Maine: An Encyclopedia
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Healy, James Augustine

(1830-1900) was the first African American bishop of the Roman Catholic Church and the first black American ordained a priest in that religion.

Born in Georgia, Healy’s father was a white plantation owner and his mother, a black slave. Sent north for his education, he graduated from Holy Cross in 1849.

He was ordained at the Cathedral of Notre Dame Paris, in 1854, becoming the first African American ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood.

In 1875 he was appointed bishop of the Diocese of Portland which covered all of Maine and New Hampshire at the time. He had been serving in Boston as a priest.

According to Neil Rolde, “Through tact, concern, devotion to his flock, charity and great energy, he won over the people in his charge. He endured ostracism and ignorance. And he did so with grace. To a young girl who once called him “black as the devil,” he gently replied, “You can say I’m as black as coal or black as the Ace of Spades, but please dear, don’t say I’m black as the devil.”

Bishop Healy died August 5, 1900.

Additional resources

James Healy, First African-American Catholic Bishop. Christian History Timeline. See http://www.christianhistorytimeline.com/DAILYF/2002/08/daily-08-05-2002.shtml

Rolde, Neil. So You Think You Know Maine. Gardiner: Harpswell Press, 1984.

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This entry was last modified: July 09, 2012 01:52 AM

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