Family legacy inspires new African American Catholic bishop

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A sense of joy radiates from the Most Rev. Rosilyn Carroll, new bishop of the Twin Cities African American Catholic Congregation, much of it a legacy from her late mother, Thelma Carroll. “She was my best friend, mentor and spiritual guide,” said Carroll, who grew up in St. Peter Claver parish and has lived in St. Paul most of her life. Carroll, a former chair of the St. Paul School Board, is currently academic director of Hamline University’s Center for Excellence in Urban Education.

Her mother loved her children and grandchildren so deeply that when she died two years ago, Rosilyn Carroll discovered that, like herself, all her brothers and sisters and nephews and nieces thought they were Thelma Carroll’s one and only favorite.

That is the depth of loving joy the bishop says she also finds in her religion, the African American Catholic Congregation, which combines African traditions with the spiritual beliefs and liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church.

Carroll was consecrated a bishop on May 7 by Archbishop G. Augustus Stallings, patriarch and founder of the denomination. From St. Paul, she presides over the Layfayette province, which numbers 1,200 people in three churches in New Orleans and Layfayette, LA, including one that Hurricane Katrina destroyed. The congregation is working to rebuild that structure. Rebuilding also means houses, clothing, food, job training and social services.

“We’re supposed to be about education, ministry and love,” Bishop Carroll said in a recent interview at Hamline University. “We want entrepreneurial enterprises, a credit union so people can be self-sufficient, and a safe place for seniors to be, where young people will prepare meals and do laundry as part of their service in Christianity. . . ”

Carroll first heard about the African American Catholic Congregation and its founder 17 years ago. She was attending a Catholic Mass in Ohio, where an announcement from a cardinal was read stating that Stallings, a Catholic priest in Washington, D.C., had declared his congregation independent from Rome. The letter warned that Stallings was thereby excommunicated from the Catholic Church, and so was anyone who joined him.

“That made me mad,” Carroll said. “I wanted to know more about him.”

She learned that for nearly 20 years, Stallings had urged Catholic authorities to be more sensitive to the two million black American Catholics. At his own parish, he preached in a traditional black Protestant style and brought full Gospel choirs and African history into the Mass. But he reached a stalemate with officials over questions of top-down authority, and established a distinct Afri-centric Catholic denomination. Not only was it dedicated to anti-racism, it also allowed women and married people to become priests.

Carroll was so intrigued that she began four years of study under Stallings and was ordained a priest in 1993.

“We believe in the Earth and the sacredness of it,” she said. “We do the calling of the ancestors and believe we are all connected.”

She said her church takes a positive view toward people. “We believe we’re spiritual beings learning to be human. That’s what Afri-centered means. It’s not our nature to be sinful. Somehow, as Christians, we have lost our true nature. That’s why we have war and look at artificial things, like race, to determine our worth.

“I believe that if we practice what Jesus preached — love, forgiveness, mercy — I don’t know how we could be racist. I don’t know how we could think a man is better than a woman. And we could end the war in Iraq.”

Bishop Carroll, who earned a law degree at William Mitchell College of Law, serves as president of her church’s governing body, the Board of Trusted Servants. She is also a peace ambassador of the Interreligious Federation of World Peace, founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, and has made numerous trips abroad, including four to Israel.
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The African American Catholic Congregation has Imani Temples in Washington, DC, Maryland and South Carolina. The next may be in Texas. What about Minnesota? “Someday,” Carroll said.

As for Louisiana, “The real challenge is building the kingdom and strengthening the base,” she said, “having a strong foundation of ministries, having our temples be a place of refuge where we empower women, strengthen men, build families, and we prosper, so we can minimize homelessness, poverty, sickness and violence.”

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