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Chapel Hill church offers scholarship for Black students with ancestral ties to UNC


A sign in front of the St. Thomas More church is pictured in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Monday, Feb. 7, 2022.

Chapel Hill's St. Thomas More Catholic Church has announced the creation of a new scholarship for local Black high school students with ancestral connections to UNC.

Announced on Feb. 1, the Monsignor Thomas P. Hadden African American Reparative Scholarship will offer up to $5,000 — which may be renewed yearly — to Black students who plan to attend two- or four-year programs leading to a degree or certificate. Students whose ancestors were enslaved by or worked for UNC prior to 1950 are eligible to apply, according to the church’s webpage.

Eligible high school seniors must live in Chatham, Durham or Orange counties. Financial need will be prioritized in the decision process. 

Carlos Lima, director of operations and finance for St. Thomas More Catholic Church, said a selection committee composed of parish members as well as a few local leaders, including UNC history professor William Sturkey, will review the applications.

The funding for the scholarship comes from the parish operating funds.

Students of any or no religious faith can apply for the scholarship, according to the church's website.

Thomas P. Hadden was a Raleigh native and the first African American to graduate and be ordained from the North American College in Rome. Hadden, who died in 2012, worked to integrate African Americans into the Catholic Church and was part of a group of Black clergymen that created the Catholic Clergy Conference on the Interracial Apostolate.

Scott McCue, a pastor at St. Thomas More Catholic Church, said Hadden played an important role in responding to racism in the church. 

He said the scholarship aims to take reparative action for the history of enslavement at UNC.

“The idea from the (church's image and likeness) committee was to actually do something tangible to form this scholarship as means of recognizing the sin of racism that has existed in this nation and locally here,” McCue said.

Sturkey stressed that Black people have been part of the University since its beginnings. 

“There was never a time that African Americans were not deeply involved in UNC even though they couldn't go to UNC for the first over 170 years or so,” he said. 

Sturkey said this scholarship recognizes historical and structural disadvantages connected to race and the significant contributions that Black people made in the foundation of UNC. 

“It seeks to help offer some sort of a way to begin to think about solutions to the history of race and the problems it continues to create in our country,” Sturkey said. 

He said it is also crucial to understand that state and federal governments created racial disparities.

Sturkey said it should not be entirely left up to individual churches and other individual entities to repair discrepancies fostered by state action. 

“It would be very helpful, I think, for people to think about ways that governments should be involved in helping to remedy some of the discrepancies that they created,” he said. 

Brandon Bayne, an associate professor of religious studies at UNC, said he is interested in how local institutions like St. Thomas More Catholic Church are taking initiative with reparative scholarships — and how UNC could follow suit.

“I would locate what they’re doing as a unique example, perhaps an example to the University, of how we can name and begin to reckon with these histories of our own institution and our own localities,” Bayne said. 

Only one scholarship will be offered this year, but McCue said he hopes to see it expanded in years to come if more funding is acquired.

The scholarship application closes March 1 and can be found on the church’s website.

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