Aoun attends Black History Month services at neighborhood congregation

02.22.09

On Sunday, President Joseph Aoun joined St. Katharine Drexel Parish on Blue Hill Avenue in Grove Hall for a special mass in honor of Black History Month -- the latest is a series of visits to local churches. Led by Father Oscar Pratt, St. Katharine's has a reputation for deep engagement with the community. It also serves as host parish for the Archdiocese's Nigerian Catholic community.

Several hundred members of the congregation turned out for the service, which combined the three regularly scheduled Sunday services. Aoun spoke of the University's commitment to completing the Lower Roxbury Oral History Project, an idea that came out of discussions between Aoun and local clergy, including Twelfth Baptist Church's pastor-emeritus, Rev. Michael Haynes.

"It's essential that we capture the unique history of Lower Roxbury," said Aoun, "and to make that history available to both Northeastern and the greater Boston community." The project, coordinated by photographer and documentary-film researcher Lolita Parker Jr., is well underway with more than a dozen oral histories collected from longtime residents.

Aoun also spoke directly to St. Katharine's young people, emphasizing the importance of education and the need for them to do whatever it takes to prepare for college. He pledged that Northeastern would do its share, too, highlighting the University's new Foundation Year program, which provides added support to students during their freshman year. "You do your part," he said. "And we'll do ours."

Aoun has made education a central theme in his other church visits. He recently worshipped with members of the Twelfth Baptist Church, led by interim pastor Rev. Arthur Gerald, and Charles Street AME Church, where Rev. Gregory Groover, chair of the Boston School Committee, serves as the longtime pastor.

The congregations have appreciated Aoun's presence, according to their respective leaders. Father Pratt, called his visit a vital part of maintaining "a good neighbor policy."

"Churches are a great place to put a human face on an institution," said Pratt. "Northeastern has grown in size and reputation, which is good for them. But it's also gratifying to see that they have not outgrown their community." He cited Northeastern's student participation in the St. Katharine's after school program.

Groover echoed that sentiment, saying, "For [our young people] to see a college president of a well-known, nationally famed institution, who works every day in their community, took on significant meaning. He's someone who chooses not to just go home at the end of the week, but to come and sit with them and worship on a Sunday morning."

Pratt, who emphasized in his homily on Sunday the importance of prayer as a tool for engagement, also praised Aoun's outreach to the children of the congregation, calling it a "beautiful and powerful moment."

Aoun said he has been inspired and encouraged by the people he has met during these visits. "Both Northeastern and the Roxbury community have tremendous opportunities to strengthen our partnership, and to bring about change in people's lives. Rev. Gerald, Rev. Groover, Father Pratt: they share that vision. We're committed to keeping the dialogue going."