Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Mass 2019

Published: January 19, 2019

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019.

Bishop Taylor

Every year as we gather to observe the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King we also honor at least one, African-American, Arkansas Catholic with the Daniel Rudd award, so I thought I would speak with you about him today.

Dr. King’s work built on the efforts of those who went before him and they should be remembered as well as Dr. King.

Daniel Rudd was baptized a Catholic at birth in 1854 because his family were slaves of a Catholic planter in Bardstown, Kentucky named Mr. Rudd — which is where Daniel got his last name. He grew up loving his Catholic faith. Daniel's relatives had been church sextons at St. Joseph’s in Bardstown for three generations and Daniel was taught how to care for the church.

Daniel Rudd’s Catholic faith was his anchor in the storm, the foundation for his courage and his comfort in the darkness he experienced. He passed to his eternal reward at 78 years of age in 1932.

He was quoted as saying something that I find astounding: that he never experienced any segregation in his church. “We have been all over St. Joseph Church from foundation stone to pinnacle and no one ever told us to move.” Since slaves did not attend school, it is thought that Daniel’s priest at St. Joseph’s was the one who tutored him.

After the Civil War, Daniel moved to Springfield, Ohio where he managed to finish high school (at the time a rare achievement even for a young, white man in a rural area, let alone a black man). Upon graduating, he became a political activist in the fledgling and dangerous civil rights movement, and as a young adult in the 1870s he worked to desegregate Springfield’s schools — 80 years before that was attempted here in Little Rock.

Filled with an entrepreneurial spirit, Daniel Rudd opened the first newspaper in the whole United States by and for African-Americans in January of 1885. It was called the “Ohio State Tribune.” One year later he moved to Cincinnati and changed the paper’s name to the “American Catholic Tribune.”

Notice, the first African-American newspaper in the United States was a Catholic newspaper. By 1892 the paper was printing 10,000 copies. The goal of the paper emblazoned on the front page was: We will do what no other paper published by colored men has dared to do — give the great Catholic Church a hearing and show that it is worthy of at least a fair consideration at the hands of our race, being as it is the only place on this continent where rich and poor, white and black, must drop prejudice at the threshold and go hand in hand to the altar.”

This was an incredibly courageous way to launch his paper. Daniel Rudd was reaching out to his own people and asking them to consider converting to Catholicism. He told them: “The Negro of this country, abused, downtrodden and condemned, needs all the forces, which may be brought to bear in his behalf to elevate him to that plane of equality. The holy Roman Catholic Church offers to the oppressed Negro a material as well as a spiritual refuge. We NEED the Church; the Church WANTS us. Investigate brethren!”

He insisted that the Catholic Church was the “real answer” because it welcomed everyone. History shows that we Catholics have often fallen far short of this vision — even today racism still rears its ugly head even among Catholics, but Daniel shared Dr. King’s vision of inclusion and like Dr. King, Daniel stood firm in the face of danger. His faith was his fortress even as the Ku Klux Klan, who were continually persecuting blacks, started persecuting Catholics too.

Daniel Rudd managed to stay safe and spent the rest of his life advocating for black Catholics. In 1889, he and Father Augustus Tolton began the National Black Catholic Congress in Washington D.C., which still meets every five years. Mr. Rudd also was president of the Afro-American Press Association, was a founding member of the Catholic Press Association and helped found the Black Lay Catholic Movement.

Daniel Rudd, born a slave, became one of the most influential African-American Catholics in American history. In 1912 he moved to Marion, Arkansas where he taught in local schools and co-authored the biography of the first black millionaire in Arkansas, Scott Bond. Daniel Rudd’s Catholic faith was his anchor in the storm, the foundation for his courage and his comfort in the darkness he experienced. He passed to his eternal reward at 78 years of age in 1932.

In today’s Gospel we have the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee, an event that prefigures two things: the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper and the heavenly banquet at the end of time in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus’ changing the water into wine — and very fine, abundant wine at that — speaks to the abundance of life in that kingdom to come. And that Jesus did so in the presence of his disciples, who will later be sent forth to all the nations to invite people into that kingdom, speaks to the inclusiveness of that kingdom, which he came to establish.

Daniel Rudd understood this and so did Dr. Martin Luther King and so do we. Our work, like theirs, is to make the Kingdom of God a living reality in our own place and time, and not just in the next life.

That is why we are here today, to recommit ourselves to the work of the Lord here in Arkansas in 2019. So today we pray to Jesus and draw inspiration from him, and from Dr. King, and from one of our own, whom we will honor with the Daniel Rudd Award for 2019.