Black Catholics in Philadelphia and The Journal

A major part of the American Catholic Historical Society’s collection housed at PAHRC is its collection of Catholic newspapers. This collection contains Catholic newspapers, mostly from the early 19th to the early 20th centuries, that were published throughout the United States, as well as some foreign newspapers.  

One of these periodicals is The Journal, a weekly Philadelphia newspaper published in 1892. The paper was created by black Catholics for the African American Catholic community. PAHRC has several issues of the paper.  

July 9, 1892 issue

Black Catholics, made up of both free and enslaved African Americans, had been a presence in Philadelphia since the establishment of the city's Catholic community. Black Catholics worshiped at the oldest Catholic churches in Philadelphia, including Old St. Joseph (1733), Old St. Mary (1763), and Holy Trinity (1788), although they worshipped separately from the white congregation. When they did attend mass with whites, blacks often had to sit in certain designated areas which were usually the back of the church or the balcony. However, researchers have recently noted that some black families were able to rent pews in the gallery of Old St. Joseph.  

The number of black Catholics in Philadelphia grew considerably during the Haitian revolution (1791-1804) when many refugees immigrated to the city. Evidence of black Catholics can be found within the sacramental registers of the older parishes, particularly Old St. Joseph. Old St. Joseph's baptismal and marriage records include notations for those parishioners who were "slaves" or "negroes". Most of these records do not include surnames of the family or individual.  

Old St. Joseph baptismal records from May 1796

The above baptismal records from May 1796 include the following entries:  

Josephine Louisa, negress, born March 1773, of London and Phyllis, (Ethiopian?) slaves; baptized May 1 (1796) by Rev. L. Neale  

Rachel, born March 17, 1789, of Margaret Felia and Phanice, negroes, unbelievers; baptized May 2 by Rev. M. Ennis  

Louis, negro; aged about 6 months, born of John Lewis and Ophelia, negroes; baptized May 6, by Rev. R. Houdet  

Old St. Joseph marriage record: John Louis Lindor and Louisa Rosette, negroes of the Colored Island of San Domingo were married June 9, 1801 by Rev. George Staunton; witnesses were Peter Michel and John King

The Black Catholic community continued to grow during the 19th century. The Jesuit priest Father Barbelin opened a school, Blessed St. Peter Claver, for black children on Lombard St. in 1859, which was later taught by the Sisters of Providence from Baltimore. By the 1880s, black Catholics began a concerted effort to establish a church and accompanying school for the community. In 1886, the St. Peter Claver Union, which Father Ernest Hiltermann of Holy Trinity Church had formed for black Catholics, along with the help of others within the Catholic community, most notably Katharine Drexel, purchased the former Fourth Presbyterian Church located on the southwest corner of 12th and Lombard Streets, renaming it St. Peter Claver Church. The church was dedicated in 1892.  

St. Peter Claver Church, circa 1961

 The Journal, most likely associated with the founding of the new parish, devoted its coverage to local and national news relating to black Catholics as well as news about black issues in the United States. It also covered news concerning St. Peter Claver. The top of the newspaper's title page read “The Catholic Church is the only Liberator of the Negro.” The paper’s proprietors and publishers were Swann and Hart, located at 20 N. 13th Street. The Journal only ran from about February to September 1892. In the September 25th issue the editors note, “The Journal is having a hard struggle to keep its head above water and live, but with all our drawbacks we’ll live.”  


Early Records: Saint Joseph's Church, Philadelphia, PA. American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, 1947.  

Souvenir of the Diamond Jubilee of St. Peter Claver's Parish, 1886-1961. (PH0120)  

Willging, Eugene P.  and Herta Hatzfeld. Catholic serials of the nineteenth century in the United States; a descriptive bibliography and union list. Second series: Part Five, Pennsylvania. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1964.


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