Archdiocese's new executive director of Cultural Diversity and Outreach says ‘we are journeying together’
Sep 1, 2020
Dr. Ansel Augustine, a former director of the Office of Black Catholics and educator in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, is the new executive director of Cultural Diversity and Outreach for the Archdiocese of Washington.
“I look forward to empowering my staff and volunteers and committees to reach out and connect with our various cultural communities and be their advocate,” Augustine said. “I want those who do not have a voice or those whose ways of worship and culture are not at the forefront to know they can still share their gifts with the wider Church.”
Augustine assumed his new post March 21, but because of the quarantine and self-isolation prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, during the summer he had not yet moved into his office in the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Hyattsville, Maryland.
“Because of the pandemic, I have not seen people face to face. Everything has been Zoom meetings,” he said. “But, I have already discovered that my staff is awesome, and they have been very helpful navigating and guiding me.”
During an interview with the Catholic Standard, Augustine said that while he had not yet been able to sit at his office desk, he has been working to “make this a community office doing community work where we empower one another by sharing our stories and sharing our gifts and making the Church more vibrant.”
During this summer, Augustine has been working with other archdiocesan officials to formulate the Archdiocese of Washington's new initiative, “Made in God’s Image: Pray and Work to End the Sin of Racism,” which Archbishop Wilton Gregory announced at the Aug. 28 Mass of Peace and Freedom celebrated at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle on the 57th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington.
At that Mass, the archbishop said the initiative will include a wide range of pastoral activities and outreach including prayer, listening sessions, faith formation opportunities and social justice work.
Augustine studied at Loyola University New Orleans, Xavier University of Louisiana, and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He is also on the Continuing Education and Enrichment faculty of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana. In the Archdiocese of New Orleans, besides leading the Office of Black Catholics there, he was involved in youth ministry, campus ministry, and young adult ministry.
“My main priority has and always will be the kids, especially the kids from my neighborhood, and helping them see that they can achieve anything they want to,” he said. “My passion is the next generation. This does not mean ignoring the work our elders have done – we honor our elders by empowering the next generation and helping them see this is their Church and their place.”
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, Augustine was among those who helped rebuild the city. Katrina – one of the deadliest storms to ever hit the United States – killed nearly 1,900 people, left several million people homeless and caused an estimated $125 billion in damage.
“I was physically living in my (parish) church after the water was drained out,” he said. “I moved in and lived there as we gutted it and repaired it. I acted almost as security, also.”
Augustine was also very involved with the Wild Tchoupitoulas, one of the tribes of the Mardi Gras Indians, also known as the Black Masking Indians. The tribes – blending Native American and African cultures, music and dance – participate in New Orleans’s Mardi Gras parade, St. Joseph Day celebrations and other events throughout the year.
While in New Orleans, Augustine was also active in prison ministry, feeding the homeless and “lifting up and empowering those who may be seen as on the periphery.”
He attributes his devotion to his Catholic faith to several men’s and women’s religious orders that educated him and were instrumental in his faith formation. “The Edmundites (the Society of St. Edmund), the Josephites (the Society of St. Joseph), the Jesuits (the Society of Jesus) and the Sisters of the Holy Family and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament – those are the ones who had a hand in getting my mind right,” he said.
He is also an associate member of the Holy Family Sisters. The order was founded in 1842 in New Orleans by (now Venerable) Henriette Delille to offer nursing care, provide for orphans and educate enslaved children and free people of color. Augustine said “they had a hand in raising me.”
Augustine said when he learned the Archdiocese of Washington was seeking an executive director of Cultural Diversity and Outreach, “I prayed on it. I didn’t want to leave my home, but if I did leave home, I wanted to go somewhere where my gifts and talents could be expanded and appreciated.”
Pointing to the now-famous observation by Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman, that African-American spirituality is “a gift to the Church,” Augustine said, “in a way that relates to our other cultures – Latino, Asian Pacific, Indigenous American.”
“Communing with a brother or sister in Christ, although their experiences may be different, is still valid and a gift for us to experience,” he said. “If we are all made in the image and likeness of God, then we need to understand that when we are in the presence of others, we are on holy ground.”
This time of social unrest and calls for racial equality in the midst of a pandemic, Augustine said, shows “even though needs may vary, the needs are great and we have to respond to those needs and use our resources to show people they are valued by the archdiocese.”
“What I have seen so far is there is an energy for this work” in the Archdiocese of Washington, Augustine said. “In the people I’ve met I see there is a passion for serving God and His people. This is not just my work, this is our work. This is the work of the community and the archdiocese. We are journeying together.”
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