Black Catholic Voices
Black Catholic Voices interview: Gloria Purvis, longtime radio host, on why racial justice is a life issue
Jan 14, 2021
(Gloria Purvis, formerly the longtime host of the EWTN radio show “Morning Glory,” was interviewed for the Catholic Standard’s Black Catholic Voices series on Dec. 11, 202o at the St. Ursula Chapel of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Pastoral Center in Hyattsville, Maryland. A recent Catholic News Service article noted that she was told after the Dec. 30 broadcast of “Morning Glory” that the show was canceled effective immediately. Purvis told CNS she has no regrets using the show to discuss racial matters following the police killing of George Floyd last May. In the Black Catholic Voices interview with Catholic Standard editor Mark Zimmermann, Purvis discussed why she believes, as a Catholic, that seeking racial justice and opposing racism are pro-life issues.)
How would you summarize your faith journey as a Catholic who is African American?
Gloria Purvis – “I would say my introduction to the faith was through Catholic school and that is how I experienced the beauty of the Mass, and then I had a mystical experience at Adoration that brought me into the Church at age 12. So it’s been the truth of the sacraments that’s really brought me in and, by the way, I went to an African American Catholic school in the South, so all of my peers, my friends, the other students with me, were African American as well. And my experience coming into the Church, a Black priest received me into the Church, and I went to a parish that was predominately African American in Charleston, South Carolina. So my experience of the Catholic Church, my experience of the faith, as a young child was that the faith was one of African American people. So it wasn’t until I left Charleston that I really started to see that it was much broader than just the African American community. I mean, I knew there were people who are not African American in the Church, but that was not my entree into the Church. It was very much through the arms of the African American Catholic community via Catholic education that brought me into the Church.”
What have you learned from the witness of faith of other Black Catholics and how has that shaped your life?
Gloria Purvis – “Because I had some people in my family, cousins who were Catholic and African American, it made the faith seem pretty normative to me, like it was just one of many faiths that African Americans would be in, so I felt very much at home in the Church. However, it was when I started to read more about history and the history of African Americans in the Church that I began to see how much their persevering in the faith despite the kinds of, let’s say, not so positive experiences they had, that it even made it clear for me that the faith must be true. The faith must be the true faith, for people to have persevered in it and remained with the Church.”
Gloria Purvis (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)
Are there instances of racism that you've experienced in society or the Catholic Church that remain painful memories?
Gloria Purvis – “Are there experiences of racism in the Catholic Church, and in society, that I’ve experienced that are painful? Well, yes. Yes, I’ve had many experiences actually. I generally don’t talk about the specifics of them, but suffice it to say, I have particular experiences in my Catholic high school that was integrated. That was quite disappointing, mainly because I wasn't prepared for it. I didn’t recognize that I was in a place that might not have been safe. And I thought that my Catholic high school should have been one of those places, but I realized it wasn’t. And then, I wasn’t sure about how to go to the administration in the school to talk about it. So, it was a painful time really. There are other experiences, of course, as well, but I think that was the first one where I didn’t expect it, and that’s what made it doubly painful.
“A student that used to sit behind me my freshman year used to use racial epithets, talked to me like that. I was in honors class, and so I was one of three African Americans in the class. All of us were female, and we were sitting alphabetically. So I sat on the other side of the class away from the two girls that I knew from middle school. But yeah, he used to just say the most horrible things about Black people and use racial epithets. And it actually gave me an ulcer my freshman year in high school. It was so bad it gave me an ulcer.”
Why do you consider the cause for racial justice, and the need to combat racism, as pro-life issues?
Gloria Purvis – “Well, let me just start by saying that racism is a sin and people go to hell for it. They can go to hell for it. That’s primarily why the Catholic Church is involved with issues of racism. It is not a political issue. It is a matter of people’s souls. And the reason it is a pro-life issue is because at the heart of racism is a denial of the dignity of the human person, and pro-life matters deal with the dignity of the human person. I mean, that’s a crux of the issue. It’s the same Gospel imperative to defend life in the womb as it is to defend the dignity of the human person who is Black.
“And this country has a long history of basically embracing the demon of racism, and it has its effects. You can’t have centuries of evil embraced and naively think that it doesn’t have consequences, that it wouldn’t have a ripple effect. And the other thing that I think that people miss in the discussion on racism is the harm that has come to white people as well. For some reason people always and everywhere only think of the person that is oppressed, but never think of the harm that comes to the people who have been seduced by that kind of ideology, twisted by that kind of social conditioning. It’s so much so, that we forget the harm that happens to the entire human family.
“God made us all of royal status, because we were made in His image and likeness. Racism says, ‘No, God is a liar, only some people are worthy of a royal status,’ and that’s simply not true. That’s a lie from the pit of hell, and that is why we as Catholics should be involved in the racial justice movement, and recognize it is very much at its heart a movement of a pro-life cause, because it deals with the dignity of the human person.”
Gloria Purvis (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)
What has been your reaction to the nationwide demonstrations for racial justice that have happened in response to the police killing unarmed men and women of color?
Gloria Purvis – “I’m happy (ab0ut the demonstrations), because it brings to the forefront the national discussion that we should be having, and I’m hoping it encourages more and more Catholics to raise their voices. Number one, because we care about the dignity of the human person. And much like abortion that is the legal killing of a life in the womb, when you have these extrajudicial killings by police officers, it’s an abuse of the state power, it’s an abuse of policing. And so we as Catholics should raise our voices to say no – proper policing preserves life and brings people to the justice system where they can be fairly tried, examined, all those things. This short-circuits the justice system which we want to operate appropriately.
“And so Catholics have a voice here, and we should be raising our voices and say no, there’s a way that we want policing, and we also want to preserve human life, because every person that is served by the police should be served respectfully and with the care to preserve their life. It’s a sad statement when we as Catholics don’t recognize that, and we are not consistent with our care for life inside the womb, outside the womb, and at the end of life as well. So it’s a consistent life ethic for us as Catholics. Every single person, no matter their background, is worthy of dignity and respect, and we should be cherishing their life and protecting it. It’s simple to me.”
People of color – African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans – have been hardest hit by the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. What does this say about our country, and what should our country do about this?
Gloria Purvis – “People of color have been very hard hit economically and health-wise by this pandemic. You have African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans for example being hard hit, and what does it say about our country? Well, I think that this actually is an opportunity now for us to be in radical solidarity with people who are suffering, and people who were suffering before the coronavirus pandemic, people who were suffering economically.
“We now get a taste maybe, of that kind of anxiety, of how is it that I’m going to pay my bills? Some of us may be sharing that same anxiety that people have all along. This is a time for us to come together as a country, as a community, and say we want to do better. We have to do better about taking care of those people who were on the margins and now maybe a large number of us are on the margins, and so we are considering these issues.
“Also, in terms of healthcare, we should be having discussions about what healthcare looks like. What should be the minimum healthcare we should want one for every person in this country, because we’re realizing there are a lot of gaps. There are a lot of people who cannot get proper healthcare, and in a pandemic that’s the worst place that we want to be.
“Thankfully though, we could at least do the small things of not spreading it (the coronavirus) by wearing masks, washing our hands, social distancing. These small little things that we can do as a community to try to stem the spread and care for our neighbor. And as Catholics, I would think that we’d want to take on these minor sacrifices for the greater good of our neighbor and loving our neighbor.”
Cardinal Gregory has noted that while the nation confronts the coronavirus, it must also address the virus of racism. What do you think the Catholic Church should do as an institution to combat racism, and what can and should individual Catholics do?
Gloria Purvis – “First of all, the Catholic Church needs to remind people that racism again is a sin, and it is a sin that imperils your eternity with God. It imperils your soul, and this is why we as Catholics are concerned about racism because it is a matter of sin. Sometimes I think people think it's merely a political issue, and we need to recognize this is about salvation. So, number one, we need to do that, address it as actually a sin.
“Number two, I think the Church also should have a reckoning with any place in the Church where we instead of mirroring the Gospel, we mirror the prevailing attitudes at the time. Instead of being a place where people could come in and see what we really believe about the human person and (see) it was a place free of racism, it wasn’t that in all cases. And so we should talk about that history and try to make amends for it.
“I think one of the beautiful things about Catholicism is that in our spirituality, we often make reparations for sins. When people say, ‘I didn’t own slaves. I didn’t this, I didn’t do that,’ I was like, you’re a Catholic and you’re saying this? My goodness! Jesus Christ never committed a sin, but He took up the cross for us. Who are we as Catholics to not want to take up a cross or make reparations for these sins? And we also need to remember that sin is chiefly an offense against God. And what Catholic, because we love God, would not want to make reparations for that?
“So these are the things we can do as a Church, admit that it is a sin, talk about our history. As Catholics we can make spiritual acts of reparation, and we can also read our bishops’ statements about racism. Pray on it. Ask the Lord to reveal those places in our lives where we may not be aware that we are affected by racism. I would say those are the main things for starters that the Church can do and that Catholics should try to do.”
How have you kept the faith, both your Catholic faith and your faith for our country, over the years, despite this “virus” of racism that has infected both, and what gives you hope for a better future for our Church and for our country?
Gloria Purvis – “I kept the faith, because like I said, when I came into the Church, as a child at age 12, I had a mystical experience during Adoration where I came to know that He (Jesus) was alive and really present during Adoration, and I’ve never forgotten that. I’ve never forgotten that fundamental truth about what we believe. And so it’s sort of been like a glue, sort of like a barnacle on the side of the ship of the Church. There’s no getting me loose, okay?
“And I also don’t judge the Church by the actions of others. I mean, I am a sinner too, and while I can marvel at other people committing sin, I myself think about well, I did too. I do too. And so I recognize that we’re human, and it is through God’s mercy that we can always begin again, we can always convert, we can always try again. And so that has been my hope as well, as we deal with the demon of racism and try to exorcise it out of the Church and out of this country.
“We realize every time we fall into that particular sin, we can go to Confession and get up again and try to do better. I mean this is our walk, right, it’s to get holy or die trying. And so, I don’t let sinfulness of others make me forget the truthfulness of the Church, who she’s built upon, who is really present in the sacraments. No one else’s bad behavior is going to separate me from He who I say I love. I can never walk away from the Eucharistic table. I could never walk away from the Sacrament of Reconciliation because of other people’s bad behavior, even if that bad behavior involves people who are of the clergy. I am not going to abandon Jesus because others do. I just couldn’t. And so I take that approach.
“In terms of faith, that's what keeps me here. I know who is really present, and I know that humanity has fallen and that we’re weak, and that’s why we have a Sacrament of Reconciliation, always to come back to Him.
“And so that kind of hope is what also makes me have faith in our society, because as we as a Church purify ourselves and continue conversion and pray to God to ask for His graces upon our country, I believe that we change our country as well. It’s a spiritual work, and it’s going to take time, but we have to persevere in the faith.
“And I also know that Jesus Christ has already won the victory. The job for us now is just to continue in the battle and to spread the seeds of the Gospel. We may not be blessed to see the increase, but we know that the Holy Spirit will make those seeds grow as long as people cooperate. But my job is not to naysay it because I’m not seeing cooperation now. My job is to continue persevering in the faith and loving Jesus Christ. And that’s what I'm going to do because I owe allegiance to Him, who I love.”
Mark Zimmermann, the Catholic Standard's editor, interviews Gloria Purvis as part of the Black Catholic Voices series. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)
What is your reaction to Pope Francis elevating Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory to the College of Cardinals, making him the first African American cardinal in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States – what does that mean to you, and what do you think it means to the nation’s Black Catholics?
Gloria Purvis – “We’re celebrating. We’re happy. We finally get to see our native son, if you will, become a prince of the Church. I mean, considering the history of the Church in the United States regarding Black people in general and Black men in particular and not seeing them as being worthy or capable of the priesthood, I mean that’s painful. And we know it’s not true, right? God calls whomever he calls among those men who are willing to follow Him in this particular way, and Cardinal Gregory said, ‘yes.’ And like me, he also is a the product of Catholic schools, being exposed to faith and early on, (him) hearing a call to the priesthood and being willing to pursue it, and I'm sure he did it in times that were not easy and not necessarily welcoming.
“And so, for him now to be a prince of the Church, it’s a moment of celebration in the community, because we finally feel like the Church recognizes that we as Black people have gifts to give her, and we gave the Church one of our sons, Cardinal Wilton Gregory. And, we would give more of ourselves, as well, if the Church will receive it. So I would say for me that is what I take away. And I know that same kind of joy and that this gift of blackness being brought to the Church is being fully received now in the Church of the United States, which for a long time had some resistance to that gift. And so we’re happy about that, and let’s see what else will come of this generous gift of our community to our own Church and what more will come from this. So (I’m) just happy.”