Black History Mass sparks controversy


The Rev. Ed Vacek, S.J., celebrates the Black History Mass in place of Bishop Ferdinand Cheri, who was sick. Vacek’s homily bothered some students who said it was degrading to African-Americans. Photo credit: Davis Walden

Leah Banks

Loyola’s Black History Mass was planned as an uplifting celebration of African-American culture but left some students feeling discouraged.

On Feb. 12, Loyola’s 9 p.m. Mass community held its 8th Annual Black History Mass. It featured music from the Genesis gospel choir.

During the month of February, the African-American community comes together not only to acknowledge the efforts of those who have come before them, but also to celebrate the innovations and struggles that have occurred in past generations.

While in the past Black History Mass has been a Loyola celebration, organizers worked this year with Xavier University New Orleans and Dillard University and invited their students to attend the Mass.

Bishop Ferdinand Cheri, who was intended to celebrate the Mass, fell sick on Sunday, however, and two other African-American priests who were called as backup could not attend, according to the Rev. Ed Vacek, S.J., who celebrated the Mass in Cheri’s place.

Vacek delivered a homily intended to confess to his internalized racism, he said; however, this confession sparked unease among some of the students there.

During Vacek’s homily, he recounted times when he had noticed his racism.

“One of the clues I have from my own racism is that, at one point, I find myself saying, ‘Oh, that African American person did a really fine job,’ and I’ll realize that I’m saying ‘Oh, for an African American person, I didn’t expect them (to),’ and shame on me, that’s my racism and I’m slowly overcoming it,” Vacek said in an interview after the Mass.

The Loyola L.O.V.E. (Living Our Vision Everyday) Chapter of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs worked alongside University Ministry to organize
the Mass.

Natavia Mitchell, a member of the L.O.V.E. Chapter, said she felt Vacek’s homily degraded the black community.

“The intention of the Mass was to uplift and honor black culture, and Fr. Vacek’s message did not meet the intended expectation to encourage our black community. I personally left the Mass feeling disappointed that a member of the Loyola community would degrade my culture in such a public setting,” Mitchell said.

Vacek said he wanted his homily to reflect Sunday’s Gospel reading.

“I was trying to say something like this: the Gospel is about having a heart that is not good, a heart that is full of anger, needless anger, and a heart that is full of needless lust. And our hearts are not good. Then I used myself as an example of a heart that is not good. I used my history to say, over time, I have developed and, I think, gotten better, and I think better, but I still find some racism in me,” Vacek said.

Mitchell said she wished this message was communicated more clearly.

“I do also recognize that Fr. Vacek’s message could have been comprehended incorrectly by the audience, but the fact that Fr. Vacek is an educator and a priest should ensure that he has the ability to properly address his point with little confusion,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell clarified that she was not speaking on behalf of the L.O.V.E. Chapter. Armani Eady, president and co-founder of the L.O.V.E. Chapter, had not responded to requests for comments at press time.

Vacek said that Mission and Ministry is working to plan a meeting between himself and the students who were upset with his homily to create an opportunity for dialogue. The date and time of this meeting have not yet been set.