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Black and Catholic

As we near the conclusion of Black Catholic History Month, we turn the spotlight on black Catholic members of our Notre Dame community who strive to educate us on the topics of diversity and inclusion as well as to continually help Notre Dame make improvements in these critical areas. 
Our students are an integral part of these efforts. In the spotlight are the members and moderators of the Notre Dame SHADES Club, both past and present, who are responsible for creating a thriving and prolific student organization. The club journey began in September 2015 when the African American Club was re-established with 24 members. The Club members began to talk about issues impacting their lives at Notre Dame, in their communities, and in our nation. 

At club retreats, liturgies, and meetings, it became apparent that the students in the club represented more than 25 different countries and ethnic backgrounds. Recognizing this rich diversity of cultures, ethnicities, identities, and “shades,” during the liturgy celebrating Black History Month in February 2017, the African American Club was officially renamed the SHADES Club. The Club is a strong presence in our school as they meet regularly and continue to plan activities, retreats and liturgies including the very successful annual Hoops for Hope fundraiser. This month, SHADES Club co-presidents, Sasha Jules ‘21 and Marcel Campbell ‘21, shared weekly presentations on Catholic saints descending from Africa to celebrate Black Catholic History Month.

Also in the spotlight are Dr. Ellie Ingbritsen, Service Learning & Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator and Dr. Charisse West ‘85 Smith, Board of Governors member and co-chair of the Diversity Committee.  Dr. Ingbritsen joined Notre Dame this school year as the Service Learning & Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator and is a member of the Diversity Committee. Dr. Smith hit the ground running by instituting many service projects this fall while teaching two Honors Religion classes. Community Service is a cornerstone of our Catholic Mission. Notre Dame is very excited to have Dr. Ingbritsen as a faculty member leading us in these important projects.

Dr. Charisse West ‘85 Smith is an educational consultant who has worked with many school districts. She is also a Notre Dame alumna who has returned to her alma mater serving on the Board of Governors and Co-Chair of the Diversity Committee, As such, she is charged with facilitating Notre Dame High School’s stakeholders to examine policies, programs, practices and structures that are critical to improving diversity and inclusion. Through thorough data collection and analysis, the Diversity Committee makes recommendations to the Board of Governors and the administration that will initiate capacity, support, and sustain diversity and inclusion improvements at Notre Dame High School.

We asked both Dr. Ingbritsen and Dr. Smith to share with us what it means to be a black Catholic. Both gave us their thoughts in their own very unique ways. Dr. Smith wrote the  poem below and Dr. Ingbritsen recorded her message so we are able to hear in her own words what it means to her. The audio file is in the column to the right. Enjoy their thoughtful and inspiring words.  

Notre Dame is grateful to all our black Catholic community members for the contributions they make every day to make our school a great place for our students to grow and thrive.


By Dr. Charisse West ‘85 Smith 
Being Black and Catholic is complicated.
Being Black and Catholic is an experience
Being Black and Catholic is not monolithic
Being Black and Catholic is not a mystery
Being Black and Catholic is being faithful
Being Black and Catholic is an integration of practices, ideals, and cultures.
Being Black and Catholic is historical
Being Black and Catholic is integrating African culture, practices, vernacular, and symbolism, and Catholic life.
Being Black and Catholic is appreciating the intentional blend of Black History, liturgical dance, beautiful Catholic hymns, and traditional gospel music.
Being Black and Catholic is valuing community versus individuality
Being Black and Catholic is radical
Being Black and Catholic is being unapologetic about how I worship and praise the Lord.
Being Black and Catholic is enveloping loudly interactive, hand-clapping, Amen-affirming shouting Liturgies of the Word
Being Black and Catholic is appreciating the quiet introspective moments of silence and reverence of the Eucharist
Being Black and Catholic is challenging in the face of systemic racism and social injustice
Being Black and Catholic is special and unique
Being Black and Catholic is complicated
Being Black and Catholic is an experience
Being Black and Catholic is me.
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Notre Dame High School

Located on 100 beautiful acres in Central New Jersey, Notre Dame High School, founded in 1957, is a college preparatory school for grades 9 - 12, preparing young men and women for lives of purpose, built upon a foundation of Catholic faith, with a commitment to academics, co-curricular activities and service to others.