Book Review: African Saints, African Stories

African Saints, African Stories:  40 holy men and women.  Camille Lewis Brown.  St. Anthony Messenger Press.  145 pages.  Paperback.  February 2008.

4 ½ stars.

Dr. Camille Lewis Brown put this book to together in the beginning as part of her course at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia to teach seminarians and others about African or Black Catholics.  The Church in the early days in northern Africa was a stronghold of Christianity for some centuries until the Muslim invasions of the seventh century.  Some of the major heresies of the early Church were started and fought out in North Africa.  Some of them were the Arian and Donatist heresies.  Some of the major Church Fathers were from North Africa like St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Cyrpian, St. Athanasius, and St. Cyril of Alexandria.  Monasticism is believed to have started in Egypt which is in northern Africa.  North Africa had major contributions to the Church in the early days.    Christianity came to the other parts of Africa when Europeans began colonizing the continent.

This book by Dr. Brown is concerned about African saints who were black- skinned.  Some of the early African saints like St. Augustine and his mother St. Monica may or may not have been black-skinned.  Many of the Christians from northern Africa like St. Cyprian and St. Athanasius were of Roman heritage which means most likely they were white-skinned.  Dr. Brown mentions some of these saints, but also notes that they might have been white-skinned Africans.

Bishop Joseph N. Perry, auxiliary bishop of Chicago provides the foreword.  Dr. Brown provides the introduction which sets the stage and reasoning as to why she set about researching Black saints and holy people.  Most of the book is about people who have been declared by the Church as being saints, blessed, or venerable; the other part is about those people whom Dr. Brown and others consider as candidates for sainthood.  Some of the saints and others she presents are:  St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Josephine Bakhita, St. Benedict the Moor, Pope St. Gelasius I, St. Charles Lwanga and his Companions, St. Antony, St. Martin de Porres, St. Moses the Black, Bl. Marie Clementine Anuarite Negapeta, Blesseds Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa and others.  Those she includes in the second part who she considers worthy of canonization are:  Mother Mathilda Beasley, Dr. Lena Edwards, Mother Emma Lewis, Fr. Augustus Tolton, and others.  She includes three appendices which include a calendar of selected saints, a litany of African saints, and a map of modern day Africa.  She has a bibliography which includes not only books but also websites and other sources; notes, and an index.

 Dr. Brown presents forty entries.  The entry has the name or names of the holy person(s), dates, and feast day on a side bar.  Then she gives a short biography of the saint(s) which varies in length.  She includes quotes from the saint(s) when available.  After the biography there is a quote from scripture that connects with the saint.  She provides a prayer to the saint(s).  She concludes the entry with a short reflection for the reader to ponder.  This book is meant not only for information purposes, but also to provide material to meditate or pray with the holy person(s).  She has done a great job in all these areas.  The cover of the book is quite colorful with an African motif to it.  There are oranges, tans, blacks and browns involved in it.  The entries are very readable for scholars and general readers.  This book is highly recommended to those who may want to use this book as an introduction to the study of black or African saints and holy people.  It is also recommended to those interested in saints and holy people.

Dr. Camille Lewis Brown is the education coordinator of the diocese of Providence, Rhode Island.  She holds a B.A. in history from Franklin and Marshall College, an M.A. in theology from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, and a Ph.D. in educational administration from Boston College.  She founded the Bakhita Fund, a nonprofit organization designed to provide educational assistance to children around the world.  She is the author of Recipe for Change:  consolidation and restructuring (2005).

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