understand each other.” He said he wants Gannon to be a community that not only speaks of inclusion and speaks of justice, but actually lives those truths.
           To that end, the printed program for the event included a listing of opportunities for delving deeper into the work of racial healing available through both the Diocese of Erie and Gannon University. They include:

Facing race through faith: six Lenten sessions promoting understanding of one’s faith and appreciation of stories of African Americans who have lived by faith through the traumas of slavery and racism. Co-facilitated by Dr. Aaron Kerr of St. Andrew Parish and Dr. Chris Magno of St. Patrick Parish, both in Erie.

Young Adult small group sessions on faith and racial equity providing community, prayer and shared visioning for eight Sundays from noon to 2 pm beginning Feb. 13 at Gannon’s St. Joseph House of Faith in Action.

Email SJL@Eriercd.org to learn more about these opportunities. Resources exploring Black Catholic history will be made available through the Diocesan Office of Social Justice and Life in February 2022. Visit www.ErieRCD.org/socialjusticelife for details.

Gannon observes Hunger and Homelessness Week with a panel featuring leaders addressing these community needs in Erie on Tuesday, Nov. 16 at 7 pm in Room 219, Waldron Campus Center.

Ethical consumerism and your global impact will be discussed at Gannon’s Waldron Campus Center on Friday, Nov. 19 from 4 to 6 pm.