2019 Annual Rev. Bernie Clark, C.S.C., Lecture on Catholic Social Tradition

Bernie Clark

Rev. Maurice Henry Sands, the executive director of the Black and Indian Mission Office in Washington, D.C., visited campus in September to offer the 11th annual Rev. Bernie Clark, C.S.C., Lecture. The lecture was created in 2009 by the Center for Social Concerns (CSC) to explore various themes of Catholic social tradition and to inspire students to carry on Father Bernie’s commitment to social justice.

“Christianity, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, offers the message of hope that native people need, and that everyone needs.”

Father Sands

This year’s speaker, Father Sands, supports programs and ministries for communities which, he says, have not been seen as critical to the Catholic mission, namely black and Native American communities. He has also served as a consultant to the USCCB Subcommittee on Native American Affairs and the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism. Father Sands is a member of the Ojibwe, Ottawa, and Potawatomi tribes, and was raised at Bkejwanong First Nation, an island located between Ontario and Detroit.

His speech was titled, “Act Justly: Healing Racism through Faith,” and traced the history of racism and oppression, primarily of native people, in America. Father Sands’s history began with notes from a 1537 papal bull, Sublimis Deus, by Pope Paul II. It stated that the Church’s stance was to honor the dignity of native people, and not to deprive them of liberty, property or possession, even though they were not in the faith. This position, Father Sands noted, was in direct contradiction to manifest destiny and other claims that Christians had rights to take over the land. He went on to discuss other injustices like the 1830 Indian Removal Act, the Trail of Tears, and the Potawatomi Trail of Death. These tragedies have longstanding effects on generations of Native Americans, namely, the elimination of hope, he said.

Father Sands explained, “When people do not have hope, they do not believe that anything nor anyone can bring about positive change.” He said, “Nothing can make things better. The lack of hope that is very pervasive is the root cause of alcoholism, drug use, and suicide that is experienced by native people.”

But, he says, there is an antidote: “Christianity, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, offers the message of hope that native people need, and that everyone needs. We Christians, who are disciples of Jesus Christ, have been commissioned to bring this message to everyone, and to bring hope to those who are in need of it, by bringing them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Also by being present to them, reaching out to them, making efforts to bring about reconciliation, and offering the witness of a good Christian life.”

“Helping people to experience the living and personal faith in life.”

Father Sands

“Helping people to experience the living and personal faith in life is the best way we can help them to receive the hope that only our Lord Jesus Christ can offer them. This will enable them to begin to live with hope and to believe things can get better.”

Social Tradition

Father Sands’s lecture echoed the CSC’s theme for the year: “Act Justly.” Bill Purcell, the director of Catholic Social Tradition at the CSC, said the Center set the theme and programming in order to explore racial justice in response to the U.S. Bishops’ letter on racism titled Open Wide Our Hearts.

Speaking about the lecture series’ namesake, Purcell noted that Father Bernie was a humble man who often shared his “theory of enough” with students. He’d encourage students to go pray and understand what, to them, was enough. Once they had the answer, they were not to change that answer, even if success and prosperity found them. Anything more than enough should be donated to charity, he said. The benefaction for the lecture series comes from one of Father Bernie’s former students who is giving away his more than enough.

The subject matter for the annual lecture has touched on various themes from within Catholic social tradition, such as confronting evil, the search for the common good, and intrareligious dialogue. It has been offered by speakers including Rev. Greg Boyle, S.J., Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J., and Cardinal Joseph Tobin, C.SsR.