New Coordinator Leads Community in Honoring Gwen Summers

The Diocese’s Black Catholic Apostolate was established more than 30 years ago to address the economic and spiritual concerns of people with African ancestry, and to promote leadership, foster evangelization and address issues of racial injustice through family and educational programs.

Today, those undertakings remain a mission of the apostolate, even as it begins a new chapter of leadership and expanding programs.

In March, Angelé Mbassi succeeded Gwen Summers as coordinator of the apostolate. Summers, who served for more than 25 years, was honored on May 19 during a Mass that featured African and African-American faith and culture at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Harrisburg.

Gwen Summers, outgoing coordinator of the Black Catholic Apostolate, is embraced by her successor, Angelé Mbassi, after passing a candle to signify the transfer of leadership.
Gwen Summers, outgoing coordinator of the Black Catholic Apostolate, is embraced by her successor, Angelé Mbassi, after passing a candle to signify the transfer of leadership.

The Mass included prayers and hymns in French and English, and in languages native to Cameroon and Congo. The spirited music and the camaraderie among the congregation heartened those unfamiliar with the African languages to join in the chorus and responses.

“This is our first Mass celebrating both African and African-American faith and culture,” Mbassi told The Catholic Witness. The apostolate traditionally hosts a Mass in February to commemorate Black History Month.

A girl raises her arms while praying the Our Father during Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Harrisburg.
A girl raises her arms while praying the Our Father during Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Harrisburg.

“The history of the Black Catholics here traces to Africa. This celebration means something for us, because it is cultural,” she said.

In his homily, Deacon Lawrence Crudup said “It gladdens the heart of God when we all get together. God’s dwelling is with the human race. He wants to be among us. He is for us.”

“I am heartened as I look out at the congregation here and see many different races and tongues,” he remarked.

Looking to the future of the Black Catholic Apostolate, Mbassi said a monthly Black Catholic Ministry Mass and a Black Catholic Choir are in the plans. The apostolate will have its annual summer picnic on Aug. 25 at noon at the River Front Pavilion on Harrisburg’s City Island.

The monthly Mass will be on the third Sunday of the month at St. Francis of Assisi Church at 11:30 a.m. For the picnic, meat and drinks will be provided. Those attending should bring a covered dish or dessert to share, as well as games. For information and to RSVP, contact Angelé Mbassi at 717-608-0718.

‘A Coming Home’

Mbassi describes succeeding Summers in the Black Catholic Apostolate as “a coming home.”

In her native Cameroon, she entered a religious congregation to become a Sister and serve the Lord. However, when her father died, Mbassi, the oldest of 11 children, left the convent to help her mother take care of the family.

She went on to study at a university in Cameroon, and moved to the United States – first to Atlanta and then to Dillsburg with her husband in 2011 – to pursue a Ph.D. in the history of international relations.

“The first person I met in church was Miss Gwen. She introduced me to the community here. She has been supporting me everywhere,” said Mbassi, a member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Mechanicsburg. “If today I am in this position, it is because nothing happens without a reason.”

“I am taking this position as a recall from God to serve his people. It’s really what I first started to do with my life in serving him,” she said.

At the conclusion of the Mass at St. Francis on May 19, Summers passed a candle to Mbassi in a culturally-significant illustration of change in leadership. Mbassi, who refers to Summers as “Mama,” held her predecessor in a loving embrace as the congregation sang.

Members of the apostolate and the St. Francis community celebrated Summers’ service during a social after Mass at the St. Francis of Assisi Soup Kitchen.

Under the auspices of the Diocesan Office of Multicultural Ministries, the Black Catholic Apostolate is indirectly supported by the Diocesan Annual Campaign.

A gathering to celebrate Gwen Summers’ 25-plus years of service to the Black Catholic Apostolate drew dozens of community members on May 19 to the St. Francis of Assisi Soup Kitchen in Harrisburg.
A gathering to celebrate Gwen Summers’ 25-plus years of service to the Black Catholic Apostolate drew dozens of community members on May 19 to the St. Francis of Assisi Soup Kitchen in Harrisburg.

“Ministry to our African and African-American brothers and sisters has always been of utmost importance to our Diocese. This is true for communities with diverse backgrounds. Culture defines who we are and inevitably culture also influences our relationship with God,” said Jaclyn Curran, Coordinator of the Office of Multicultural Ministries.

“There is no mold that dictates how we worship or how we pray. We see this with the Polish, Hispanic/Latino and Vietnamese communities. Since its genesis in 1986 under the guidance of Deacon Halmon and Vern Banks, we have supported an encouraged our African and African-American brethren to embrace and highlight their culture in everything we do as Church. In recene tmonths, Angelé has made great strides in reaching out to communities. Although this applies to all ministries, to simply know they are not alone and we are here for them makes a big difference. As we continue to reach out and to know the spiritual needs of the community, it is my hope that they feel they can also reach out to me and share: What can we do to help strengthen your relationship with Jesus Christ?”

(Learn more about the Black Catholic Apostolate at www.hbgdiocese.org/multicultural-ministries/. To learn more about the Diocesan Annual Campaign, including how you can support the important ministries of the Diocese, visit www.hbgdiocese.org/giving/diocesan-annual-campaign.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness