Black Catholic school alumni thrive, give back, and foster community
By Amy White
The Texas Catholic
Decades after graduating from Catholic schools in the Diocese of Dallas, Black Catholic school alumni are living out the values of faith, justice, and community that they learned in school.
Bernardette Logan Harvey recalls with gratitude the education she received through her Catholic schooling, which included formation at St. Anthony Catholic School, ending in 1979, and Bishop Lynch High School, ending in 1981.
“Having the same standard at school that you have at home, that was important to my parents, and it was important to me once I had children,” she said, adding that this standard includes “being a good person, being able to pray, learning the Catholic prayers.”
At St. Anthony, which was then a Catholic school serving African-American children, Harvey was able to grow and learn with people that could relate to her experience as a young Black Catholic.
“That’s the thing about going to an all-Black Catholic school. We had a chance to know each other. We had a chance to know who we were,” she said.
Michael Nelson, a St. Anthony alumnus who entered the school in 1963, also remembers his experience at the school during that time.
He said he enjoyed the environment at the school. “There was such a can-do spirit.”
He also recalled the fruitful religious environment at St. Anthony which led to his baptism in 1965.
“When combined with prayer and some of the other rituals that we experienced—we always said the Angelus before lunch and had prayers in the afternoon—it was quite an experience,” he said. “It was very, very different from anything that 99% of kids in my neighborhood would experience.”
Nelson continued his Catholic education by attending Bishop Lynch as the first African-American student, he said. He graduated from the school in 1970.
“I would not be the person that I am had it not been for Bishop Lynch,” he said.
Fruits of formation
Formed by their early education, many Black alumni of Dallas diocese schools are now giving back to their communities.
Christian Watkins, a social justice advocate currently living in Washington D.C., graduated from St. Anthony in 1998 and Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas in 2001. Watkins currently works with NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, where he focuses on criminal legal system reform, democracy reform, and labor rights.
“I wholeheartedly believe my sacred calling to justice advocacy is not just a job or stuff to do, meddling in politics. It’s soul work. It is sacred work we all must participate in,” he explained.
Watkins attributes his passion for social justice, in part, to his Catholic school upbringing.
“It’s not by coincidence that I was educated in Catholic schools, that I was given a strong social justice and a critical thinking undergirding through Catholic education,” he said. “It’s by God’s divine providence.”
As a Jesuit alumnus, Watkins gives back to his Catholic school community by participating in a new mentorship program organized by the unofficial Black alumni group at the school. In this program, African-American alumni of Jesuit provide support to current Black students at the school.
Watkins said, “We want to make sure that our young brothers have what they need and have the perspectives from those who have gone on before them in order to make sure that they not only can survive and flourish during the Jesuit education but also come away with a sense of self and self-empowerment and a deep-rooted, service-minded spirit.”
Mentors meet once a month with students—in-person or remotely—to listen to their concerns, offer encouragement, and give advice, Watkins explained.
An enduring community
Tucker Evans, another St. Anthony alumnus and also an alumnus of Bishop Dunne High School, gives back to his Catholic school family by fostering community.
“At St. Anthony, we still have lifelong friends from elementary school,” he said. “Some of us went to Dunne, some of us went to other Catholic high schools, but we all still stay in touch with each other.”
Evans said the alumni of Bishop Dunne meet up as an unofficial alumni group every two or three months. He serves as a communicator, spreading word about gathering to other alums. Most of the time, these events have a “tremendous turnout,” he said.
“We usually pick a restaurant,” Evans shared. “Everybody has a story. Each class has a story as to what happened with that particular class. We were like that even when we were all in school. There was no distinguishing between freshman, sophomore, junior, senior—everybody just hung out and had a good time.”
Evans, who attended St. Anthony from 1964 to 1972 and Bishop Dunne from 1972 to 1976, recalled his Catholic education fondly.
“The experience I had with both schools was tremendous,” he said. “I would not be able to accomplish some of the things that I have accomplished without first the foundation which was at St. Anthony and then from there to Bishop Dunne.”
A decade later, the classmates still enjoy the fruits of their formation.
“Whenever we meet up, we have an awfully good time. There’s never a dull moment,” he said. “We enjoy each other’s company. That’s mainly what we do.”
Harvey also continues to meet with her former classmates. She runs an unofficial St. Anthony alumni group.
“We get together and have reunions and bring our teachers together, get them in town for the reunions,” she said. “When we meet, it’s almost like cousins getting together.”
She added, “I think the experience that we shared was so rare… What we learned follows us in all of life.”
Harvey said she is encouraged by the number of proud Black Catholic school alumni.
“We’re still getting together. We’re still out here. We’re doing things.”