By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published December 6, 2012
The dedicated work of members of Our Lady of Lourdes Church and School has resulted in a written history of the historic black Catholic community, based on research and interviews, and an exhibit that can be seen in Atlanta now and that will be available as a touring exhibit in the future.
The exhibit opened Nov. 14 at the Auburn Avenue Research Library and will be there until February 2013. It includes history, photographs, archival material, personal memorabilia from Our Lady of Lourdes parishioners, and religious objects from the church.
Geraldine Jackson-White, chair of the Centennial History Committee, said the committee organized in 2008 to discuss how to document the history for the centennial of Our Lady of Lourdes as the first African-American Catholic mission in Atlanta.
The church and school were established in 1912 through the pioneering and courageous efforts of founders, including Father Ignatius Lissner of the Society of African Missions, Mother Katharine Drexel, foundress of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and now a canonized saint, Savannah Bishop Benjamin Keiley, whose diocese included Atlanta at that time, and Catholic attorney J.J. Spalding, who arranged for the land for the mission to be obtained.
The history group divided up the extensive tasks involved, Jackson-White wrote by email.
“Some members researched library and historical documents about the neighborhood of the Fourth Ward; and archival material about the city and the state, especially with emphasis on events that impacted Our Lady of Lourdes. Some committee members visited the Motherhouse of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in Bensalem, Pa., and gathered information from those archives; some email and telephone contacts were made with the Society of African Missions in New Jersey where we received archival material about Father Lissner and the SMA order; others made visits to Savannah to collect historical information from the archives in that diocese. Some members had photos from early days of Lourdes that were shared and some members of the committee also took current pictures and videos of events. We also collected recorded interviews from a wide range of Lourdes members, which we hope to eventually have compiled and written.”
A writing committee developed a draft of the history, which was circulated among all the members and edited until the group agreed on the final document, she said.
The committee also decided which items to place in the exhibit, an outreach designed to explain the importance of Catholicism in the African-American community. The Catholic Foundation of North Georgia awarded the Lourdes community a grant of $5,000 for the exhibit, which Jackson-White said made the project’s success possible.
“The concept of an exhibit was developed because the history of African-American Catholics is not generally known or understood by many even today,” Jackson-White said.
The exhibit is intended to travel in the future to schools and parishes of the archdiocese, said Dominican Father Jeffery Ott, pastor.
“Working on the history of this church has been a humbling and personally gratifying experience,” Jackson-White said. “It is a history that needs to be heard and documented for future generations. It is not just the history of a church community, it is a history of the Catholic Church’s role in social justice for all.”