Archdiocese Local

Black Catholics take pride in local contribution to D.C. shrine

Bishop Ward graduate Ed Dwight and his wife Barbara stand in front of his sculpture of Mary and the Christ Child in the Our Mother of Africa Chapel at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington on Sept. 17. Dwight was honored for his artwork at the 25th anniversary of the chapel. (CNS photo/Patrick Ryan for the National Black Catholic Congress via Catholic Standard)

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

KANSAS CITY, Kan.  —  “I just felt proud,” said Barbara Bailey, pastoral associate of Our Lady & St. Rose Parish here. “I felt very proud that there is a Mother of Africa Chapel and I know the artist.”

On Sept. 17, Bailey, who is also the director of the office of Black Catholics for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, attended the 25th anniversary of the dedication of Our Mother of Africa Chapel in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

It was a return visit for Bailey, who had fond memories of attending the original dedication in 1997.

On this anniversary, Bailey was able to bring along her daughter Monica Randle.

“The basilica is so beautiful,” said Randle. “I’m without words to describe it. There are 99 chapels honoring various saints of different cultural backgrounds.”

The sculptures in Our Mother of Africa Chapel were created by world-renowned artist Edward Joseph Dwight.

But Bailey knows him simply as “Eddie.”

“I’ve known Eddie all my life,” she said. “I grew up with him. He and my older sister were the same age; they went to school together at Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

“We all went to school down there.”

Barbara Bailey, pastoral associate of Our Lady & St. Rose Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, right, and the director of the archdiocesan office of Black Catholics, along with her daughter Monica Randle, attended the 25th anniversary of the dedication of Our Mother of Africa Chapel in the Basilica of National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. COURTESY PHOTO

In 1968, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish was merged with St. Rose of Lima Parish to become Our Lady & St. Rose in Kansas City, Kansas.

When Dwight spoke at the dedication Mass, he recalled growing up in the Wyandotte County parish where he was an altar boy for 10 years.

“I was unwittingly, probably with my background, destined to do this memorial,” he said

In 1947, Dwight was the first Black student to attend Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kansas. Being invited to join the National Honor Society was only another of the “firsts” he collected along the way.

“I was a great ‘accomplisher,’” Dwight admitted.

But art was not yet his focus.

In fact, in a few years, it was as a U.S. Air Force captain and an aeronautical engineer that Dwight, during the Kennedy administration, became the first Black astronaut candidate.

After leaving the Air Force, Dwight moved on to success in several business ventures.

But even those new frontiers didn’t satisfy him.

And so, Dwight earned a master’s in sculpture from the University of Denver, where he taught for several years before becoming an acclaimed sculptor of memorials throughout the world.

In 1995, he was selected to do Our Mother of Africa Chapel.

“This particular sculpture was fascinating for me do,” he said. “I was not in masterful control of the image; it all just spewed out. I couldn’t stop it from what it is today.

“The sensitivity about where I was and where I came from are all manifest in that sculpture.”

Bailey called Dwight before she left for Washington and they were able to reconnect during the anniversary event and take a few pictures together.

“I’m proud of his accomplishments,” she said. “And that pride — it just instills more faith that the Lord is for all of us.

“He’s universal like our church is.”

Monica Randle, left, and her mom Barbara Bailey pose for a photograph at Our Lady & St. Rose Church in Kansas City, Kansas. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

Her daughter agreed.

“We look different,” she said. “We worship differently but we all believe that God is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

“And Mary’s our mother.”

The anniversary Mass at the basilica reflected that universality with a rosary recited in different African languages.

“When I looked around,” said Randle, “there were people from all over. The international component was powerful.

“And when they spoke the different languages, I wasn’t prepared for that, but then I thought well, yes, it is the Mother of Africa.”

After Mass, participants visited the chapel located in the crypt level of the shrine.

In addition to the Our  Mother of Africa sculpture, Dwight created a relief depicting the Black quest for emancipation.

“You recognize that you really are in a holy place,” said Randle of her experience in the chapel. “And it was beautiful to know that our little parish was able to foster this spiritual, creative person.”

The sacred message of Our Mother of Africa chapel came through clearly to Bailey and her daughter. 

“The ultimate message is community,” said Randle. “The church is a diverse international faith community, and the basilica is a wonderful display of our diversity.

“Receive it, be open to it.”

Special invitation

Before each National Black Catholic Congress, local parishes are required to have a day of reflection to include everyone, whether attending the congress or not.

The upcoming National Black Catholic Congress will be held July 20-23, 2023, at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. The congress theme is: “Write the Vision: A Prophetic Call to Thrive.”

The Day of Reflection will be held:

Nov. 12 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Donnelly College Event Center
608 N. 18th St., Kansas City, Kansas.

A continental breakfast and lunch will be served.

Even if you don’t plan to attend the congress, we welcome your input! 

If interested in the Day of Reflection, please RSVP to Barbara Bailey at (913) 321-1958 or by email at:

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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