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 | By Sue Parker

Black history in the Diocese of Lansing


Father Norman DuKette, the first black priest in the Diocese of Lansing

When the Diocese of Lansing was established in 1937, Father Norman DuKette was already ministering to black Catholics in Genesee County. Ordained in 1926, Father DuKette was the first black priest from the See of Detroit, and was sent to serve the Flint area in 1929.

Father DuKette founded Christ the King parish in 1929. He celebrated the first Mass of the “Colored Catholic Mission,” as it was known at the time, at St. Joseph Hungarian Church with just three other people. This was on the feast of Christ the King. Choosing Christ the King as its patron, the congregation celebrated Mass in the homes of parishioners, and then a Methodist parsonage, until enough money was raised to purchase an old government building. About 200 families continue to gather at Christ the King to worship today.

Father DuKette served the Flint community until 1970, when he retired at the age of 80. The Father DuKette Intercultural Center opened in 1977 to serve the needs of blacks in Flint, and at its opening in 1980, DuKette Catholic School was named to honor his contributions to the black community. He died in 1980 at the age of 89. Although the school closed in 2008, it was an important part of the community for almost 30 years. According to one grandparent, “parents sent their children to DuKette because of the small classes, good teachers and strong emphasis on God and values.”


Albert H. Wheeler, mayor of Ann Arbor and UM professor  

  • First black professor to earn tenure at the University of Michigan
  • First black mayor of Ann Arbor in 1975
  • Active civil servant in advocating for black rights
  • Helped found the forerunner to Ann Arbor's NAACP chapter, the Civic Forum, and served as local president of the NAACP 
  • As mayor, established the Human Services Department and a Fair Rental Practices Commission, both committed to remedying housing practices that prevented black residents from moving to the city 
  • Instrumental in establishing the Campaign for Human Development
  • Worked for the Archdiocese of Detroit
  • Catholic Charities named its Seeker of Justice award after Albert Wheeler because of his work in civil rights.


Catholic Charities refugee resettlement 

St. Vincent Catholic Charities in Lansing offers Refugee Services to people from Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Senegal, Somalia and Sudan, among other areas. Catholic Charities helps hundreds of refugees each year in the resettlement process by picking them up at the airport; locating safe and affordable housing; providing furniture and other household items; providing English as a second language classes; enrolling children in school; helping with employment services, etc. 

See the links below for FAITH magazine cover stories on refugees who were resettled in the Diocese of Lansing.


Knights of Peter Claver in Flint

The Knights of Peter Claver is the largest black Catholic lay organization in the United States. Named for the Spanish saint who served Africans enslaved in Colombia and the West Indies in the 16th and 17th centuries, it was founded in Mobile, Ala. in 1909 by the Josephites. The organization had councils across the country by 1946, and currently has more than 700 units throughout the United States.

In Flint, Father Norman DuKette Council #90 was established in 1942 by lay members of Christ the King parish, and the Ladies Auxiliary Father DuKette Court #90 was founded a year later in 1943. Council #90 declares the mission of the Knights of Peter Claver as its mission: “Our purpose is to render service to God and his Holy Church, render aid and assistance to the sick and disabled, and promote social and intellectual association among our members.”

The Knights are dedicated to service, inspired by the work of St. Peter Claver, including promoting civic and social justice, contributing to charity, nurturing relationships within the community, youth and family, and promoting education by providing scholarships for post-secondary education. Their mission is carried out through the work of several divisions for men, women and young people.


U.S. Statistics on black Catholics 

  • There are three million black Catholics in the United States.
  • Of Roman Catholic parishes in the United States, 798 are considered to be predominantly black. Most of those continue to be on the East Coast and in the South. Further west of the Mississippi River, black Catholics are more likely to be immersed in multicultural parishes.
  • At present, there are 15 living black bishops, eight of whom remain active.
  • Currently, six U.S. dioceses are headed by black bishops, including one archdiocese.
  • There are 250 black priests, 437 deacons, and 75 black men in seminary formation for the priesthood in the United States.
  • There are 400 black religious sisters and 50 religious brothers.


Timeline of black ministry in the Diocese of Lansing

1926  - Father Norman DuKette ordained first black priest in Michigan 

1929  - Father DuKette founds Christ the King parish in Flint for black Catholics 

1937  - Diocese of Lansing is established 

1938  - Genesee, Livingston and Shiawassee counties added to Diocese of Lansing

1942  - Knights of Peter Claver Fr. Norman DuKette Council #90 founded

1943  - Knights of Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary Father DuKette Court #90 founded

1977  - DuKette Intercultural Center opens in Flint 

1980  - Fr. DuKette Catholic School opens 

1986  - Bishop Povish establishes the first Black Catholic Diocesan Coordination Team  

1987  - Bishop Povish leads 10-member delegation to first National Black Catholic Congress in Washington, D.C. 

1988  - Diocesan Pastoral Council approves establishment of Black Catholic Ministry Office, which opened in 1990

1992  - Oliver Washington ordained as first black deacon of Diocese of Lansing 

2008  - Fr. DuKette Catholic School closes

2014  - Fr. DuKette Scholarship at Powers High School established by the Rachor Family Foundation

2018  - Bishop Boyea announced the formation of the Diocese of Lansing Task Force on Race and Catholic Schools led by Joan Jackson Johnson.