Long before making Arizona his permanent residence in 2000, Isaiah “Kit” Marshall grew up reading the adventures of Kit Carson as a young boy in Cleveland, Ohio.
His childhood friends began calling him, “Kit” for the enthusiastic way he retold the stories of the American frontiersman.
In his own way, Marshall resembles the men of the Old West; having forged his way as a Black Catholic attending a segregated church in his hometown, to a Phoenix diocesan position with a national honor.
Marshall, the diocesan director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry for the past 11 years, is the first honoree to receive the Bishop Harold R. Perry Award from the Catholic Negro-American Mission Board.
The board, established in 1907, is one of three interrelated organizations within the Black and Indian Mission Office in Washington,
D.C., founded by the Catholic bishops of the United States.
Marshall was recognized, in part, for his ability to engage and form Black Catholic leaders in the diocese, and his collaboration with the national office on plans and projects.
“We feel brother Marshall has been very good for us by helping the organization, in all aspects,” said James Lackey, who has known him for the past 12 years and is a diocesan advisory board member.
“He thinks things out, plans ahead and is very detailed-oriented. The office has grown because of his involvement around the country,” he said.
For more than a decade, Marshall has set out to reach the Black community of the diocese to share faith, culture and heritage —all part of the mission statement he takes in a profoundly personal way.
A point of pride for him is being the caretaker of St. Pius X Church. Built in 1935, it was built for “colored people when Phoenix was segregated,” Marshall said. “It’s an Arizona treasure, and I’m very proud of it.”
The church, located at 809 S. 7th Ave., is the location for the monthly Catholic “Unity Mass” on the third Sunday of each month at 1 p.m.
“I tell people today we are a multicultural center,” Marshall said. “The Sudanese and Croatians use the church for Mass, and we have Chinese and Native American groups that use it for retreats and meetings.”
The office of Black Catholic Ministry also sponsors the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Mass in January at St. Mary’s Basilica downtown.
The Mass not only remembers the civil rights leader who helped restore respect and dignity to people of color, but honors all Black Catholics for their perseverance and deep faith, and their many contributions to Catholic life in America.
His brother, Fr. Paul Marshall, a Marianist priest from St. Louis, has been a guest homilist.
The office, which receives monies from the annual Charity and Development Appeal, has an operating budget of $65,000.
Marshall, 73, not only uses the funds for maintenance at St. Pius, but for youth evangelization programs and outreach.
Each year the office has a raffle to encourage Black youth to attend a Catholic high school. Ten $500 scholarships were given out to help with books or tuition last year.
“Kit has the type of personality where he can talk to people on every level, and flexible enough to have the time to develop this office,” said Dorothy Golida, an advisory board member who has known Marshall for the past 15 years.
“It’s not an ‘I,’ it’s a ‘team,’ and that’s what he has instilled in all of us.”
United, they are prepared to face the continual challenges before them; more participation at the monthly Unity Mass, reaching and educating the youth in their faith and “passing the torch” to younger members in the Black community to step forward as leaders.
“Some of the people that are really loyal and committed are up in age. They are not going to be around,” Marshall said. “My goal is to get more participation, and move the Mass to an earlier time. That would be tremendous for us.”
Marshall, who has four children and attends St. Timothy Parish in Mesa, believes in Catholic education.
As a young boy, he and his siblings attended a Catholic elementary school. His mother, a schoolteacher, encouraged him to go to the library and read books to expand his world.
“I was inspired to take the job in this office and I’ve really enjoyed the work,” Marshall said.