BELLEVILLE, Ill. — Rev. Edward K. Braxton, one of the few African American bishops in the Roman Catholic Church, rarely talks to the press. He says he doesn’t live in a “yes or no” world, and instead makes statements in pastoral letters and other writings.
“My thinking is more nuanced than something you put on the 5 o’clock news,” said Braxton, 77. “I write as I speak. I have a moving viewpoint from many experiences.”
His parents, Baptists from Mississippi, migrated to the south side of Chicago in 1941. Catholic schools motivated their conversion. Braxton said he went on to be the only African American in his graduating class at a high school preparatory seminary. There, he chose Aristotle over basketball.
Ordained a priest in 1970, he became a post-graduate student in Belgium, earning doctoral degrees in theology and religious studies. He taught at Harvard, the University of Notre Dame and other places but ultimately realized he wouldn’t be happy as a priest “exclusively focused on the life of the mind.”
His formal demeanor followed him to his role as a pastor and bishop. To some, he seems distant, most at ease surrounded by books and art. His ringtone is set to the Lord’s Prayer sung in Latin. Last summer, after 15 years at the helm, he became bishop emeritus of the Belleville Diocese. He’d formerly served as a bishop in Louisiana and auxiliary bishop in St. Louis.
He recently agreed to visit at length on his new book, “The Church and…