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Healy, James Augustine

James Augustine Healy, America’s first black Catholic bishop, was born in Jones County, Georgia on April 6, 1830. Healy was one of ten children born to Michael and Mary Eliza Healy; his mother was a mulatto slave purchased by her father. Though legally they could not marry in Georgia, they were married by a traveling minister and lived as husband and wife. The elder Healy was determined to educate his sons, but his children were turned away from many school doors (in both the South and North) until a Quaker school in New York accepted them. Even there they met with discrimination. Healy finally attended Holy Cross College in Massachusetts, where he felt the calling to become a priest. After studying in Canada and France, he was ordained in 1854, becoming the first African-American Catholic priest. Healy returned to Massachusetts, where he fought through discrimination against both blacks and Irish (his father was of Irish descent) to become a respected priest at St James Church in Boston - one of the city’s largest. In 1875 Healy was named Bishop of the Portland, Maine diocese - making him the first black bishop in America. He served as bishop for twenty-five years, establishing many new churches, missions, and schools. He was noted for his work among the poor, and argued for the sovereignty of Indians and an end to child labor. He died in Portland in 1900.

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Source: Black Past