Encounter Black Catholic History

Are You Walking With Me?

Encounter-Black-Catholic-HistoryThis encounter is an opportunity for you to “walk with” the black community within our Diocese. This day trip in the City of Alexandria will have you visiting historical sites, learning about black Saints, and encountering the beauty of black Catholic expression. Moreover, you will prayerfully examine the effects of racism and how Jesus calls us to empathy, contrition, and healing. Click on the photo to the left to download a handy booklet of this page to take with you on your pilgrimage.

“You know what I'm talkin' about Church? I mean, are y'all walking with me Church? Surviving our history physically, mentally, emotionally, morally, spiritually, faithfully, and joyfully - our people developed a culture that was African and American”[…] and, despite all of this, […] Blacks […] are still struggling […] still trying to find home in the homeland and home in the Church.” (Sr. Thea Bowman's Address to the U.S. Bishop's Conference June 1989).

The black Catholic experience is robust. It is ripe with beauty, brimming with joy, and spurred by heartfelt passion and religious devotion. However, part of the story comes from the communal ability to maintain these qualities amidst hatred, fear, ignorance, and ultimately, sin. Sister Thea's powerful words challenge us, as a Church, to not stand still amidst racial tension. Rather, she asks that our “next step” be to “walk with” her and the black community; to face and absorb the long and complex journey of what it means to be black, American, and Catholic. Within our Diocese, the City of Alexandria has become a repository of African American culture and history due to its complicated and unique role within our nation's struggle with racial issues. That is why today we take Sr. Thea up on her challenge to walk with her, the black community, and Jesus Christ so that the entire human family can find their “home and homeland in the Church.”

Before You Go

Plan your visit by:

  • Checking out the websites for each place.
  • Checking out our Spotify Playlist for this Encounter.
  • Select your Places to Visit from the Google Maps List!
  • Reviewing the Resource PDFs and printing the ones that you want to use.
  • Calling St. Joseph's to schedule a visit.
  • Make a packing list to include: your favorite snacks, lunch, sunscreen, a hat, picnic blanket, water, umbrella, journal, pen, money.


Introduce Christ Checks

Begin the day by reading Matthew 18:20. As Jesus promises to be in the midst of us, take him up on the offer. Imagine Jesus as a real person, walking among you. Throughout the day, call out “Christ Check” and share or write in a journal where they see Christ right then and there and what he is doing. Note: This imaginative prayer exercise may be powerful for some and difficult for others. Be sure to challenge people to participate but respect their freedom if it is too hard.

The Experience

Places To Visit

Check out the Are You Walking With Me? Google Maps List to easily navigate to all locations!


St-Joseph-ChurchSt. Joseph's Catholic Church:During coronavirus, St. Joseph's is closed with the exception of Sunday Mass. However, as part of the ENCOUNTERS Seriesyou may schedule a time to visit the Church.

Sunday Masses only at 10 a.m. (no weekday Masses until further notice). This Mass is open to the public if you register the Friday before Sunday by calling the rectory at (703) 836-3725 between 10 a.m. - Noon.  You may also live stream the Mass at: https://www.facebook.com/StJosephChurchAlexandriaVa/


Alexandria Black History Museum:Closed during COVID. See website for hours.



Alexandria African American Heritage Memorial Park: The park was established in 1995 and includes a one-acre 19th century cemetery, sculptures, and wetlands.





Edmonson Sisters Sculpture & Historical Marker: Erected by the city of Alexandria in 2010, this sculpture depicts the Edmonson sisters who were slaves until freed in 1848.






Freedom House Museum: Once the largest and most successful domestic slave trading firm in America, this building has been converted into a museum that tells the story of the slave trade and those who suffered because of it.




Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery: A burial ground for countless people who found refuge in Alexandria when the Union occupied it. Black Union soldiers were also buried here until they demanded the honor of being buried in Soldiers' Cemetery.





Pauline Bookstore: A vast and diverse Catholic shop run by the Daughters of St. Paul with only a handful of shops throughout the country! 


Local Restaurants

Goodies Frozen Custard & Treats: Don't leave without trying the Turtle Pecan Sundae! If you're looking for a fall treat, be sure to snag their apple cider donutwich!

Haute Dogs & Fries: You can't go wrong with a hot dog, especially when you try this hot spot's take on the traditional dish! Enjoy a buffalo dog, banh mi dog, or NY reuben! Don't forget to throw in some fries, fried pickles, or onion rings.

The Rub:  You may have your mind set on who has the best chicken sandwich, but don't let that stop you from letting “The Rub” into the ring. Grab a Nashville Hot Chicken sando or any of their spicy variations! No bun? 

Augie's Mussel House and Beer Garden: a great place to stop for dinner! Whether you are feeling like keeping it classy with some mussels or grabbing one of the best burgers around. Adult groups over 21 may enjoy sampling one of their 70 brews!

Hen Quarter: Make it a Sunday and stop by for brunch! Otherwise, you can't go wrong with this next-level southern cooking restaurant!

Sample Schedule

  1. Start your day by:
    • Introducing “Christ Checks” Visiting St. Joseph's and/or reading the Black Catholic History resource together. Be sure to call St. Joseph's ahead of time to schedule your visit
  2. Listening to the Morning Glory Podcast - Catholics & Racial Justice (28:09-38:55) on your way. If time permits, listen to Sr. Thea Bowman's music.
  3. Have brunch or lunch at any of the suggested restaurants!
    • During lunch, read the excerpt from “Black Spirituality” section of Rev. Scott A. Bailey's article “Ministry in the Black Catholic Community” and discuss the questions.
  4. Do a Walking Tour
    • Start at the African American Heritage Memorial Park, then walk to the Edmonson Sisters Sculpture & Historical Marker, and finally stop at the Freedom House Museum.
  5. Walk to Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery
    • Listen to Bishop Burbidge's reflection at the Requiem Prayer Service as you walk and/or
    • Spend some time at the memorial. Read excerpts from Open Wide Our Hearts. Discuss together.
  6. Grab some dinner and/or dessert!

Tying It All Together

Perhaps reflect on these questions:

  • What was the most interesting thing you learned about Black Catholic history or religious expression?
  • What was the most inspiring thing that you saw or heard today?
  • Have you ever witnessed or experienced racism? When or where?
  • What can we do as a community to address racism?
  • How might you grow in your faith life or relationship with Christ as a result of today's journey?