The warmth of more than 250 Catholics celebrating the 37th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Mass at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock was more than enough to keep the chill away Jan. 13.
At that Mass, Rosalyn Pruitt, a member of St. Augustine Church in North Little Rock, was honored with the Daniel Rudd Award for more than 33 years serving her parish community and with Black Catholics across the country.
Pruitt’s name likely rings a bell for many Catholics across the state, and for good reason — she is a board member of Pax Christi and a driving force behind the Diocesan Council for Black Catholics as well as organizing local and national Black Catholic retreats and conferences. A Cursillista, she and her husband of 43 years, Tim, have welcomed clergy and religious into their homes and assisted seminarians in their education, and have played pivotal roles in the Renew program, marriage counseling groups, Bible studies and several civic organizations in her community.
“I was shocked when I heard I was being honored this year,” Pruitt said. “I opened the envelope and said, ‘What? What?!’ I almost hit the floor.”
Pruitt converted to Catholicism April 8, 1983. Just a year and a half earlier, she and her husband were the first African American couple to marry in the Cathedral Aug. 1, 1981. Pruitt has been an active member at St. Augustine for more than 41 years, and has served as the church’s secretary for more than 33 years.
“I tried to retire this past April, but they couldn’t find anybody to replace me, and Father Emanuel (Tanu, SVD, pastor) asked me to stay a few more months until he could learn his way around,” Pruitt said. “I’m still there.”
Pruitt’s service to her Church and community, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor reminded those in attendance during his homily, is a trait we also see from Dr. King.
“From (Martin Luther King Jr.) I learned that being a faithful Christian means more than just saying a prayer to try and get your own soul into heaven,” Bishop Taylor said. “Rather it means doing what Jesus did, working to build God’s kingdom of peace and justice and truth…and that includes defending human rights.
“A difference between a hero and any other important historical figure is the way that a hero’s courageous self sacrifice inspires us to live up to the best that is in us, and that ability to inspire can become more powerful with the passage of time.”
Pruitt is the third person in her family to receive the Rudd Award. Rudd, a former slave who spent much of his life in Marion (Crittenden County), increased the popularity of Catholicism among African-Americans. He organized several of the first Black Catholic conferences while publishing the American Catholic Tribune.
“His insight was that the spirit of Catholicism would unite people around the world, and he sought to promote his faith especially among Black people,” Father Warren Harvey, the bishop’s liaison to the Diocesan Council for Black Catholics, said. “The purpose of this award is to recognize an African-American Catholic layperson — a person who has exhibited the same love for their faith and leadership throughout their Church and the community in general.”
Pruitt is thankful to be helping the Church in the Diocese of Little Rock.
“When you go to a lot of conferences, you hear from parishes in Baltimore, D.C., Los Angeles,” Pruitt said. “You think we have problems? Our problems are nothing like theirs. They close down parishes and combine dioceses in other states. We are really blessed here in Arkansas, and I try to tell people that.”
Father Harvey said Pruitt is a “very dedicated Catholic woman…who loves the youth in her parish and encourages them to be their best and take their roles in the Church.”
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