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Former pastor of Our Lady & St. Rose shares what he’s learned about racism

Father Mark Mertes is the former pastor of Our Lady & St. Rose Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, the archdiocese’s only Black parish. Currently the pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, Father Mertes shared his thoughts on racism with The Leaven. LEAVEN FILE PHOTO

by Marc and Julie Anderson
mjanderson@theleaven.org

Father Mark Mertes, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, served as the pastor of Our Lady & St. Rose Parish from 2010-2019. While there, he participated in events celebrating Black Catholic culture, including the National Black Catholic Congress. Recently, he provided a few ideas on ways to promote inclusion and diversity in society.

1. Acknowledge prejudice and discrimination still exist.

“I don’t think it’s subtle at all. I think it’s very obvious. Ask any African American when they go into a predominantly white church. They will speak immediately of not feeling welcome or feeling like they’re getting looks that say, ‘Why would you be here?’ It’s less than it used to be, but it certainly has not by any stretch of the imagination disappeared as a reality.”

2. Examine your own life and actions for any bias.

One of the most powerful articles Father Mertes said he ever read was “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” by Peggy McIntosh. It discusses some of the “unearned advantages” white people experience in their lives versus Black people.

“The best thing we can do is to do our homework and try to understand the unearned advantage that we’ve had. To me, unearned advantage is less of a lightning rod than white privilege.”

3. Do your homework. Learn from others, including the saints.

“We need to look again at our whole history. So, studying the lives of the saints is a great way to do that and just realize that these saints and what they encountered are not a thing of the past. It’s still a thing of the present in terms of resistance to being welcomed in society, shortage of economic opportunities, inability to borrow money, inability to live wherever you want to live.”

Father Mertes also recommended a book titled, “History of Black Catholics in the United States,” written by one of his former seminary professors, Father Cyprian Davis, OSB.

4. Reach out to other Catholics different than you by attending Mass or an event there.

“I’m absolutely supportive of going to other parishes. After you do that, the question becomes, ‘What do you do with that?’”

5. Realize the most important place you can effect change is in your own home, your own workplace or your own parish.

“The only place I can really live out [what I’ve learned] is where I started — in my own home, in my community. And I think after we had experiences of universality, it’s in our own parishes where we can affect the most change.”

“It will transform one’s heart. Once you get enough of those hearts transformed, then good things happen. That’s what Jesus calls us to. He didn’t take on the Roman Empire. He just took on human hearts.

“If you want to be someone, be last. If you want to be great, serve. So, that was his road map. His road map was very much a metanoia, a change of heart.”

About the author

Marc & Julie Anderson

Marc & Julie Anderson

Freelancers Marc and Julie Anderson are long-time contributors to the Leaven. Married in 1996, for several years the high school sweethearts edited The Crown, the former newspaper of Christ the King Parish in Topeka which Julie has attended since its founding in 1977. In 2000, the Leaven offered the couple their first assignment. Since then, the Andersons’ work has also been featured in a variety of other Catholic and prolife media outlets. The couple has received numerous journalism awards from the Knights of Columbus, National Right to Life and the Catholic Press Association including three for their work on “Think It’s Not Happening Near You? Think Again,” a piece about human trafficking. A lifelong Catholic, Julie graduated from Most Pure Heart of Mary Grade School and Hayden Catholic High School in Topeka. Marc was received into the Catholic Church in 1993 at St. Paul Parish – Newman Center at Wichita State University. The two hold degrees from Washburn University in Topeka. Their only son, William James, was stillborn in 1997.

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