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St. Josephine Bakhita becomes namesake of new north St. Louis parish

Parish is composed of former Most Holy Trinity, St. Nicholas and Sts. Teresa and Bridget

St. Josephine Bakhita
St. Josephine Bakhita is the name given to a new parish comprising the former Most Holy Trinity, St. Nicholas and Sts. Teresa and Bridget parishes in north St. Louis.

Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski issued a decree on Oct. 11 announcing the name. Pastor Father Mitchell Doyen emailed the news to parishioners, who, over several months, had recommended more than 40 names and ultimately voted in favor of St. Josephine Bakhita.

Josephine Bakhita was the first Black saint to be canonized in the modern era. Born around 1869 in Olgossa in the Darfur region of Sudan, she was kidnapped around the age of 7 and sold into slavery several times. During her enslavement, she was taken to Italy, where she served a family as a nanny. She was introduced to Christianity there and later joined the Canossian Daughters of Charity in Venice. She died of pneumonia in 1947, and Pope John Paul II canonized her in 2000. She is the patron of victims of human trafficking.

“As we take this next step in our journey as a new parish, let us learn from St. Josephine Bakhita,” Father Doyen wrote in his email to parishioners. “She can be our inspiration and our example in all we do to build the kingdom.”

Following the All Things New announcement on Pentecost Sunday, representatives from all three churches formed a transition team of laypeople, which has led the effort to examine parish ministries and discover new ways to collaborate as one new parish family, Father Doyen said.

“I’m hearing the stories of love that people have for their churches, and we’re trying to be responsive to what they are experiencing,” he said. “There’s a lot of sacrificing and letting go, but we also have to spend time together and learn from one another.”

Sunday Masses continue to be celebrated at all three churches, Father Doyen said. A unity Mass is celebrated one Sunday a month, rotating among the three locations, and is intended to bring everyone together at one church. He stressed that there is no plan to make any decisions about the future of church buildings.

“There’s no hurry to shut down a church,” Father Doyen said. “We’re still in the formative stages, so we don’t want to make any decisions … otherwise, our individual love for our churches is going get in the way of the discernment.”

Madonna Buhr, who had been a member of Most Holy Trinity in the Hyde Park neighborhood for 43 years, serves on the transition team. She and her husband were married at Most Holy Trinity and will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary next June.

Buhr said she feels confident that St. Josephine Bakhita is the name that God wanted for the new parish. Sixty parishioners had nominated 43 different names, with St. Josephine Bakhita receiving the most votes.

The transition is occurring at the same time parishioners are grieving the loss of the churches they came from, Buhr said. While it’s natural to experience challenges during transition, it’s only because “we love the parishes we belonged to,” she said. “But the real power is the people in these parishes, and that’s what’s exciting. I hope this is the beginning of a vibrant church in north St. Louis that calls to the whole archdiocese.”

Dee White, also a transition team member, had been a parishioner for more than 30 years, first as a member of St. Teresa of Avila, which merged with St. Bridget of Erin in 2003 to form Sts. Teresa and Bridget, located in the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood.

She was among those who nominated St. Josephine Bakhita, who she said “speaks to the power of forgiveness. One of my favorite things that I read about her was she knew she was always a child of God. It wasn’t until she suffered through the things that she did that she came to know God. It’s also wonderful to have the first Black saint (of the modern era) as our patron.”

That speaks to the way that we should view everyone as people of God, White said. “That is our calling as a parish community to reach out to those and remind them of how important they are in God’s sight and to us,” she said.

New parish namesake:

St. Josephine Bakhita

Born: Around 1869

Died: Feb. 8, 1947

Beatified: May 17, 1992

Canonized: Oct. 1, 2000

Feast day: Feb. 8

More about St. Josephine Bakhita: Born in Sudan, she was sold into slavery at about age 7 but ultimately was purchased by Sudan’s Italian consul and treated with warmth and respect, a first for her. She went to Italy, was “gifted” to another family and became a nanny. Given freedom, she joined the Canossian Daughters of Charity in Venice and professed final vows in 1896. Her warmth captured the hearts of many, and after her death, many asked for the intercession of “Mother Moretta.”

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