Black Catholic grad student embraces faith, defies skeptics - Catholic Courier
Women sing into microphones.

Chari Peter sings with other members of the Immaculate Conception/St. Bridget choir during a Nov. 10 prayer service that kicked off a three-day Black Catholic History Month revival. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)

Black Catholic grad student embraces faith, defies skeptics

“You’ll see!”

That’s the defiant response Chari Peter once gave a colleague who questioned how God could help the young adult.

As a graduate student pursuing a doctorate in chemistry at the University of Rochester, Peter is well aware of the skepticism with which many in the scientific community regard religious belief.

“I think the scientific community is very much intrigued by things that they can solve and they have an explanation for. There are a lot of things about God that you cannot explain, and I think that gets to them, and they are very persistent about trying to find ways to prove he doesn’t exist,” she remarked.

Peter’s own faith is unwavering, however, and she joined Rochester’s St. Monica Parish shortly after moving to Rochester in 2021.

“(Parishioners) constantly give me encouraging words with my schooling — just remember that everything is in God’s hands, and you’re only here because of him — and that has definitely helped me,” said Peter, who was one of the Diocese of Rochester’s two official delegates to the National Black Catholic Congress in Maryland this July.

Young adult grew up in Catholic community in the Caribbean

Peter grew up in the Caribbean island nation of the Commonwealth of Dominica, whose population is largely Roman Catholic, said Peter, who attended Catholic school from the primary grades through high school.

“My Catholic faith was very much ingrained in me,” she remarked.

Peter also was very involved in her local parish, where she was an active member in the parish youth group and sang with the choir.

“That’s the main way I was involved back home,” she explained. “I have always loved singing. I felt that was a way in which I could express my love for God. I was always told by my mother that singing is praying twice.”

After graduating from high school in 2018, Peter left Dominica and came to the United States to study at Grambling State University in Louisiana. She graduated from the university in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and another in math and physics.

Chari Peter found a new spiritual home at Rochester’s St. Monica Parish

In 2021, she moved to Rochester to study at the University of Rochester. After leasing an apartment, she turned her attention to finding a spiritual home. Finding a parish is usually her first move after relocating, she said.

“I looked on my phone to figure out what was the nearest Catholic church to me, and I realized St. Monica was like a five-minute walk from my apartment,” she said.

The community at St. Monica Parish welcomed Peter with open arms and became a second family of sorts, she said. Living on her own in Rochester proved a much different experience than living with peers in Louisiana, and Peter said she believes she would have been lonely if not for the compassionate Catholics she met at church.

“They basically just took me under their wings. … I think St. Monica members are very good at identifying someone who is not from here and making them feel at home,” Peter said.

Peter sees her involvement at St. Monica as a way of giving back

Peter soon became involved in the parish’s faith-formation program, partly to give back to her new faith community and partly to show gratitude for those who had helped her grow in faith when she was a child.

“I am who I am today because I had a good faith-formation process. I think if I can help another child to grow in that faith — which they will definitely need when they become adults — I will definitely do that,” she said.

Peter currently volunteers with the Children’s Liturgy of the Word and sings with St. Monica’s gospel choir. One day, a fellow parishioner noticed the look of joy on Peter’s face while she sang and approached her after Mass.

“She said, ‘You know, there’s a congress where you can meet other Black Catholics and listen to this music all day long,’” Peter recalled. “That definitely inspired me, seeing a member of our church looking out for me and seeing how I could potentially grow in my faith as a young person.”

Peter said she also hopes to help other young Black Catholics in the Rochester Diocese grow in their faith. She and the other delegates to the National Black Catholic Congress discussed issues of importance to Black Catholic youths and young adults, and over the coming months, she and fellow Rochester delegate Yvonne Thorne will meet with diocesan officials to talk about ways to engage more young Black Catholics.


EDITOR’S NOTE: “Profiles in Faith” highlights Catholics in the Diocese of Rochester of all ages and walks of life who are role models for living the faith. To suggest someone to profile, email Newsroom@CatholicCourier.com.

Tags: Black Catholics, Profiles in Faith
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