Parishioners and friends of St. Thomas of Villanova Parish came together for Theology on Tap on Feb. 9 at Iron Hill Brewery in Ardmore. Father Stephen Thorne, pastor of St. Barbara Parish in Philadelphia’s Wynnefield section and Chair of the Archbishop’s Commission on Racial Healing, spoke about racial healing this Black History Month.

Young adults from St. Thomas of Villanova traditionally would gather for Theology on Tap on a regular basis before the COVID-19 pandemic. This marked the group’s first gathering for this particular function since the worldwide outbreak of the virus.

Approximately 20 people, mostly in their 20s and 30s, came out and listened to Father Thorne’s faith-informed discussion while catching up with old friends and making some new ones.

Since this month’s Theology on Tap event took place during Black History Month, it was important for Megan Carey, Youth and Young Adult Minister at St. Thomas of Villanova and Our Mother of Good Counsel Parishes, to have a guest speaker who has dedicated his priesthood to serving African Americans and the Black Catholic community.

“I always welcome the opportunity to speak about racial healing through the lens of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and our Catholic social teaching,” said Father Thorne.

“During February, it is especially important to share the contributions that African Americans have made and still make to our country.”

One of Father Thorne’s first assignments as a priest for the Archdiocese was Director of the archdiocesan Office for Black Catholics from 2004-2011. Following this assignment, he returned to priestly ministry serving as pastor of the predominantly Black Catholic St. Martin de Porres Parish before his current assignment as pastor of St. Barbara’s in West Philadelphia. He has also served at various parishes including St. Katharine Drexel in Chester and the former St. Therese in Mount Airy.

Additionally, Father Thorne is a consultant to the National Black Catholic Congress, and the Sub Committee for African American Affairs of the United States Conference for Catholic Bishops among other roles.

In 2021, Archbishop Nelson Pérez launched the Archbishop’s Commission on Racial Healing comprised of 18 people and represents the diversity of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia by race, age, gender, and language. The Commission is mostly lay faithful from city and suburban parishes. The archbishop had asked Father Thorne to co-chair the initiative.

“He [Archbishop Pérez] saw a need to start a commission [during a period] that was tearing the world apart,” said Father Thorne. “Priests and laity must work together. Men and women must work together.”

Father Thorne asked those in attendance think of any African American that ever uplifted them.

Jess Atoo, a member of St. Cyprian Parish in Philadelphia, said that in her experience that person was Father Thorne himself. As a graduate of Holy Child Academy in Drexel Hill she had a chance to get to know and be influenced by him when he said Mass, heard confessions, and led other liturgical functions at her elementary school.

“Having a black Catholic priest lead us was a gift,” said Atoo.

During the question and answer portion of the night, Father Thorne encouraged those in attendance to talk and listen to our brothers and sisters despite any differences saying that “both may find out they have more in common than they know.”

“We must continue to ask the Lord to open our eyes and open wide our hearts. Racism cripples all of us,” he added.

Father Thorne concluded the evening with a prayer, saying “Bless us tonight as we go forth, enjoy the rest of our evening and have a place to rest.”

Among the attendees, Patrick Rafter of Malvern said it was eye-opening to how we are all one church.

“We’re all one on the inside,” said Rafter.

Considering the positive outcome with so many participants, St. Thomas of Villanova Young Adults hopes to plan another Theology on Tap event in April.

“We figured that with that success, we’ll bring in back in April,” said Carey.