St. Augustine’s president preaches at National Cathedral for HBCU Welcome Sunday

Posted Feb 20, 2023

[Episcopal News Service] St. Augustine’s University President Christine Johnson McPhail became the first leader of a historically Black university to be invited to preach at Washington National Cathedral during its fourth annual Historically Black Colleges and Universities Welcome Sunday on Feb. 19.

“I believe that we can learn lessons from the Bible. I believe the passage from Matthew has a lesson for all of us whether we are alumni, current students, faculty, staff, or just supporters of the Black experience. For example, in the text today, on the mountain top God’s glory is revealed again by the transfiguration of Jesus. Before his disciples, Jesus was changed,” McPhail said, referring to the day’s Gospel reading, Matthew 17:1-9.

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The Episcopal Church supports St. Augustine’s and Voorhees, the two Episcopal-affiliated HBCUs, through the Absalom Jones Fund. Click here for more information.


“Transfiguration means a complete change of form, or an appearance into a more beautiful spiritual state. When I read the passage, I thought this is what we do at HBCUs. We, by our faith and strength and hope, participate with God in the transfiguration of each of our students, and in the process, we are changed. Our communities are changed, and our nation is changed. Historically Black Colleges and Universities have been an integral part of the American academic landscape since they were introduced in 1837.”

McPhail is the 13th president of Saint Augustine’s University. Prior to joining Saint Augustine’s, she served as president and CEO of the McPhail Group, LLC. She is a nationally recognized thought leader in higher education and is the founding professor and director of the Community College Leadership Doctoral Program at Morgan State University. Her research interests lie in the intersection of three fields of higher education: leadership, governance and learning.

The cathedral welcomed alumni, organizations, families, and communities representing the Historically Black Colleges and Universities in a special Eucharist service as part of Black History Month on the seventh Sunday after Epiphany.

More than 100 HBCUs exist in the United States. Most were established in the South after the Civil War. HBCUs opened the door of educational opportunity for many African Americans who were once legally denied an education. Additionally, these schools have provided African American students a nurturing environment to explore their collective identities and cultures, according to a cathedral press release.

Saint Augustine’s University, in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Voorhees College, in Denmark, South Carolina, are the only two Episcopal-affiliated Historically Black Colleges and Universities left in the United States. At one point, the Episcopal Church supported 11 HBCUs in Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.