Mazie Washington

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

June 29, 2005

 

            We buried Mazie Washington not long ago. She was 92 at her death.

            There were lots of wonderful stories at her wake and funeral. She was famous as a fisher woman. She would put out in her little boat by herself. Right up to a few weeks before she died, .she was out fishing.  

            Mazie loved to be alone on the river, or the Chesapeake Bay, or at some quiet creek.  Just her and God and the fish.

            The fish did not stand much of a chance. She was not sentimental. She was out there for good eats. She was unafraid, as Fr. Milt Jordan said at her funeral, to give the fish a good wack and let it know who was boss. As far as she was concerned, fishing was part of God’s divine plan. 

            Mazie was not a member of my parish. She belonged to a neighboring parish. But she was the first person I anointed when I came to Southern Maryland eleven years ago.

            I hadn’t even unpacked my car on moving day. Bill Goodman, who is also gone to God, drove up to the house and said, “Father, you have to come anoint Mazie.”

            Bill and Mazie were fishing buddies and even rivals.

            At the hospital Mazie insisted on sitting up on the side of the bed for communion and anointing. She smiled through the whole thing.

            A week later her big old Ford pulled up behind the rectory. Mazie got smiling and held up a huge Rockfish she had just caught. I ate from it for three days.

            Mazie was not just remarkable for her fishing.  She was part of what I call the “bridge” generation of African American women.

            She was a bridge from the past to the present. In her lifespan, from 1912 to 2005, she saw many things change in race relations, her church, her family and society.

            She was the bridge from segregation to integration.

            She was the bridge, as many Black Catholics are, between Protestant and Catholic.

            She was the bridge from basic education to higher education.

            She was bridge from women who did not leave the home, to women who had careers.

            She was the bridge from poverty to prosperity.

            Mazie was raised in a time of rigid segregation in Maryland. She had to leave her home in the country during high school and move to Washington, DC. to finish her education. She studied mathematics in college.

            She went to work for the Navy department. Probably the first and maybe the only black woman mathematician employed by the Navy.

            She had no children of her own. But together with her husband Theodore, she raised five nieces and nephews as if they were her own.

            Mazie came from the milieu of Southern Maryland Black Catholics. They are a special group of Catholics. Descended, in many cases, from slaves owned by Catholic slave holding families, they are uniquely loyal to Church and yet realistic about her Church faults.

            Maryland Black Catholics remember when the Church inflicted a lot of hurt on them. When it made them sit in balconies or stand at the back. They remember when they were not allowed to worship with whites. They remember having to go communion only after all the white people had gone.

            Despite all of that, Black Catholics like Mazie are filled with faith and loyal to the Church. They know in a real way that the Church is a hospital for sinners more than a museum of saints.

            Mazie was always praying. She went to daily mass. She always had a rosary going.  

            So many little miracles happened when she was around that one of her great nephews said, “Aunt Mazie must have God’s beeper number.”

            Now she is crossed over the bridge to God. This time it is God who got the great catch.